The New York Magazine recently announced that, beginning March 3, 2014, it will go from a weekly to a biweekly publication schedule. While the cut in production will be accompanied by an expansion in cultural coverage, a new section or two, new online hires, an Instagram channel, and so forth, most people see the move as a harbinger of the end of the weekly magazine in general. If New York can’t make it as a weekly, who can?
At The Dish, Andrew Sullivan worries about what this means for how we read:
I’ve long believed that the survivors of this mass media death will be monthlies (and yet The Atlantic seems much more focused on digital than print and Harpers is as willfully obscure as ever) or a few weeklies like The Economist or The New Yorker. But I’m beginning to wonder how a handful of magazines can really sustain an ecology of reading habits alone. At some point the landscape they make sense in evaporates. They become a novelty rather than a central part of a reading public’s life.
I don’t find that satisfying. I find it terribly worrying if we care about sustaining the kind of informed discourse a democracy needs (and, sorry, but listicles and copy-writing disguised as journalism doesn’t count). Hence our attempt to build out and up from a blog and its readership. Will it work in the end? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s a duty to try. And try. And try again. And it’s good to know that as we struggle and improvise in the coming months and years, Adam Moss will be the proof of principle if print can survive at all.
Sullivan is right that weekly magazines nourish certain readerly habits and that those habits cannot be sustained–at least on a wide scale–by a handful of publications.
At the same time, I am not as worried as Sullivan about the future of reading and discourse because, it seems to me, there are certain natural characteristics to the ways we read that are difficult to change. Ways of reading are plastic, but not completely plastic. Our memories are limited, we become bored by repetition and over-stimulation, we value variety and complexity, our eyes need rest, our minds need quiet. And if this is true, I wonder if it makes sense to think of weekly magazines as responding to ways of reading as well as nourishing them.
Like Sullivan, I enjoy weeklies and will be sorry to see them go–if they do go. But I don’t think the loss would be catastrophic for certain kinds of reading or for public discourse. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think other kinds of publications, or kinds or uses of technology, will respond to the sort of demand that led to weeklies–other uses of technology like Sullivan’s own pioneering use of the blog.
And will Sullivan’s use of the blog be successful? Maybe so, maybe not. I hope it will be. But if not, I think something or someone else will be.