Saying goodbye to 2 old friends
Two news reports in recent days dampened a bit of the holiday spirit in my household where Hostess-brand Twinkies and Ding Dongs used to be a favorite in our younger days. Then I learned that Newsweek, which I carried for years in my college backpack and later my briefcase, is also exiting the market, or at least its print edition is at the end of the year. Perhaps it's a case of advanced nostalgia, but there's something sad about seeing old friends disappear.
As for Twinkies, the demise of the Hostess products probably has more to do with healthier eating habits today than because of a strike against the company by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (a mouthful in itself), which is getting the blame. We haven't had a Twinkie in our house for years. Still, just as we keep an empty box of Marshall Field's chocolate mints in the cupboard, a Twinkie or two would be something to treasure if only to show the grandchildren what truly unhealthy (but terribly tasty) treats we used to eat. When the news broke, we dashed over to the Hostess outlet store in Dublin, only to find it closed already. The shelves still marked with Hostess brand price tags at Safeway and Target were also bare. Trying online, we found the demand for Twinkies was especially brisk with, at one time, more than 17,000 active listings for Twinkies and prices varying widely. In the end, we took a pass, leaving the Hostess treats to the memory books.
Not so for Newsweek, though. Although my subscription lapsed long ago as the weekly magazine lost its zest for timely global news reports, I wanted a copy for old time's sake to keep on the shelf along with old copies of publications such as the Christian Science Monitor that also have gone all-digital. There's a difference between keeping newspapers and magazines compared to storing them "in the clouds." It's hard to spread a digital publication out on the kitchen counter and leaf through the pages, ads and all. Of course, we all read off our Smartphone, iPad and laptop screens now, including the daily online reports by the Pleasanton Weekly and its sister publications covering Dublin, San Ramon and Danville. It's just that for a career newspaperman like me, there's still the leisurely pace a reader finds in the feel and content of a magazine like Newsweek.
Both Hostess and Newsweek leave a lot of history -- and employees -- as they go. Roughly 18,500 workers will be out of work when Texas-based Hostess Brands finally shuts down. Investors may buy some of the assets in the coming bankruptcy sale, but Twinkies, Sno Balls and Ding Dongs are might be gone. Other iconic brands, such as Wonder Bread and Dolly Madison, may find new bakers to use the popular brand names, but the workforce at Hostess' wholesale bakeries and its retail outlets are already mostly gone. As one blogger put it, the baker's union, in refusing to end its strike and accept lower wages and benefits, "gave 18,000 people an opportunity to find another job" in a still troubled economy.
Far fewer employees are affected by Newsweek's decision to end its print edition on Dec. 31. The magazine has lost circulation and reduced staff since restructuring under the ownership of the Washington Post in 2008. It lost $11 million in the first quarter of 2010, alone. Most newspapers and magazines today, including this one, are moving forward with online editions that have broad appeal to the new digital generation. In Newsweek's case, however, the decision is more of a last gasp, a sad ending for a once-great national magazine.