Magazines are having to rethink themselves in all sorts of drastic ways due to Internet dominance, but I never thought that would happen to The New Republic, which has been a fixture in my reading life for more than 40 years. But according to two New York Times articles — one on the arts pages, the other in the business section — the venerable liberal magazine, now 93 years old, is trimming its sails in response to changes in the political and journalistic cultures.
As Katharine O. Seelye wrote in the piece in the arts section of Feb. 27, the Web may have hurt TNR, but there is also the fact that "some of its core readers" have considered its stance to be "insufficiently progressive" when it comes to the Bush administration.
So now that circulation is down along with the number of pages in each issue, TNR has a new owner and a new publishing schedule. "CanWest Global Communications," noted Seelye, "a Canadian media conglomerate, which has held a minority share in [TNR], has now obtained majority control. It plans a substantial overhaul of the magazine and its Web site, including cutting back publication of the magazine to every two weeks while almost doubling the number of pages."
Seelye stated that Martin Peretz, the editor in chief of TNR, who is known for his turn to conservatism after long service to the left in the '60s, as well as his steadfast loyalty to Israel, would be holding on to his quarter interest in the company.
But in a matter of days, the Times business section reported that Peretz had sold his interest to CanWest as well. It was announced that he would stay on as editor in chief.
In the arts article, it was noted that "the magazine's editorial voice has tended to veer between liberal and neo-conservative — something that Franklin Foer, the magazine's editor for a year, said was irritating to many on the political left. The magazine is now cementing what Mr. Foer calls its 'center-left' philosophy, although he said its reported articles would 'transcend ideology.' "
According to the Times, the redesigned publication, which will be printed on heavier paper stock, will debut on March 19 "with original photographs, cartoons and other graphic elements that represent a significant departure from its proudly bare-bones aesthetic."
I can't help but think that these developments don't bode well for one of my favorite reads (one I've written for as well), and that's because Peretz's political turn not only had an effect on TNR, but on discourse on the left for the last 30 years or so. Because of his own disillusionment with the left and so many of its lies, he forced the editors and staff of The Nation, for example, along with many others on the left, to re-examine some of the movement's most cherished illusions.
Now that may all be a thing of the past. The last left-leaning magazine that cut back on publication in this way — The New Leader — was gone in a matter of months. Let's hope things go better for Peretz and TNR.