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At the beginning of 2006 it seems clear that Americans no longer rely on news magazines for the content they traditionally provided — national and international news. In areas of the country where this kind of news was once difficult to find, it is now available online from national media organizations.

But availability of news is not likely the only issue for the big news weeklies. Some of the readers who once went to the weeklies for news have been pushed away by the trend toward lighter fare in the magazines themselves. While surveys like the one by the Pew Research Center survey didn’t ask specifically about magazines like the Economist and The Week, we showed in the Audience section those titles are drawing readers as Time and Newsweek are losing them.

And change has come to the news genre for the same reason it has come to other media — a variety of choices and niches. People may never again turn to big circulation titles for information as they did for decades with Time and Newsweek. Instead, people will turn to a niche magazine for a niche reason, and no one magazine will command the mass readership Time and Newsweek have long held. For whatever reason, the weeklies have without question grown broader over all in topic — becoming general-interest weekly magazines. In the process they have lost some of their identity.

To some extent, the same problem has beset the evening network news shows: they lost their exclusive franchise over national and international news. The dominant weeklies may ultimately have to decide whether to go back to more serious hard-news coverage or keep stretching themselves to include the latest topics and content trends that seem to be garnering readers.

The editors of those titles may see a threat in the hard-news approach — it could scare off the readers they have gained with their broader range of topics. Targeting a niche may inherently mean looking at a narrower audience. But there is a threat to the broad-content approach as well. If they don’t give readers something distinctive, something they can’t get anywhere else, will the readers keep coming back?