Yes, the era in which a handful of magazines were the effective gate-keepers for an entire national conversation is gone – and that is a good thing for the discourse and for the democracy. But only if what TNR did can be replicated in the new era.Internet platforms with points of view: no good precedents for what will pass as The New Republic.
Think of Vox, a young media start-up for the policy left and beyond. It has many skilled writers, has swift and shrewd pieces, and does indeed “explain” and add context to many news stories. For all those reasons, it’s a great addition to the discourse. But it is also, like most other new media outfits, an ad agency, in which sponsored content revenues are now the alternative to a rich benefactor. Is that really much better? Does a magazine full of bloviating corporate p.r. campaigns made to look as indistinguishable from editorial as possible have a better chance at changing people’s minds and changing the broader culture than the earlier model? Do you get any sense from Vox that its editors are actually struggling to figure out the world, that there are battle-lines over policy and politics, that high culture and low culture are critical complements to a nothing-but-politics-and-policy view of the world? Say what you like about Marty Peretz – but there was more diversity of thought in one issue of TNR than there has been in one year of Vox. That’s what I’ll miss. Along with the contrarian refusal to go along with the latest left-liberal fad, or to cover for Democrats in office, for fear of giving “the other side” ammunition.Perhaps, dear reader, you have to do your own research. The problem Mr Sullivan is facing, though, is that it's less costly to produce content, and the ratio of noise, or simple repetition, to signal, is likely to be higher. On the other hand, a New Republic, even one with an editor who makes an effort to bring in diversity of thought, might be caught flat-footed by rapid development of new ideas.