The Death of Newsweek and the Next Conservative Magazine

Published October 20, 2012

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”: A belief that the world is round and an admiration of the statesman’s view of all the world. A general distrust of the present tendency toward increasing interference by government. A prejudice against the rising cost of government. Faith in the things which money cannot buy. A respect for the old, particularly in manners. 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.