New York, 1969. Day one. I begin representing the Gamma Photo Agency in the United States. I buy a copy of Time magazine at a kiosk on 72nd street near my apartment. In the masthead I find the name of the magazine’s director, who puts me in contact with the director of photography: John Durniak.
That same day I go see Durniak, who immediately buys every single reportage I’ve brought with me: photos by Raymond Depardon, Gilles Caron, Alain Dejean, Christian Simonpietri and Jean-Pierre Laffont.
All of a sudden the political pages of Time’s international are full of Gamma photos. Gamma in the United States is off to a start!
A month later, I receive a call from the photo director at Newsweek, Tom Orr, who asks me to come see and him as soon as possible. He wants to know why I work exclusively with Time. If I come to him with what I’ve been giving Time, he says, he’ll pay double!
That’s how the bidding war started between the two weekly magazines, and the prices of our photos soared. They appeared every week in the magazine, with the credit of the photographer next to it. The photographers became stars. Commissions poured in. I only had two clients: Time and Newsweek, but thanks to the intense competition between them, our success was overwhelming. Gamma had conquered America.
I think back fondly on my daily visits to these two temples of photojournalism.
I discovered the newsroom. At Newsweek, it’s a large common room that the writers share with the photo department. The journalists are tapping furiously away at their typewriters, electric wires are strewn across the floor, and the telephones never stop ringing. Stacks of files and photos from wire agencies litter the steel desks. Cups of cold coffee sit atop the broken files cabinets, and at night bottles of beer take their place. Ashtrays overflow on every desk and windowsill. The photo department editors yell across the room to each other. The photo director, Jim Kenney, has his sleeves rolled up, his collar unbuttoned and his tie hanging off to the side. He likes to greet me with a ‘Madame,’ which he says with a French accent. I’m always welcome there, and when I arrive on Friday nights with last-minute photos just as the offices are closing up, the atmosphere is festive. Kenney orders me a New York champagne and sandwiches on a French baguette.
These are unforgettable moments. I was in photo heaven, and it went on like this for twenty years.
In 2008, while preparing an article on photojournalism, I returned to Newsweek to see some of the friends I still had there. The shared newsroom was gone. Everyone was sitting in separate corners behind computer screens on IKEA desks. The phones had stopped ringing, and there wasn’t a photograph to be seen, much less a photographer. Several offices were empty, and their former occupants had left behind pencils, erasers, large white sheets of paper and a Roller-desk… Objects of the past… No more world map hanging on the wall. A dead silence… An entire culture vanished, swallowed up by Internet.
I was very fond of that bygone, pre-Internet world, because it also represented a way to work, a certain liveliness, an ongoing challenge, a thrilling element of competition, and a creative force which I believe are all essential to journalism.
But is the Internet all that’s to blame?
In 2010, the businessman Barry Diller purchased the magazine and combined it with The Daily Beast, an entirely digital publication. The main concern was to sell the magazine, and celebrities sell magazines more than famine in the Sahel. “Unless Angelina Jolie is in the picture,” says an editor who asked to remain anonymous.
That was the beginning of the end for Newsweek, which would have celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2013, as it surrendered month after month its role as opinion leader.
The magazine’s circulation slowly dropped from 3.3 million subscriptions to 1.5 million. The Internet played a role in its decline, but the financial crisis and sluggish advertising sales are also to blame.
On Friday, October 19, 2012, a message posted on The Daily Beast announced the end of Newsweek’s print edition. The new digital Newsweek will be called Newsweek Global, a rather pompous choice given that the magazine was already selling in Europe, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in several different languages.
“We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it,” said the magazine’s editor, Tina Brown.
The way I see it, this is farewell.
Eliane Laffont, New York, October 20, 2012