The New Republic is fine. That’s not to say it’s perfect; it could be better, it has been worse. But New York Times reporter David Carr’s article on TNR’s latest transition at the top of the masthead, from boy wonder Peter Beinart to boy wonder Franklin Foer, is tonally off. Yes, circulation may have slid 40 percent in recent years. Yes, it may not generate as much attention as it once did. But that’s because the distribution model is all wrong.
TNR is a good magazine tied to a better Web site. But by charging for online content, it has removed itself from the conversation over public policy that its owners and staff members so much want to be a part of. TNR lives for public debate. But if bloggers can’t link to its content, then it might as well not exist.
These days, Slate gets far more attention. Is it better than TNR? It depends on your taste; if it is, it’s not by a lot. But Slate — like TNR, a moderately liberal, smart, delightfully mean-spirited magazine about politics and culture (Michael Bérubé calls Slate a “slightly newer republic”) — is free and, more important, freely linkable.
Last fall, when my subscription to the print edition of TNR expired, I renewed as a digital-only customer. It was cheaper, and I could read the magazine on my schedule rather than our letter-carrier’s. It is a sign of TNR’s fundamental misunderstanding of the new environment that I received letter after letter begging me to return to the hallowed ranks of paid subscribers (I thought I’d never left), as well as a phone call from a telemarketer almost tearfully asking why I hadn’t renewed.
In fact, I’m probably reading TNR as closely as I ever have, and doing it earlier in the week, since I’m no longer waiting (and waiting) for the print edition to arrive. But I don’t mention it or link to it nearly as often as I’d like, because Media Nation’s readers can’t follow along unless they, too, are TNR subscribers.
In a way, Foer has an easy task in making The New Republic relevant again. All he has to do is persuade Marty Peretz and his fellow owners to rejoin the conversation from which they withdrew. The magazine may be “financially stable,” as Carr reports. But it’s heading for oblivion.