At SXSW, toasts to Newsweek carry above the noise
AUSTIN—Newsweek's bombshell Bitcoin feature is undoubtedly the media fiasco of the moment.
But that didn't put a damper on the magazine's celebratory return to print this week following a 14-month period in which the iconic title had fallen off the radar as a digital-only title with a sliver of the influence it once commanded.
"I'm feeling really confident about the journalism in the [Bitcoin] story," editor-in-chief Jim Impoco told Capital last night at the tail end of Newsweek's relaunch party here at the Samsung Blogger's Lounge a few blocks from the Austin Convention Center, where hordes of tech and media types have converged for the annual SXSW Interactive festitval.
"Recent events have given me no reason to feel less confident," said Impoco. "The thought that this was at all a gimmick is as ridiculous as it is insulting."
But that is precisely what some critics have been saying, suggesting that Newsweek overplayed its hand with Leah McGrath Goodman's 4,200-word feature purporting to reveal the brains behind Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, because it needed a splashy cover story for its reboot.
The 64-year-old California man identified in the piece as the crypto-currency's enigmatic founder has denied any involvement, despite a quote he gave to Goodman that appears to confirm otherwise. Newsweek has doubled down on the controversial scoop, vigorously defending Goodman's reporting in the face of intense scrutiny that seems to poke at least a few holes in her story.
"The motivation was to do good journalism, not to do shock rock," said Impoco.
Impoco and Newsweek's new owners, IBT Media co-founders Etienne Uzac and Jonathan Davis, betrayed no hints of stress at the party last night, where they mingled with a crowd of a couple hundred conference-goers enjoying wine, beer, margaritas and fancy hors d'oeuvres like fried quail. Notable attendees included Bloomberg View publisher Tim O'Brien, Newsweek contributor and former New York Times reporter Michael Brick and MSNBC.com managing editor Dafna Linzer, whose husband, Barton Gellman, is slated to discuss his explosive National Security Administration reporting during a moderated conversation on Monday.
Uzac, a tall and slim 31-year-old dressed in a blazer, jeans and New Balance sneakers, told Capital he didn't expect the Bitcoin piece to blow up as big as it did, but that he was happy with the story and the conversation it had provoked. His challenge now is to parlay that buzz into a successful business model based on consumer-driven revenue from the magazine and its digital edition, which are being positioned as a boutique play with a premium price-point.
While Impoco, 55, also in jeans, sneakers and a blazer, admitted "this has not been the most laid back day of my life," he said he was "flabbergasted" by the feedback he has received on the resurrected magazine, a sleek, perfect-bound book that has gained a lot of weight since it was last on newsstands.
"People seem to love the product," he said. "It's all great."