Here at the L, even though the editorial side is run like it’s Sniffin’ Glue in 1976 and the business side is run like the set of Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph, disputes are mostly low-key and conducted passive-agressively via iChat and strategic BCCs. Which is to say: we are a small magazine, with just a decade of history or so behind us, and it may be a long time before I get mine by spinning off the record to a friend at the Times or passing a potentially humiliating photo of Conklin to the Observer. Which is to say: we are not Harper’s, the identity crisis and fraught editor-publisher relationship of which has been splashed about quite a lot lately.
After the Times‘s Stephanie Clifford got the lowdown-of-record, the Observer obtained a photo, from editorial, of someone from the business staff eavesdropping on publisher Rick McArthur’s interview with Clifford. The photo, pictured, purports to show “a senior member of the business staff leaning against Mr. MacArthur’s office, with his ear pressed up against the closed door… for nearly a half-hour…” Here at the L, we are I suppose recently in the habit of posting arguably embarrassing photographs of at least one saleslady on a more or less weekly basis, but this still seems hilariously petty on a whole other level.
The Observer story skews towards editorial’s worries about the editorial overbearing of publisher McArthur—who was once, like the Observer‘s own Jared Kushner, a young rich dude who bought a foundering publication because he really liked it, and is now perplexed that not enough other people like it enough to keep it in the black.
Of course, the kind of long-form, politicized reportage and arts-and-letters essays that Harper’s does (so well!) is appealing to a smaller and smaller audience; McArthur, who just fired well-liked editor Roger Hodge over declining readership, is mostly just howling into a gale, and the sooner he realizes that the problem is with the media landscape and not the adeptness with which his (and, yes, Hodge’s) publication fulfills its stated mission, the better everyone will feel.
Meanwhile, those of us who care about a financially and culturally sustainable model for serious journalism in the online age watch Harper’s with interest, and recommend this conversation with Paul Ford, who edits harpers.org.