Netherlands in TIME magazine

Articles on Holland (Nederland) in TIME (1923 – )

About TIME magazine

“TIME […] is, as you know, a journal of U.S. and world affairs written from the American viewpoint.”[1]

Time magazine
This article discusses the history of Time magazine, its character throughout its life span and its place within American print culture.

Time came to fruition when two friends, Briton Hadden and Henry Robinson Luce, suddenly resigned their jobs with the Baltimore News on a February day in 1922. Both twenty-four year-olds were hired only three months earlier but every spare minute in these three months were used to work on their long-dreamed project: to start a news-magazine. Still uncertain about the name they called it ‘Facts’. Hadden and Luce, who met at Yale University, discussed their project three years earlier during nightly walks when both were deployed for military training in South Carolina. It was there when they found out how ill-informed people were. There were soldiers that had fought a war in a world they knew very little about, let alone the war itself. Luce remembered a lecture to his platoon on one night, which he saw as one of his greatest successes in his life. “I told them the story of the sinking Lusitania, just what I remembered from my reading of the New York Times.[2] They had never heard the story and they were on the edge of their chairs and couldn’t wait to get ‘over there’ and fix the Huns who had sunk the Lusitania.”[3]

Hadden and Luce went to New York to open an office and started working on a prospectus to acquire capital for their newly dubbed magazine Time. At that moment no national radio and television broadcaster existed, but newspapers and periodicals were omnipresent. At the start of the Twentieth Century magazines became available to a mass audience because prices dropped dramatically due to the invention of the rotary press and an administration that stimulated the growth of periodicals by providing low-cost mailing privileges. There were more than fifty national magazines, thousands of local periodicals and over two thousand daily newspapers in the United States.[4] There were literary monthlies like Harper’s, Scribner’s and Outlook and weeklies like the Saturday Evening Post and the Literary Digest that dealt with current events. Still people were poorly informed, Hadden and Luce wrote in their prospectus, trying to convince potential investors. It was neither the fault of the daily newspapers, they argued, because they printed all the news, nor the weekly reviews that adequately commented on the news. People were uninformed because no publication had adapted itself to the busy times men live in.

Their magazine would be different as Time would bring “all the week’s news in a brief, organized manner,” presenting it “as news (facts) rather than as comment.”[5] Time would not have an editorial page and it said it would not propagate prejudices, either liberal or conservative. It would give both sides of the story. However Time would clearly indicate which side it believed was right or held the stronger position. “The idea then was,” said Luce, “to see if we could organize the news, compartmentalizing it with some sense of continuity. For example, in those days oil was a big news thing. And we thought we could have a regular section in the National Affairs department on oil where you could follow developments.”[6]

The first issue of Time, the Weekly News-Magazine’ appeared on 3 March 1923. It was thirty-two pages thick with twenty-two departments and could be read in an hour. Eighteen columns were devoted to national news, and fifteen to foreign news covering fourteen countries including The Netherlands. The rest of the magazine was filled with articles like any other typical magazine, running stories on a range of subjects: from books, theatre and music to religion, medicine and science.[7] Stories would normally run four hundred words or less. Hadden and Luce originally planned to get all the raw material from local and national newspapers, reference books and news wires. News itself holds no copyright so when it was printed the editorial staff could use it free of charge. But as the magazine grew these sources appeared not to be sufficient and soon correspondents were hired. First in the United States, later on Time would set up bureaus around the world for foreign correspondents to cover international news.

News articles were crafted by many hands and were written in a distinctive style. Reporters, writers, fact checkers and editors were jointly responsible for items and as a result bylines, indicating the person who wrote the item, did not appear in news stories until the 1970s. The editorial formula stressed that articles held a narrative structure, condensed but not telegraphic. When a story was approved a correspondent send in his part, writers struggled over every sentence to keep it as short as possible and checkers were sent off to check and find additional facts. At the end of the week fact checkers “dott[ed] every verified word in the copy, a red pencil dot for every incontrovertible historical fact, name, place and date.”[8] With this, Time gained its typical writing style. By placing very small details in the story like what a person ate on a specific event, or using multiple adjectives to characterize someone’s posture, like the size of a person’s nose or the type of haircut, readers were left with the impression to actually know every little thing that mattered. In this way, Time seemed to possess an infinite knowledge, insight, and understanding of the news. Certainly, the strongly condensed stories, written in a light-hearted and simplified way could not be omniscient, but with their all-knowing style Time automatically gained reliability.[9]

The majority of magazines before the Great Depression were mostly about entertainment, but the fast changing society of the United States generated a strong urge among people to know about political and economic issues. Time fulfilled this purpose and more and more people relied on the magazine with its characteristic red border. By 1928 the circulation was almost two hundred thousand and continued to rise exponentially reaching over four million in the 1970s.[10] Its audience was mostly middle class families from rural areas or smaller cities that did not have any access to high quality dailies from metropolitan areas, most notably the New York Times. Their local newspaper concentrated on local news, marginalizing national and international events. People who wanted to know more of what was going on in the world depended on Time. “At a time when most dailies limited analytical reportage, Time’s guided summaries played a vital role in explaining the news.”[11] Time would put the news of seven days into one organized story and guide the reader by evaluating the news: “[We were not] ashamed to say, ‘Babe Ruth is a great ball player,’” said Luce, “A lot of people might not know Babe Ruth was a great ball player and be ashamed to admit it. This is an extreme example but it was certainly true when applied to politicians and foreign statesmen.”[12] Within a few years Time had established itself in a crowded magazine market.

Time believed that persons were responsible for making the news. ‘Names make news’ was the subtitle of a weekly section called ‘People’, which held information about individuals including what they had done to make headlines in the world. The strong focus on individuals was especially reflected on what, or better who was on the cover of the magazine. In most cases a man or a woman’s face would be on it. That person then was one of the key figures in one of the stories inside. What is now a very common feature was then a revolution. It was Time that invented the cover story as we know it and for the simple reason, according to its editors, since “personalities are the stuff of which history is made.”[13] From this sprung also the successful idea of dubbing each year a ‘Man of the Year’.[14] Time’s selection was often met with controversy for example when Stalin and Hitler were made ‘Man of the Year’ in 1938 and 1939 respectively. But the criteria was, “reflecting a news judgment, not a seal of approval, [that] the Man of the Year was the person, who for better or worse, had most influenced events in the preceding year.”[15]

With its distinctive Time-style readers either loved or hated the magazine. The magazine remained predominantly text based for a long time and editors and writers were required to be creative in their writing in order to distinguish the magazine from competition. Playing with language and words articles often came with cryptic titles, sometimes in the native language of where the news came from. They blended words together, adding to the condensed style, like subnappers (submarines and kidnappers), sexational (sex and sensational) and Nobelman (A winner of the Nobel Prize, a play on noble man). It also coined new words that were adopted into the American language, such as oilmen, tiremaker, kudos, tycoon and pundit.[16] Yet the language and the choice of words led also to resistance and criticism. Time mentioned the ‘shriveled legs’ of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was in a wheel chair during his time in office. People were not only outraged by the idiom, but also because many did not know about the president’s condition. Time argued that physical characteristics were inevitably connected with someone’s personality and therefore justified. Also, without any restraint, it would mention a person’s religion (Catholic, Protestant, Jew) or its race (Negro or White), even when there was no importance of pointing it out. Luce replied to angry readers to state the magazines policy: “Time harbors no racial or religious prejudices and that its influence is decidedly on the side of breaking down prejudices of whatever sort.”[17] However, Luce’s personal prejudices and convictions were shining through his magazine ever since he became editor-in-chief of the magazine in 1929.

American Century
Luce’s friend Hadden died after a two-month illness in 1929, six years after the first issue of Time went to the presses. As of then Luce would assume Hadden’s role of setting the editorial direction and presided over Time’s content and style until the day he stepped down in 1964. When he died three years later, “he was commonly considered the nation’s single most influential mass communicator.”[18] He was one of the seven most powerful men in America according to Winston Churchill and German weekly Der Spiegel wrote in 1961 that “[not] one man has, over the last two decades, more incisively shaped the image of America as seen by the rest of the world, and the Americans’ image of the world.”[19]

But Luce also faced criticism for the image of the world he presented with his publishing company Time Inc.[20] Time strongly reflected the personal convictions of their founders and “routinely conveyed certain prejudices. It favored big business, the moderate wing of the Republican Party and American globalism.”[21]

In 1941 Luce wrote an op-ed article in Life magazine, entitled the ‘American Century’, in which he proposed America to be an intervening and an inspiring world power for others. He argued that the Unites States should act as a leader in world trade, a country that feeds the world where there is hunger and send technical and economic skills around the world to help out others nations.[22] “Years of editorial cleverness were now being used to promote the foreign policies of Henry Luce,” all to make the Twentieth Century an American Century.[23] “No restraint bound him,” recalled one of his correspondents, “in using his magazines to spread the message of his conscience.”[24] Well before Japans’ attack on Pearl Harbor Luce proposed to his writers to devote more time on the shortcomings of Roosevelt’s foreign policy since he strongly believed that United States should participate in World War II. From 1940 till 1964 he was an influential member of the Republican Party and favored the Eisenhower administration, condescending democratic leaders. As a devoted anti-Communist Luce had a growing distrust in the Soviets.

Luce expected his employees to share the same fundamentals that he held so dear. Speeching in 1953 he said: “We are called to be the servants of truth: Let us serve it together when we can, and separately when we must.”[25] So the truth had to follow a preconceived notion. That was also reflected in the use of sources for news entries. For example, Time had discreetly used American ambassador to China Nelson T. Johnson as major source, who argued that Japan was trying to eliminate all Western interests in China. Luce then claimed to reinforce American policy in the Far East.[26] Facts dutifully reported by foreign correspondents from around the world (London, Paris, Moscow, Chungking, etc.) were sometimes concealed and sometimes distorted. In Luce’s view “a correspondent was indeed supposed to report facts, but an editor needed to print the truth. If the facts clashed with the higher truth, they would have to yield to it.”[27]

Time for Change
After the founder’s death in 1967 Time magazine’s character changed slowly but surely. The magazine had a credibility problem and wanted to solve it by becoming less partisan. As of then the difference diminished between its biggest rival, the more liberal Newsweek—always number two in circulation and revenues—and on a distant third, newsweekly U.S. News and World Report. The overconfident all-knowing style disappeared step by step and its promise of covering all the news, including international news, which was maintained at first faded out slowly over the years. Some stories got more space than others, individual contribution was rewarded with a byline, the use of photographs increased and its narrative (storytelling) structure disappeared. In a television and video age people relied less on the newsmagazine to inform them of what was going on in the world, they rather heard it from news anchors such as Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Time was still an influential publication but it lost its identity as an authority.[28]

With many different ways of obtaining the news available—daily newspapers became accessible nationwide, the number of specialty magazines increased fast and since the 1980s cable-news networks provided breaking news 24 hours a day—it became harder for newsmagazines to stand out. The Time reader was well-informed now and did not depend on the magazine for its departmentalized and guided news like a generation earlier. One of the major differences with the original concept was the de-emphasis on personalities, starting in the late 1960s when Henry Grunwald assumed the position of the new managing editor. He argued that “[i]t was no longer easy to find individuals to personify what was significant in American society. Many subjects had grown too large and too complicated.”[29] The emphasis as of then would be on trends. No longer would an individual be on the cover but increasingly trend-related subjects, like technological innovations, religion across the globe or new findings to fight life-threatening diseases for example.

Along with other media Time moved away from hard news from the 1980s and onwards and shifted more to entertainment and lifestyle, which was once dealt with in the back of the book. American citizens growing up in the last three decades of the Twentieth Century found it less important to stay up to date with the latest current events around the globe. “They have been more inclined to define their world narrowly, often organized around ‘lifestyle’. That self-engagement […] had its roots in the disillusionment that accompanied the war in Vietnam and disgrace of the Nixon administration.”[30] As a result the number of international related hard news articles declined as well as domestic news. “National affairs had been given 30 percent of the space in 1980 […] By 1988, this figure had dropped to about 25 percent.”[31] Although the magazine brought more softer news, adding new sections such as Travel, Commentary and Interview (often with celebrities), Time was still a newsmagazine. However it no longer fulfilled its original position of opinion maker.

All in All: In a Broader Sense
Especially during its first fifty years Time magazine fulfilled an important function of bringing news from around the globe into the living rooms of American citizens. In a world that was complex and fast-changing, many readers turned to Time to make the world comprehensible. Although the magazine has been restyled numerous times and lost its authorative and all-knowing identity since the late 1960s, it is still the most read newsmagazine in the United States. Especially during the Twentieth Century Time has been one of the most influential publications which shaped its readers and their society. “Millions of Americans have been getting their ideas about life at home and abroad from these journals […] They have been both politically and culturally important, shaping attitudes as well as providing information influenced by their owners and editors.”[32] As scholars have noted, journalists take on the role of public historians creating a public and collective memory.[33] Thus their stories serve a function as to how the Netherlands will be remembered.

Heerink, Mark J. (2009) About TIME magazine; The Netherlands in TIME magazine Available: <> ()

[1] “A Letter from the Publisher,” Time Magazine, 4 August 1947.
[2] In 1915, during the First World War, the British RMS Lusitania, a luxury ocean liner, was torpedoed by a German submarine in its voyage from New York to Liverpool. Almost twelve hundred passengers were killed, including Americans citizens. The news shifted public opinion in the U.S. against Germany to favor joining the Allies in World War I.
[3] Robert T. Elson, Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise (1923-1941) (New York: Atheneum, 1968), p. 40.
[4] Theodore Peterson, Magazines in the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964), 2.
[5] Elson, p. 8.
[6] Elson, p. 56.
[7] John Tebbel and Mary Ellen Zuckerman, The Magazine in America 1741-1990 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 163.
[8] Elson, p. 162.
[9] James L. Baughman, “The Transformation of Time Magazine,” in Giles and Snyder, eds. 1968: Year of Media decision (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001), p. 111.
[10] Peterson, p. 237.
[11] Baughman, p. 112.
[12] Elson, p. 56.
[13] Elson, p. 164.
[14] The idea of Man of the Year was born at the end of 1927 when editors could not decide who to put on the cover. The first one was Charles Lindbergh because the magazine ignored to award him with a cover story earlier that year when he was the first to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
[15] Time Inc., Man Of The Year, A Collector’s Edition of Men, Women and Ideas of the Year 1927-1993 (Time-Life Custom Publishing, 1994), p. 3.
[16] Joseph J. Firebaugh, “The Vocabulary of ‘Time’ Magazine,” American Speech, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Oct., 1940), pp. 232-242.
[17] Elson, p. 168.
[18] Baughman, p. 112.
[19] Tebbel and Zuckerman, p. 308.
[20] Luce also successfully published other magazines, such as business magazine Fortune (1930-present), Sports Illustrated (1954-present) and the all-photography newsmagazine Life (1936-1972).
[21] Baughman, p. 112.
[22] Elson, pp. 461-465.
[23] James L. Baughman, Henry R. Luce and the Rise of the American News Media Available: (2008-10-07).
[24] Baughman (PBS).
[25] Peterson, p. 260.
[26] Herzstein, p. 205.
[27] Herzstein, p. 202.
[28] Baughman, p. 114.
[29] Baughman, pp. 114-115.
[30] Baughman, p. 117.
[31] Tebbel and Zuckerman, p. 305.
[32] Tebbel and Zuckerman, p. 304.
[33] Carolyn Kitch, Pages from the Past: History & Memory in American Magazines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), p. 5.

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