The self-reverential media universe has been going bananas since last night at the news that The New Republic, progressivism's century-old flagship magazine, is changing chief editors, cutting publication frequency in half, becoming a "vertically integrated digital media company," staffing up an office in New York, experiencing an angry exodus of staff and contributors (including its Dance Editor!), and bouncing the loved/hated Leon Wieseltier (pictured) from a culture-editor slot he has occupied since the Grover Cleveland administration.
What does this have to do with Reason's annual Webathon, you ask? Plenty.
First, as I mentioned when baby-faced Facebook cajillionaire Chris Hughes bought The New Republic two years ago,
Political magazines, which as a rule do not cover expenses through subscriptions and advertising, have two basic ownership models: Get an ideologically and/or culturally sympatico rich person (or "vanity mogul," in Jack Shafer's memorable phrasing) to subsidize the losses, or just organize as a nonprofit (Reason chose the latter road decades ago).
There are plusses and minuses to both—as Shafer points out, "Hughes should be able to sustain the magazine's annual losses—which Anne Peretz, the ex-wife of former owner Martin Peretz put at $3 million a year—for a couple of hundred years after his death"—but one aspect I certainly enjoy about the Reason way is that it is literally impossible for a single person (let alone a single person with deep political connections to the sitting U.S. president) to impose his or her will on the editorial decisions of a normally configured nonprofit publication. The basic editorial thrust is therefore much more resilient and consistent in the long term, much less subject to the temporal whims and temper tantrums of a lone deep-pocketed journalistic novice.
When you donate to Reason right the hell now, you are adding to the resilience and stability of an institution you value. The more donors we have, at whatever giving level, the better able we are to withstand and avoid tumult.
There's another way in which the whiplashed fortunes of Herbert Croly's brainchild should cause you to reflect on your relationship with this here humble mag & website. From its beginnings in the bosom of Teddy Roosevelt to its recent 100th anniversary gala headlined by Bill Clinton and attended by Nancy Pelosi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The New Republic has been the ultimate journalistic handmaiden to power and the northeastern liberal elite. As I wrote last year in an essay about the magazine,
The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever. Progressivism has reverted to a form that would have been recognizable to Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann when they founded The New Republic a century ago: an intellectual collaborator in the "responsible" exercise of state power. […]
Then as now, the magazine represented a marriage between New York literary ambitions and Washington power politics. Judge Learned Hand mingled in its pages with critic Edmund Wilson and economist John Maynard Keynes. Lippmann, on his way to becoming the most popular public policy intellectual in the country, developed into a horse-whisperer for politicians, transferring his fealty from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson so quickly and thoroughly that he was already writing speeches for the president by 1916 and working full-time for his war cabinet the following year.
Reason was not founded by some Harvard wunderkind with his tongue on the earlobes of power; it was started by a Boston University undergrad no one had ever heard of. Our galas will not be attended by presidents, our editors will not be writing war speeches, our headquarters will remain several thousand miles from the Acela corridor, and if we are the "in-flight magazine" of anything, it will be SpaceShipTwo.
We're outsiders, baby, and that's why we're built to last. We've been a "digital media company" (minus the vertical integration) since Chris Hughes was 8 years old. And we critique power instead of collaborating with it. So donate to Reason right the hell now!