I’m heart-broken today about what can only be called the corporate manslaughter of my alma mater, The New Republic. And yes, many of us regard that place – for all its and our flaws – as an alma mater, the equivalent of a college, and our time there as formative and life-changing. It was a cauldron of first-class minds and third-class temperaments, engaged in something roughly called journalism not for money or pageviews, but because they believed in something, and were prepared to engage every ounce of their brainpower to fight over it. Editorial meetings were tempestuous, ribald, hilarious, and unmissable – and the island of misfit toys that Marty assembled over the years taught me more than anyone at college or grad school ever could.
We experimented every week – and took risks others balked at. The editors I was immensely privileged to work with – Mike Kinsley, Rick Hertzberg, Leon Wieseltier, Charles Krauthammer, Dorothy Wickenden, Ann Hulbert, Mickey Kaus, Bob Wright, John Judis, Peter Beinart, Jon Chait, Frank Foer, Jake Weisberg, and many others – still today count as some of the finest journalists in the country. There is no dream team out there in opinion journalism today that comes close. Which was why, in its heyday, the magazine truly mattered – to its readers and beyond – in ways almost no journalistic institution does any more.
I know that era is over. I figured that out a very long time ago. But Frank seemed to me to be trying to revive it in ways that were often successful in both old media depth and new media buzziness. And that the magazine (now to be published only ten times annually, when I used to put out 48 issues a year) could be swiftly despatched in favor of a “vertically integrated” (sic) “digital media company” – that the very idea of a place where people would assemble, and fight over ideas, under the sternest strictures of reason and reporting and wit could be thrown out with the trash – was not inevitable. Hard to re-imagine, sure. Terribly hard to monetize. But still worth trying to grow into something that could change out of all recognition and yet also stay the same.
But the economic forces of new media are very powerful, and few multi-millionaires seem willing any more to lose their shirts in order to keep them at bay. That noblesse oblige in defense of the highbrow and traditional is now no more. And when I witness the death of these magazines and their culture – one of the great achievements of post-war American life – and I witness the new, fissiparous models emerging, it is hard not to feel a little despair. The new business models are anti-magazines, in a way. What matters online is not the fellowship of writers in a joint enterprise, but the shareability of links, the success of single posts in social media, and the merging of advertising with editorial that blends all forms of journalism into the same corporate, indistinguishable, marketing mush.
I wonder if we can still manage – as we navigate this new forbidding media economy – to recreate what we once had in some form. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking that TNR could not be a vehicle in that experiment, even as many TNR alums are engaged in it; that it could instantly lose two figures, Frank Foer and Leon Wieseltier, with uniquely strong institutional memory, and thereby make its digital future utterly unconnected with its storied past. Chait pens a eulogy today. It is not, I’m afraid, an inapposite word.
Five posts worth revisiting from this sad day in journalism: Pauline Kael’s TNR review-essay on Godard; a truly hathetic Stand With Hillary ad; the new masculinity of dieting; pushback against the pushback on the UVA rape story; and readers tackle me (once again) on the thorny question of affirmative action.
The most popular post of the day was The Right’s Response To Eric Garner; followed by A Question of Human Dignity.
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I finally subscribed after reading for years, and now that I have, I thought I’d just take a second to say thanks for all that you do. I love the Dish. I love reading your opinions, which do not always match my own but are always reasoned and thoughtful. I love reading contributions by your readers, whether they’re countering your opinion with their own or sharing a personal story. You’ve really put together something wonderful here and what you do is so important. Thank you for fighting the good fight. Happy holidays to you all!
See you in the morning.
(Photo: Former President Bill Clinton speaks on stage at the New Republic Centennial Gala at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on November 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. By Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images.)