Friday, February 05, 2010

That Magazine Is Still Around?

Harper's has been around forever, and, like any magazine so aged, regularly reinvents itself. Such general interest magazines tend to take on the personalities of their editors. Its present form owes a lot to Lewis Lapham, who took over in 1983 and left in 2006. (Though who knows, maybe he wrote a whole batch of stuff still set to be published.) His condescending editorials were best ignored, but he created the Harper's Index, Annotations and the Readings section, which helped make the magazine more relevant, readable and fun.

But now Harper's has fallen on hard times, and the new editor has been sacked by the publisher, whose foundation keeps the magazine going. People at the magazine are shocked and very nervous.

Why is Harper's in trouble? Same reason most print media is. People don't read papers and magazines like they used to, and with present economic troubles, both ad revenue and subscriptions are dropping even faster.

I feel bad for the magazine, but they've also done a bunch of things that made them less relevant in recent years. First, they're generally not available on the web. This is a business decision, I suppose, but it helped remove them from the national conversation. Before widespread internet, Harper's was the kind of magazine you talked about. When was the last time someone started a conversation with "did you hear about that article in Harper's?"

Second, they've had one of the worst cases of Bush Derangement Syndrome out there. It's been hard to read the magazine for years, with such madness passing for journalism. You might have thought Obama's election would calm things done, but look at their latest expose blowing the lid off a scandal at Guantanamo. If you haven't heard about it, there's a good reason--the rest of the media hasn't picked up on it because those who have looked into the story don't believe it.

Even if Harper's opened up and got more sensible, I don't think it would do much to arrest the slide. But they might have more fun as they're sinking.


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