As I've noted before, TIME Magazine prepares covers each week for four markets: the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. And all too often, the U.S. covers advertise superficial subjects or invite Americans to engage in trite self-absorbtion when compared with its world covers.
This week's example, while more subtle than others, is perhaps the most egregious and emblematic instance of this phenomenon. Just look at these two different covers, meant to advertise what is to come in 2014 for readers of TIME :
On its U.S. cover, TIME makes the February debut of Late Night with Seth Meyers as the singular, signature attraction for the coming year.
What we have here is TIME advertising – for the coming year! – what it wants its readers to watch. In the U.S., it's Seth Meyers' new show in February, punctuated by a few nouns (power, innovation, commerce, culutre). In world markets, it's substantive events, ideas or issues.
On its world cover, TIME (literally) points to important world developments on the horizon or issues to consider, including "The U.S. Pullout from Afghanistan," "India's Giant Vote," and "Weird Weather."
The striking thing to note here is that the content in these magazines will be nearly identical. It's how TIME has decided to present itself, and advertise to various markets, that reveals both how it perceives itself as a
serious journalistic outlet, and how it perceives the serious U.S. news audience.
In short: TIME thinks Americans are stupid, and so thus presents its content, despite covering real news issues. Which begs the question: at what point does a journalistic outlet's responsibility to raise public discourse and inform society outweigh market demands?
For TIME, the answer is clear: never.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.