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More on TNR

TheNewRepublic031512Two other notable commentaries on the “demise” of the New Republic’s editorial staff…writing in BloombergView Megan McArdle details the perils and pitfalls of new media acquiring old media, and while she acknowledges arguments about the inevitability of the TNR having to undergo a radical transformation, she ultimately concludes, “You need only read the stories about FirstLook and The New Republic to understand how badly tech-style management assumptions translate into media.”  Also, writing in the LA Review of Books David Bell provides a succinct but detailed history of the TNR, and then moves to an essential point about reading something like the TNR.  What seems to be departing with this transition of the TNR is the interest in reading the whole thing, that is, a cover to cover consideration of what a magazine engaged:

But friends would post pieces on social media, or other articles would link to them. (I presume the same is true of the way many of you are reading this essay, right now.) Back in the days of print, once I paid for a magazine, I had an obvious material incentive to read everything in it, rather than go out and purchase something else. Now, most of the articles I read cost me nothing to access. All in all, I pay far less attention than I once did to where a particular article originally appeared; I rarely pause, like many other readers presumably, to consider how editors might have shaped it, behind the scenes. When I read a magazine on paper, on the other hand, its overall editorial project still imposes itself strongly on my reading response.

In this new digital universe where words have broken free of their traditional covers — and reading so easily turns into skimming — arguments flow faster and fiercer than ever, but they are atomized, and hyper-accelerated. A group of authors may momentarily coalesce to argue a particular point — the way commentators from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Corey Robin came together to say “good riddance” to TNR. But then the molecules of argument break apart again in the constant flow. In this universe where unified magazines are dissolving, it is becoming far harder for a group of editors and writers to have the sort of durable influence that TNR acquired at moments in its past, notably in the 1980s.

For Bell, this contributes to the “ideological polarization” that characterizes the nation’s politics at this moment in history.  To my way of thinking, Bell is onto the seriousness of the demise, reading the “whole thing” is becoming impossible.  The kind of Internet-influenced reading described by Nicholas Carr in The Shallows is making the diffuse possibilities of a serious magazine apparently impossible.  A publication like TNR (or Harpers, or The Atlantic, or New Yorker) was supposed to function like a series of sotto voce exchanges, writer to reader, in a big conversation.  Insights from a variety of perspectives encountered all at once for future consideration–how might an argument about x inform a point of view about y.  This kind of reading as feed of intuitive self may be sacrificed as ventures like the TNR fail.  To put it another way, the stakes are nothing short of sitting down on a Sunday afternoon with a newly arrived magazine…

~ by pdoty on .

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