Following up my previous rant on the business of investigative journalism at magazines, I was happy to see this from Texas Monthly's Evan Smith:
Long-form is not the disease, it's the cure. What distinguishes us from other magazines is that we believe enough in the intellectual and cultural passions of our readers to give them 6,000; 7,000; or 10,000 words, when appropriate, on big subjects. Our circulation numbers are strong, which tells me that rather than going against the wishes of the people out there, we're actually speaking exactly to them.
Given that I live in a city that elected a bar owner as its mayor, you'd think that nothing about politics would surprise me anymore. Still, I couldn't decide whether to be tickled or befuddled at the ongoing rumblings that Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt was contemplating a run for Congress. [FULL DISCOSURE: I've been drunk with the guy. Several times.]
As recently as last week, Roll Call was making it seem like a done deal:
Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt is planning a bid against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) and an announcement is forthcoming next month, according to a Pennsylvania Democratic operative with knowledge of the race."He's certainly moving ahead and finishing his due diligence, but we certainly expect that he will be running," the Democrat said. [...]Local Democrats are hopeful that Platt's connections in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs will be the ticket to defeating Gerlach in a district that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Philadelphia magazine editor Larry Platt is planning a bid against Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) and an announcement is forthcoming next month, according to a Pennsylvania Democratic operative with knowledge of the race.
"He's certainly moving ahead and finishing his due diligence, but we certainly expect that he will be running," the Democrat said. [...]
Local Democrats are hopeful that Platt's connections in the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs will be the ticket to defeating Gerlach in a district that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
Well, Philly Dems are going to have to make other plans. Platt has told his staff that he's out:
After being a prospective candidate for two days at the Pennsylvania Society last weekend, I was so sick of my own voice, so tired of hearing me talk about me, that I realized this life change wasnâ€™t for me. When youâ€™re a journalist, I realized, youâ€™re interested in hearing and conveying other peoplesâ€™ stories. When youâ€™re obsessed with your own story, you create your own little echo chamber inside your head. Itâ€™s not fun.
The latest round of media layoffs has even the New York Times worrying that "Muckraking Pays, Just Not in Profit":
Investigative reporting can expose corruption, create accountability and occasionally save lives, but it will never be a business unto itself. Reporters frequently spend months on various lines of inquiry, some of which do not pan out, and even when one does, it is not the kind of coverage that draws advertisers.
With all due respect to David Carr, and at the risk of seeming like a broken record, I've got to disagree. Four years ago, I made a commitment that 5280 would do more, not less, long-form investigative journalism. Since then, we've done work that, in my humble opinion, rivals the kinds of investigations that Carr praises in his Times essay:
All of this hasn't come cheap. To do this kind of work, we've had to more than triple our staff and increase our editorial budget by nearly $1 million per year. We've had to fight off a subpoena from the Defense Department and, in another case, sue the federal government when we discovered evidence that an order had gone out to destroy records we were seeking under a Freedom of Information Act inquiry.
But we've seen a tremendous return on our investment. And not just in the form of some very nice awards. In the last four years, 5280's paid subscriptions have grown by more than 50 percent, while our newsstand sales have grown by a similar amount. In that same time period we've more than doubled our ad revenue.
Now, I'll readily admit that our improved editorial product isn't the only reason for our growth. The magazine was already doing well, as is Denver itself, and we're blessed with a great sales and marketing team. But those very same sales reps would be the first to tell you that a great editorial product has made their jobs easier.
To be sure, 5280 is a small magazine in a relatively small city. But there's nothing about our business model that shouldn't be valid elsewhere. To sell ads, you've got to attract a worthwhile audience. To attract an audience, you've got to give them compelling content. All of which convinces me that good journalism can be good business.
A tip of the knit hat to my pals at Boston magazine, who did the right thing when the Boston Bruins tried to buy a little love:
"Thatâ€™s when Wendy Watkins, a marketing executive from Delaware Northâ€”the company that oversees the Bruins and all of the various other Jacobs family business concernsâ€”called one of the magazineâ€™s sales reps to ask whether or not the story about Jacobs was going to be â€śpositive.â€ť
If so, Watkins said, the Bruins might be interested in buying a series of ads. If not, however, the deal would be unlikely."
The magazine turned down the deal.
Compare and contrast, if you will, to this shameful episode.
You don't often see the admittedly arcane subjects of postal rates and magazine circulation strategies debated in the mainstream media, but the U.S. Postal Service's recent rate hikes are back in the spotlight.
Here's pundit Eric Alterman:
"Back in March, the Commission voted to approve a plan pushed by a coterie of major magazine publishers that will likely increase mailing costs for small periodicals everywhere by as much as 30 percentâ€”a crushing burden for many small, editorial operations. Big magazines like Time and Vogue, however, may actually see their rates decrease, owing to the new bulk rates."
Here at 5280, we mail about 40,000 subscriber copies each month but have only seen a modest boost in our postage costs. Because so many of our copies go to a relatively few local zip codes, we can qualify for many of the sorting discounts enjoyed by the big boys. But I'm guessing it's a different story for regionals that serve a larger area, or national pubs that serve a niche audience. Alterman continues:
About 5,700 small-circulation publications will incur the large rate increases. In many cases, the increase might put the final nail in their proverbial coffins. True, The Nation can absorb its likely additional $500,000 in postal costs by firing staff and cutting back in other ways; ditto National Review and its $100,000 increase. But for many smaller, particularly minority publications, the postal rates are literally a matter of life or death. And the death of these publications is a death in the marketplace of ideas and a blow to the function of a healthy democracy.
More on the increases, as well as a way to make your voice heard on the issue, is available here and here.