Do Opinion Magazines Still Matter in the Age of Blogs?

Franklin Foer, age 31, has been named the top editor at the legendary The New Republic. Many are wondering whether it matters.

The New Republic’s circulation has dropped by almost 40 percent in four years; it cut its circulation and staff salaries after aggressively spending on the Web in 2002. Meanwhile, its historical role as a maypole for middle-way Democrats is under challenge from countless Web sites and bloggers.


To look at The New Republic, with a weekly circulation of 62,000 and a demure size of about 40 pages, the subject of who might be its editor would seem to be a game that is played in a very small parlor. But among people whose animating force in life is public policy — there are such folk, and many of them make decisions that affect the rest of us — The New Republic remains as resonant as it was in the days when Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan or Michael Kelly served as its editor. Others think it has more than lost a step, and perhaps purpose, in a digital age when political argument is abundant.


But Mr. Foer has ambitions for the magazine that go beyond throwing analytical weight and associative power at any particular issue. “We live in the most politicized age since the 60’s, and I don’t think that political journalism has been up to the task,” he said. “The good old-fashioned things that a political journal does — the explication of ideas and ideas — are not in great abundance right now.”

TNR and its many cousins–National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, Washington Monthly, the American Prospect and many more–put out a substantial quanity of good pieces unavailable elsewhere. Fewer bloggers have the resources, especially time, to produce magazine quality pieces. Still, collectively, there’s more good work out in the blogosphere than any of us has time to read.

A weekly circulation of 62,000 is just sad. While comparing paid weekly subscribers to weekly unique visits is hardly apples-to-apples, there are still a whole lot of blogs that get comparable readership. A substantial number have a lot more than TNR.

And it’s not just that blogs are free while magazines cost money. TNR is quite inexpensive, at least if one subscribes. Amazon has it for $60 a year, less than the cost of a Starbucks latte per month. Certainly, that price would not dissuade many of the type of people who read opinion journals, who tend to be educated and affluent.

I suspect circulation is down for the same reason that I no longer subscribe to TNR or NR: Time. I can not through all the worthwhile blog posts I want to read in a day, let alone go through a lot of long form articles. I still subscribe to a fair number of magazines and a couple of foreign affairs journals but I often don’t get through them. And the Internet has almost surely shortened our attention span. Blog posts are almost always shorter than magazine pieces and very few of the top bloggers do a lot of long form writing on their sites.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    I usually do not subscribe to news magazines and such. But the last year I finally succumbed and spent the money for an Atlantic sub. I think their articles are worth the money and their subscriber only material on their website is very useful for archive material.

  2. g-man says:

    get a clue. since the dawn of widespread high-speed internet, no one is reading the political rags anymore (at least the physical mags, perhaps their websites). nor do most Americans pay as much attention to the Sunday morning talkshows as their hosts and talking heads would like to believe.

  3. DC Loser says:

    I like to hold the mag in my hands when I read, nice glossy paper and good photography. Somethings you can’t replicate on the computer. Same goes for books, witness the demise of the ebook. Stupid idea.

  4. James Joyner says:

    DCL: There’s some of that, to be sure. My view on all that has been skewed since starting the blog since, when I find something interesting, I need to be able to link to and preferably excerpt form it.

    I still get the Atlantic, New Yorker, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and several lighter reading pubs in dead tree for bedtime.

  5. AST says:

    I took the Atlantic Monthly when I became aware of Michael Kelly via the internet and Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. Then he died and the magazine sunk back down into the standing water of liberalism. The last straw was an issue which discussed “the mess in Iraq,” as though everybody sees it as one.

    I take the Weekly Standard, but never get it all read, despite it’s being so thin, I don’t know how it survives. There don’t seem to be any advertisers. I get my money’s worth from the website, anyway. The NRO has the right idea. I’d consider sending them a few bucks a month. No paper, no postage, no clutter.

    I suspect that I’m not their ideal reader though. I have ADD and bad eyesight and read slowly. Most people I know zip through stuff much more quickly than I do.

    Sony is bringing out an electronic paper book reader. That may be all we need to dispense with printed mags. I’d sure like to dispense with the stacks of old magazines around the house.

  6. Eddie Thomas says:

    I have subscribed to TNR for about 20 years, but I have finally let my subscription go and may not renew this time. Some of things already mentioned are a factor – reading blogs instead, time – but I’m also put off by what TNR has become. It has succumbed to being reflexively anti-Bush, which is odd given that it had never been reflexively anything other than pro-Israel before.

    As a centrist conservative, I highly value alternative points of view that are not inherently dismissive of my own. I am having a very hard time finding that now.