The Bell Keeps Tolling

Dec 2 2013 @ 7:15pm


The news that New York Magazine will go bi-weekly is a bit of a stunner. I know I shouldn’t be faintly surprised given the broader trends in the industry formerly known as journalism, but this is different. It’s different because New York is, to my mind, the best weekly magazine in America. It has a clear identity, an established mission, a devoted readership, a unique sensibility, great writing, a legendary past, and the best editor of my generation in Adam Moss. Adam, more to the point, is a genius when it comes to what print can do: the combination of graphics, photography, text, and writing that is very hard to replicate online. If New York cannot hack it as a weekly, no magazine can. And most won’t, given the collapse in ad revenues over the last four years.

But of course it would be foolish to count New York or Adam Moss out. Perhaps a biweekly can work; if any magazine can pull that off, New York can. But it’s a very different rhythm, and magazines are a little like TV shows. When they don’t appear regularly and often, they can lose traction and identity. There are, alas, some asinine gloaters. Prominent among whom is the writer of the following grace note:

The worst thing about it is the loss of jobs that will hit the print lifers who were unlucky enough to be too old to get rehired elsewhere (though those jobs will be replaced, to some extent, by jobs online). The second-worst thing about it is all the dewy paeans to print that we will all be forced to endure by nostalgic media people. None of these should be read, or written. The best thing about it is the satisfaction of knowing that Adam Moss is now basically a website editor.

Really? Are we in the business of finding ways to generate an informed and intelligent conversation about the world – or in the business of mindless online triumphalism and gratuitous swipes at journalism that isn’t, well, up to Gawker’s lofty standards? You can be neck-deep in online journalism as I’ve been for a long time now and still value the legacy and continued excellence of New York. And of print.

I’ve long believed that the survivors of this mass media death will be monthlies (and yet The Atlantic seems much more focused on digital than print and Harpers is as willfully obscure as ever) or a few weeklies like The Economist or The New Yorker. But I’m beginning to wonder how a handful of magazines can really sustain an ecology of reading habits alone. At some point the landscape they make sense in evaporates. They become a novelty rather than a central part of a reading public’s life.

I don’t find that satisfying. I find it terribly worrying if we care about sustaining the kind of informed discourse a democracy needs (and, sorry, but listicles and copy-writing disguised as journalism doesn’t count). Hence our attempt to build out and up from a blog and its readership. Will it work in the end? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s a duty to try. And try. And try again. And it’s good to know that as we struggle and improvise in the coming months and years, Adam Moss will be the proof of principle if print can survive at all.