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November 8, 2010

USN&WR Ending Its Print Iteration

U.S. News And World Report, a magazine that once sold over two million copies an issue on the stands and that has been the home of cartoonists and illustrators ranging from Ranan Lurie to Tom Toles to Richard Thompson, has announced an aggressive move into digital. They will end their subscription business by the end of the year, focus their newsstand presence even more explicitly on its college rankings issues, and continue to grow its digital presence.

This is sort of shocking to me because I wasn't even aware it was no longer a print newsweekly; it's been monthly for a while now. Furthermore, USN&WR always seemed one of those magazines that very much knew it was a magazine, taking full advantage of its weekly presence and the forced brevity of its format to provide consistently useful summary information on news stories, information that communicated both below and above the sophistication of its prose. If I were to think of one magazine where my memory of reading it seemed most like the kind of experience I have accessing web sites today, it would be USN&WR.

image"I worked for them for years, going back to the late '80s, doing spots and caricatures and at least two covers," Richard Thompson told CR. In the mid '90s I started drawing for them every week, illustrating a column in the front of the book called 'Washington Whispers' that featured a string of inside-baseball political reporting."

Thompson describes a situation that reflected both the drop-dead deadlines of the print era and the pressure to be timely and weekly -- an era in illustration all but lost now. "The deal was they'd give me the subject or situation on Thursday around 4 and the final was due on Friday around 11 (which often stretched into the afternoon). This is when Thursday nights first turned into all-nighters for me, a habit I'm still trying to shake. Over the next few weeks I got into the job's rhythm; get a call from Michele, do a sketch and fax it over by five or six, ink the sketch onto watercolor paper with a lightbox and stretch the paper and watercolor it, interspersed with periods of dawdling and fretting. Then call them on Friday and a courier would show up, usually Shawn, to pick the finished drawing up. I did this for 9 years, about 50 times a year, and i learned more about watercolor and the limits of human patience than i ever would've otherwise."

Thompson noted that the front section with his cartoon also ran an editorial cartoon, and that for a time Tom Toles was drawing for the publication a cartoon he would then re-use in the Buffalo News. They also, he says, ran syndicated editorial cartoonists and used any number of illustrators. He ended hsi run in 2004, and compares the decline of such publications in print to that currently being experienced by the newspapers that buy Cul De Sac. "DC is a huge center of publishing, with the government and all the various associations with magazines and newsletters and such," Thompson said. "USNWR and National Geographic are the only two big national publications around here, though. It's sad to see USNWR disappear from the actual newsstand, a place whose shelves seem to get more barren all the time."

According to the linked-to article, USNWR still had over one million paid subscribers in the first half of 2010, although this was down more than 20 percent from the first half of 2009. Their site had 1.5 million unique visitors in September, about an eighth that of They do have a cartoon presence on-line -- on the opinion page of the web site, in by-topic clusters findable through the opinion pages, and I believe they're also part of the weekly digital offering, although I can't be certain. I believe all of these may be syndicated cartoons, although again I can't quite tell if that's true or not.

Employees received a memo on Thursday detailing the plans; no immediate firings are expected.
posted 10:00 am PST | Permalink

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