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The Death of Newsweek and the Next Conservative Magazine

The decline and fall of Newsweek motivated Bethany Shondark Mandel to ask yesterday about magazine preferences, curious about who subscribes to what. We subscribe to Commentary, The Economist, Garden & Gun, and Cook’s Illustrated, and used to subscribe to The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Wired, and First Things, but there is a point where you can only read so much. New York magazine has improved dramatically and it would be the next subscription I get.

But the death of Newsweek – in print, at least – reminds me of how much I wish we had a mainstream journal which lives up to Henry Luce’s original mission with Time. Today’s iteration is almost a slightly less pompous Newsweek, with just as much trollishness to its ridiculous covers. The original Time was a magazine which aimed to cover and distill the news of politics, economics, world affairs and culture for the nation’s rising middle class. Luce’s magazine leaned to the center-right, with a small-c conservatism that was seasoned with a populist respect for the middle class reader and an abiding love for America.

Luce’s 1920s prospectus for the magazine included this “list of prejudices”:

  1. A belief that the world is round and an admiration of the statesman’s view of all the world.

  2. A general distrust of the present tendency toward increasing interference by government.
  3. A prejudice against the rising cost of government.
  4. Faith in the things which money cannot buy.
  5. A respect for the old, particularly in manners.
  6. An interest in the new, particularly in ideas.

There are certainly a host of quality magazines out there today. But all too many of today’s publications, right and left, are too heavily devoted to horserace politics, with politician profiles and short-term rough and tumble fights; or if they are interested in culture, they are essentially collections of reviews, often so dry and academic as to be very limited in reach.

There’s a space for this, certainly, and there’s plenty of smart writing done in that area. But I think there’s also space for a publication which steps back from this fray and devotes itself to the long game, emphasizing culture as much as politics, targeted at the mass market aspirational consumer as opposed to the politically obsessed. I do that a little in The Transom, but this is a publication that would have a much broader reach.

One additional note: magazines are actually doing quite well, moreso than any other form of media. Ad revenue has been up each year since the recession; paid magazine subscriptions continue to rise by about a 1-2 percent mark each year; this year, 181 magazines started while 61 closed. It’s an industry which is more specifically targeted to niches but has stabilized generally even as the bottom has fallen out of the newspaper industry.

Until someone sets a basket of money on Ross Douthat’s desk to start the center-right Atlantic, I don’t think this idea is very likely to come to fruition. But you never know.

  1. Good Berean

    The only time I look at a magazine is in the dentist office. I would not pay for a subscription to a print magazine and avoid the “behind the pay wall” online stuff, preferring what you and others like you, Ben, offer on Ricochet and elsewhere. Thanks for what you do, and what you do you do well.

  2. KC Mulville

    I entirely agree, Ben.

    If you ask Americans “who are we?” the answer isn’t narrowed to partisan politics. Therefore, the magazines in which we presume to carry out a national conversation have to be broader than partisan politics. The fact that they’re so narrow, and overwhelmingly to one side, dooms them to failure – first a failure in their mission and function, followed by failure in readership.

  3. Nick Stuart

    One of the things we need to get to work on starting 11/7 is driving the nails in the coffins of the mainstream media outlets as quickly as possible. NYT, WaPo, ChiTrib, LATimes, and all the locals that dot the landscape like so many pernicious toadstools. ABC, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, NBC and the rest.

    We need to stop saying “ain’t it awful” and push back as hard and as long as it takes to get them to change direction or go out of business.

    “Print” dead tree journalism is over. I go “behind the paywall” for podcasts and sites like Ricochet, which I believe are the wave of the future.

  4. grotiushug
    Ben Domenech:.

    There’s a space for this, certainly, and there’s plenty of smart writing done in that area. But I think there’s also space for a publication which steps back from this fray and devotes itself to the long game, emphasizing culture as much as politics, targeted at the mass market aspirational consumer as opposed to the politically obsessed. I do that a little in The Transom, but this is a publication that would have a much broader reach.

    I wish I could agree.  For such a venture to have a market it would require nothing less than the return of what Dwight MacDonald called “middlebrow.”  I think that audience is gone for good. 

  5. Whiskey Sam

    The Economist has a sister publication called Intelligent Life.  It’s center-left and UK-centric, but otherwise exactly what you describe.  Their photo-essays alone are worth the subscription.

  6. Kervinlee

    Hmm… having a bit of a hard time renewing my subscriptions to “George” and “The American Mercury.” Maybe I’ll try again later…

  7. Mickerbob

    I have been a subscriber to The Week since its inception.  While I believe the Editors’ beliefs may shift to the left, (at least according the two short paragraphs written by its Editor in Chief, William Falk), it is my favorite magazine.  The magazine is a “readers’ digest” of sorts with contributions from nearly every form of media, including websites, foreign newspapers and personal favorites, National Review and The American Spectator.  Over the years I have probably sold more than a dozen subscriptions.  I think this may be the closest to the wish of Mr. Domenech.

  8. Severely Ltd.

    Proclaiming an enterprise of any sort non-partisan is the clarion call to the left to co-opt it. I’m happy with truth in advertising. How long after Luce died did Time begin its slide to the left? I don’t know, but I’ll bet they hadn’t finished lowering the casket.

  9. Ben Domenech
    C
    Mickerbob: I have been a subscriber to The Week since its inception.  While I believe the Editors’ beliefs may shift to the left, (at least according the two short paragraphs written by its Editor in Chief, William Falk), it is my favorite magazine.  The magazine is a “readers’ digest” of sorts with contributions from nearly every form of media, including websites, foreign newspapers and personal favorites, National Review and The American Spectator.  Over the years I have probably sold more than a dozen subscriptions.  I think this may be the closest to the wish of Mr. Domenech. · 10 minutes ago

    I would agree with this for the most part, but the leftward tilt of The Week and their lack of original content hampers their ability to fulfill this mission. What’s more, it’s one of the few places which has dramatically increased circulation in the past few years, which shows there’s an appetite for this type of aggregation.

  10. Indaba

    The Week is good but with online, most if the content is stale by the time it gets to print.

  11. Crow

    Luce’s prospectus sounds like a magazine worth reading–something that the magazine which he founded has not been in quite some time.

    I wonder if people would even comprehend Point #1 anymore. What is a statesman’s view of the world, they’d ask, and blink.

    I’ll second the call for Douthat to start the right of center Atlantic.

  12. Free Radical

    I liked the Economist for their reporting on the far reaches of the Commonwealth but the recent (last few years) Keynesian solutions to the US and EU growth woes is flawed and tiresome.I’d like to read publications that detail the nature of the interlinked world economy and foreign affairs without obvious left leaning editorializing.

  13. Crow
    Ben Domenech: But all too many of today’s publications, right and left, are too heavily devoted to horserace politics, with politician profiles and short-term rough and tumble fights; or if they are interested in culture, they are essentially collections of reviews, often so dry and academic as to be very limited in reach.

    I think City Journal does a reasonably good job of covering some of these issues and is one of the best political “magazines” (is available in print, but I subscribe online) period. 

    The Claremont Review also covers some of them, as does The New Criterion.

    I don’t find them dry or academic, but others may.

  14. jeffp
    Sisyphus:  Ifthe Weekly Standard supported electronic subscriptions, they would probably make the list. (Hint, hint) 

    They do — 48 digital issues @$39.95, or 100 @$75.00.

  15. Rawls
    [We] used to subscribe toThe Atlantic,The New Yorker,Wired, andFirst Things, but there is a point where you can only read so much.

    Imho, Wired is the Time of a society that spends an increasing amount of time online. Although obviously in the tech niche, it does an excellent job of blending science (something Newsweek and Time used to do a lot more of, along with literature) and technology with an air of ambassadorship–contextualizing developments in both fields for a mainstream audience. Let’s also not forget about Popular Science, or The Paris Review—both of which have always operated outside of the “horse race” that at least a part of the political milieu will always operate within (and rightfully so). With anchors set firmly in classical studies like science and literature, it’s far easier to take the horse race with a grain of salt.

  16. grotiushug
    jeffp

    Sisyphus:  Ifthe Weekly Standard supported electronic subscriptions, they would probably make the list. (Hint, hint) 

    They do — 48 digital issues @$39.95, or 100 @$75.00. · 6 minutes ago

    The Weekly Standard is excellent among political magazines in terms of choosing the books it reviews, but it is frustrating in that it doesn’t give the reviewer sufficient space to discuss the book reviewed–a page or two at most.  In this respect the New Republic is a superior magazine.  I can’t stand TNR’s politics (especially now that Martin Peretz is no longer in charge) but I retain my subscription because it’s far and away the best literary magazine among journals whose primary purpose is to be organs of political opinion. 

  17. Ben Domenech
    C

    I appreciate the thoughts in this thread and several of the suggestions. But you simply can’t compare what I’m talking about with magazines like Touchstone, City Journal, Claremont Review, etc. as high quality as they are (despite the fact that I’ve written for some of them). I am expressing a desire for something that is larger than just the niche publications and intellectual journals. Newsweek and The New Yorker have circulation and readership above a million people each issue. The Atlantic and The Week are roughly a half million. Time has 3.3 million. Touchstone has 14,000.

  18. grotiushug
    Ben Domenech

     I am expressing a desire for something that is larger than just the niche publications and intellectual journals.

    But that’s the question: is there a market for such a periodical?  I don’t think there is.  Genferei says that the format is obsolete, and I think that’s true–not only because technology has improved but because I don’t believe there would be an audience even if the internet was never invented.  The mass reading public is simply not educated or interested enough.  Two generations ago, people aspired to culture: Leonard Bernstein on prime time network television, the Harvard Classics on the living room shelf, etc. etc.  That desire still exists, but it’s degenerated into wine drinking and watching celebrity chefs on television.  For the average middle class American, sophistication and wordliness no longer means being well-read and conversant with the fine arts.  It means knowing what arugula is and what wine to pair with the mushroom risotto. 

  19. Cutlass

    On a related topic, there are reports that Murdoch is looking to buy the Chicago Tribune and/or the LA Times. Although the left will do whatever they can to prevent something like this from ever happening.

  20. flownover

    Thank God for Transom, that’s how I like it. In the morning, before I read any blogs, about three click thrus. And cheap. Thanks for that.

    Am going to let my NR lapse, after so many years, the Corner works.

    City Journal has to stay because it feels so good in the hand. Reason is on experimental status doesn’t look good. They are all fading fast.

    TIME , hoist on it’s own tick tock petard.

    Imprimis is free. Hard to  work while sneaking  looks at Lucianne,HotAir, or Rico. Funny to think that we sit there in front of a tv with an ipad on our laps, a smartphone on the table. To be able to enjoy an article and zap it to a friend is awesome.

     I have subscribed to most magazines literary to political to whatever. I was doomed at 14 when I was in school and realized  I had 17 magazine subscriptions and rarely read what was assigned. Between Surfing and the LA Free Press, it was pretty wild in the 60s.

    I miss Mike Kelley. But then I miss Bill Buckley, Andrew Breitbart, Bill Safire , Christopher Hitchens , and Orianna Fallaci.

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