Spasms of Amateurism

Spasms of Amateurism December 12, 2014

Two articles on journalism today. From Forward, Neal Pollack’s Welcome to The New Republic — Taylor Swift’s Been Waiting For You, a list of the magazine’s greatest articles since it’s beginning. For example:

3) November 23, 1935. “Harrumph To Modernism,” by Edmund Wilson
In an issue otherwise occupied by 37 editorials about the New Deal, TNR’s venerable critic goes on about Joyce and Eliot and Woolf for many pages, ending with the immortal words: “No one is reading this, right? Oooga-booga!” . . .

12) December 20, 2014: “44 Reasons Why Taylor Swift Will Never Ever Have A Year As Good As This One Again,” by Chris Hughes
The owner of America’s best-loved vertically integrated digital media company takes a stand and gets a lot of click-throughs.

 And from the Wall Street Journal: Edward Kosner’s Cuckoo Journalism for a Tweetable Time, reviewing TNR‘s and other magazine’s “being convulsed by a spasm of amateurism.” Kosner explains:

Quite simply, print editors and their writers, and especially the publications’ proprietors, are being unhinged by the challenge of making a splash in a new world increasingly dominated by the values of digital journalism. Traditional long-form journalism — painstakingly reported, carefully written, rewritten and edited, scrupulously fact-checked — finds itself fighting a losing battle for readers and advertisers. Quick hits, snarky posts and click-bait in the new, ever-expanding cosmos of websites promoted by even quicker teasers on Twitter and Facebook have broadened the audience but shrunk its attention span, sometimes to 140 characters (shorter than this sentence).

Whether they realize it or not, and most do, print journalists feel the pressure to make their material ever more compelling, to make it stand out amid the digital chatter. The easiest way to do that is to come up with stories so sensational that even the Twitterverse has to take notice.

Not a new insight, of course, but one that applies not only to the magazines currently at the center of attention but to almost everyone who writes for publication.

Update: Another view of The New Republic‘s destruction, by  Dana Milbank of the Washington PostThe New Republic is dead, thanks to its owner, Chris Hughes. He’s obviously a very smart young man, Milbank admits, but also he suggests, childish: a boy with huge amounts of money who got tired of his newest toy. After Hughes and his “husband” failed to get a seat in Congress for the latter by buying a house in the district last year,

it became an open secret that Hughes was done with the New Republic. At a lavish 100th-anniversary gala for the magazine at the Mellon Auditorium on Nov. 19, Hughes did the seating chart himself — and he put most of the magazine staff at tables in the back. He told junior staffers they could not bring guests to the event, and he reacted furiously when one politely asked if she could bring her fiance, who had given the magazine pro bono advice on social-media strategy.

And then he essentially killed the magazine to create another new toy famously called “a vertically integrated digital media company.”

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