In a postmortem, Megan McArdle, a former magazine writer who now labors for Bloomberg News, writes, “Hearing that New York magazine can’t make it as a weekly is, for a professional journalist, rather like being told that your teddy bear has cancer.”
But something more vital than a comforting childhood relic is expiring. In the age of being flooded by instant information, as magazines die, Americans are losing one of their few ways of understanding what it all means.
A century ago, social critic Lewis Mumford pointed out that, although science and technology assume constantly increasing consumption of goods and knowledge is desirable, it can lead to “deprivation by surfeit.”
With increasing speed and productivity, Mumford wrote, “we have ignored the need for evaluation, correction, selection and social assimilation.”
Today’s journalism validates his theory as clearly as do the clogging of highways, the overwhelming of air-traffic control and the breakdown of political discourse. We are in a hurry to get somewhere without being sure of the destination and how to keep from falling over one another.
Relegating magazines to dentists’ waiting rooms and airline flights morphs them into the same kind of time-killers as the media causing the confusion.
In the half-obituary for New York, as cynics smarmly cluck over the passing of “dead-tree journalism,” a retired practitioner may be forgiven for lamenting what Americans are losing in their psychic landscape.
Part II: Why and how magazines will survive.