As TIME goes by: On the passing of an American institution

Editor’s note: This is a preview of a story that appears in the winter 2014 print issue of Gateway Journalism Review.

When Wolcott Gibbs parodied TIME magazine’s famous style (“TIMEstyle” or “TIMEspeak”) in the New Yorker in 1936, he penned the now-famous line: “Backward ran the sentences until reeled the mind.” But TIME was much more than a collection of inverted sentences, cheeky puns (“Esther Williams’ pictures are so much water over the dame”) and double-jointed adjectives. TIME was America’s first and best news weekly, read by more than 20 million worldwide, and it may well have “invented mass media.”

Gibbs concluded his piece by asking: “Where it all will end knows God.” Now the rest of us have a pretty good idea: “New York (magazine’s) abandonment of weekly publication comes on the heels of Newsweek’s closing, TIME being spun off from its corporate parent as a prelude perhaps, to its moving entirely to the Web … ” is the prediction made in the New Republic on Dec. 3 by John Judis. For him, it’s another sign that “high- quality print magazines and newspapers are slowly but surely passing from the scene,” victims of their membership in a primarily stagnant sector of the economy.  (As of this writing, IBT Media planned to relaunch a print edition of Newsweek in March.)

If TIME eventually makes Judis a prophet, America will bid farewell to one of journalism’s last surviving institutions from an America that is hardly discernible today and that was last at the core of the country’s values and tastes in Ike’s America of the 1950s. Think of a society with such, by now, “quaint notions as uninterrupted family meals, commerce-free Sundays, unspoiled places” and many adults who followed an inner guidance system for shaping their values and decisions, not the buzz from their peers. For them, TIME provided a window to their society and the world; leading them by the hand to interpret what they saw mostly as the then-essentially WASP establishment from the Boston-to-Washington corridor wanted them to see it.

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