Thursday, November 28, 2013


Despite my almost constant gloominess in Ad Aged, despite my despair over and disdain for what's become of what was once a great and highly-paid industry, I have, believe it or not, a lot to be thankful for.

Here's a short list.

1. My agency tolerates my blogging. In the four years I've been with them, I've removed exactly two posts.
2. I am surrounded by energetic young people who for the most part give a shit and want to do good things. Sure some of them are afflicted by millennial malaise, but most of them care and work hard. Some of them even want to listen to a guy who has more than 30 year's experience.
3. My main client is, after four years of day-in and day-out with them, showing some signs of appreciating the fight I am fighting against them, for them.
4. My main client, when I was hospitalized over the summer expressed concern as to my well-being and urged me to come back slowly. I appreciate when you are treated like a human in an age where spreadsheets rule.
5. I work with a great partner and a great producer who 'have my back' and make me better.
6. Ditto. I have an account partner who pulls on the same oar as I do.
7. My kids are growing up good and strong and smart. I believe they will make a difference, however small.
8. My wife tolerates me, not always the easiest of tasks.
9. Though I am often disconsolate about work and work related issues, I still have my gusto and energy.
10. I am almost healed from this summer's cataclysms.
11. I'm zeroing in on 4,000 posts on Ad Aged, and I'm not tapped out yet.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Herzschmerz in the Tempus Fugit.

It was raining. Raining like all the gods were pissing on me at once. But Whiskey wasn't sleepy and I was losing a four-decade's-old battle with recurring insomnia. We looked at each other and silently decided a trip to the Tempus Fugit was in order, divine urine be damned.

I wrapped myself in an old oil-skin coat I have had since the 1980s--a coat old and worn but staunch and impenetrable, I threw on a similarly staunch and impenetrable pair of Wellingtons, and Whiskey and I headed out into the flood. In just under 20 minutes we were sloshing down the labyrinthine hallways and stairways that led to the Tempus Fugit--a place as dry as a dessicated cotton ball in a furnace.

Whiskey shook the wet from her fur and I threw my hat and coat on a rickety rack by the entrance and settled onto my stool. In a trice the bartender provided Whiskey with a wooden bowl of cold water and had pulled me an eight-ounce juice glass filled with Pike's Ale (the ALE that won for YALE.)

"The rain," the bartender said to me, "the rain."

I nodded and pushed my now-empty glass in his direction. He filled it effortlessly.

"It is a rain at the end of time," I said.

"And, you," he said, "is your end of time nigh?"

I laughed at that and sipped gently at my Pike's.

"I saw his Eminence, my cardiologist, yesterday. I don't have a clean bill of health, as yet, but I am nearly whole."

"Ah," he said as he began swabbing the teak of the bar with a well-handled white terry rag. "Ah, to be whole in this, a time of half-measures, could be a detriment."

Again I laughed and again I sipped gently at my Pike's.

"Herzschmerz," he said, not looking up from his terry.

"Heartbreak," I translated.

"There's a lot of herzschmerz in the world. It's become a meaner place."

I nodded in agreement.

"As Sammy Glick said, 'going through life with a conscience is like driving with your brakes on.'"

"Well, personally, I think we'd all be a little better off if we all drove a little slower. Maybe my gypsy cab-driver wouldn't have crashed into that concrete wall."

"It will do you no good crying over spilt Town Cars."

He filled me up a third time. Whiskey, still wet, was still sound asleep.

"Maybe the cure for herzschmerz is to slow down. To not blow with the prevailing winds."

"The opposite of Captain Renaud. Yes. Don't accept our cruel, more mercenary world. Don't think it's ok to shop on Thanksgiving. Some things just aren't right."

"Most things," I answered.

I pushed two twenties his way.

He pushed them back.

"Happy Hannukah," he said "Happy Thanksgiving."

Whiskey and I walked slowly home.

Monday, November 25, 2013

42 Insults.

1. "Fine words! I wonder where you stole them." - Jonathon Swift

2. "What's on your mind? If you'll forgive the overstatement." -Fred Allen

3. "Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings?"- Milton Berle

4. "I feel so miserable without you, it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

5. "He is a self-made man & worships his creator." - John Bright

6. "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb

7. "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." - Clarence Darrow

8. "She has been kissed as often as a police-court Bible, and bymuch the same class of people." - Robertson Davies

9. "He was one of the nicest old ladies I ever met." - William Faulkner

10. "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

11. "He has sat on the fence so long that the iron has entered his soul." - David Lloyd George

12. "He has every attribute of a dog except loyalty." - Thomas P.Gore

13. "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas

14. "God was bored by him." - Victor Hugo

15. "He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson

16. "He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating

17. "Her only flair is in her nostrils." - Pauline Kael

18. "He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr

19. "There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."- Jack E. Leonard

20. "I wish I'd known you when you were alive." - Leonard LouisLevinson

21. "He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln

22. "His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea." - William McAdoo (about Warren Harding)

23. "You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it." - Groucho Marx

24. "I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception."- Groucho Marx

25. "From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it." -Groucho Marx

26. "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."- Groucho Marx

27. "He is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death." - H. H. Munro

28. "He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." - Robert Redford

29. "They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." - Thomas Brackett Reed

30. "He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them." - James Reston (about Richard Nixon)

31. "He never said a foolish thing nor never did a wise one."- Earl of Rochester

32. "He has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair."- Theodore Roosevelt

33. "A little emasculated mass of inanity." - Theodore Roosevelt(about Henry James)

34. "You're a good example of why some animals eat their young."- Jim Samuels

35. "The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation, but not the power of speech." - George Bernard Shaw

36. "Gee, what a terrific party. Later on we'll get some fluid and embalm each other." - Neil Simon

37. "Had double chins all the way down to his stomach." - Mark Twain

38. "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain

39. "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." -Mae West

40. "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."- Oscar Wilde

41. "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." -Oscar Wilde

42. "He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder

Things I don't do.

I don't create content.

I don't deliverable deliverables.

I don't ideate.

I don't strategize.

I don't make assets.

I don't push pixels.

I don't re-purpose.

I don't best practice.

I don't insight.

I don't scope.

I don't create tool kits.

I don't bucket.

I don't do work streams.

I don't leverage.

I don't leverage conversations.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

From Sir John Hegarty.

"...One of the other problems I have today is people have retreated to the edges of advertising. You know, they’re happy to do some small little campaign somewhere or they’re doing something on the net that hardly anybody sees and they’re getting awards for it and everybody’s cheering. But they’re not changing the way people feel or think."

I ran across this just now on Jacob Dutton's blog.

Uncle Slappy arrives.

Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie arrived at my door late yesterday afternoon, bundled up against the New York cold as only residents of Florida can be. They wore puffy winter coats, thick Russian hats, scarves, gloves and winter boots. It was 40-degrees in New York but the weatherman said that overnight it was going down into the teens with strong winds.

I took their luggage--though he's 86 Uncle Slappy still refuses to use a roller-bag. "When I can't carry a bag anymore, I'll stop traveling," he says defiantly. Aunt Sylvie, who has grown inured to Uncle Slappy after almost 60 years of marriage, abides by no such strictures. Her bag glides like a beautiful virgin on a dance floor.

I settled the two of them in our guest room and in a split second or two they were parked at the small table in our eat-in kitchen awaiting a cup of my wife's famously potent black coffee and a schtickle. (A schtickle is something small to nibble on--usually something sweet, like a piece of babka or a danish or a few rugelach. I offered Sylvie and Slappy a selection of all three. They are not getting any younger.)

Uncle Slappy sipped deeply at his coffee and closed his eyes with its goodness. Though he is my uncle, I think he and Sylvie come up so often for my wife's coffee. I don't know how she does it, but I think she makes the best in the world.

Fortified by Sumatran caffeine, Uncle Slappy began his routine.

"Aunt Sylvie and I saw the Grateful Fred last night. They were playing at the recreation center in the village."

"The Grateful Fred?" I asked.

"Fred Weintraub, Fred Steinmetz and Fred Kopinsky. They live in our condo development. They play jazz," Uncle Slappy explained.

"They ain't Tommy Dorsey," Aunt Sylvie chimed in between bites of cherry danish.

"It's a funny name for a band," I added.

"Well, the Grateful Fred are no Grateful Dead," Uncle Slappy concluded.

"Thank god," said Aunt Sylvie. "Thank god."

She was never one for rock-n-roll, Aunt Sylvie. I was surprised they even knew who the Grateful Dead were.

"Download them you can try to, on the iTunes," Uncle Slappy said.

Then, tired from their trip, Sylvie and Slappy went to their bedroom to rest, impervious to the caffeine they had just ingested, and just about everything else.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts from E.L. Doctorow.

Last night at the National Book Awards (remember books?) E.L. Doctorow was awarded the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

On receiving his award, he gave a long speech on the Internet.

He called the Internet "ubiquitous and loomingly present in everything we do."

The virtual world has changed our world forever, he said:

"Like all worlds, the virtual comes with its heaven and its hell.

“Its substance is not mountains and seas, but information, data and knowledge in every form and every kind transmitted for every person,” he described it, pointing out the myriads of purpose that the world wide web serves from creating wealth and educating to spying and making war. He called us “immigrants” in “a new world.”

Doctorow pointed out all of the words whose meanings have changed because of the Internet. “Text is now a verb. More radically, a search engine is not an engine. A platform is not a platform. A bookmark is not a bookmark. An eBook is not a book. A cookie is not a chocolate cookie. A cloud may be in the sky, but it is not there to produce weather,” he said. “Language has been stolen or … metamorphosized. We in this room have to appreciate metaphor. When was the last time in hearing the word mouse that you thought of a small rodent or heard the word web and thought of a spider.” He referred to The Internet as an, “overbrain,” saying that “it could easily be mistaken as a cross section of the human brain.”

To Doctorow, a book represents the essence of interactivity. “It is only when a book is read that it is completed,” he said. “A book is written in silence and read in silence.”

Doctorow closed out the speech referencing a recent report from Pen America in which authors revealed that they are self-censoring for fear of government surveillance describing this as, ”the first step down the stairs to the Internet world’s hell.” Suggesting that authors not let governments and corporations win.

“Everyone in this room is in the free speech business,” he closed.

50 years ago.

Fifty years ago today I was a first-grader in Ridgeway Elementary School in White Plains, New York. Even though I was only five, and my brother Fred just seven, we walked by ourselves to and home from school. It was about half-a-mile from our little cookie-cutter homestead built on a treeless lot.

We had in that cookie-cutter home a single black-and-white (there were no color sets in 1963) TV set. It had maybe a 13-inch diagonal screen which was built into a big wooden case. You could close the screen off with wooden doors. This set sat in the livingroom of my parents' house.

There was a long hill between my parents' house and Ridgeway that was always a little scary. The rumor was that a pizza delivery kid had been screaming down the hill on his bike in the rain. The pizza slipped off the bike and the kid veered to retrieve it and was killed by a car. We always shuddered a bit at the thought. I'll admit, I still do.

In those pre-carbon days, Novembers were cold. We bundled up when we went out, with warm coats, gloves and hats. We had rubbers for the rain and fat-buckled galoshes for the snow. We were much less cavalier about the weather it seems, maybe because the weather seemed so severe.

Of course, like today, we were all looking forward to Thanksgiving. I'm sure in my first-grade class we studied the Pilgrims, made turkey drawings and thought Squanto got a raw deal.

The next day, John Kennedy was killed.

All the leaves were off the trees.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


This is a small business.

I remember reading many years ago that if you took everyone in America who works in advertising, it wouldn't fill the University of Michigan's football stadium on a chilly Saturday.

For the last few weeks I've had a constant reminder of just how small the industry is. I've been sequestered at an editor's and I know every other creative there--though they are from a handful of different agencies.

Yet despite the closed-loop nature of advertising, you still find people who are, in the words of Uncle Slappy, schmendricks, that is stupid, self-absorbed asses.

You find people who grab credit.

People who lie, cheat and steal.

People who put self-promotion above real work.

Naturally, it's easier to be a schmendrick when you're riding high in your career.

It's a pain in the ass to return phone calls, to be gracious.

But schmendrickism catches up with you.

When your personal coffers are a little less full.

When your high horse is a little closer to earth.

By then it's too late.

Your reputation is tainted.

There are two things that keep you employed in advertising, ultimately.

Your portfolio and your reputation.

Don't let anything sully them.

Don't be a schmendrick.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Working through pain.

A few years and much avoirdupois ago, I was a fairly good long distance runner. I had run a dozen marathons, a few 25Ks and assorted ten-milers, all at around a 7-minute pace.

In the course of most races there were times, of course, where I began to falter, where my pace would begin to flag. In time, I learned how to handle my fatigue. I would drop my wrists to waist level, stand up straight and count my steps to a thousand.

I would push myself to do a thousand paces strong. Then when I had finished those thousand steps, I would refresh my count and do a thousand more. This approach was particularly helpful when facing a long, steep uphill. A hill can be daunting but counting to a thousand is mechanical--something to occupy the mind when the body isn't cooperating.

I find counting to a thousand is useful in the long slog of advertising, too.

There are strenuous uphill miles in every project we face--weeks and weeks of pain before the finish line can even be sniffed.

It's best to drop your arms, stand up straight, count and work through the pain.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The new economy.

The constant resounding drumbeat of unleashed, cruel and inhuman capitalism is that you, what you do, what you make are are worth nothing.

You are a smudge on the face of the world who gets paid the smallest fraction of what the bloated leaders of giant corporations gets paid. Protection, which used to take the form of "christianity," that is love of one's fellow man, has evaporated. Minimum wages are starvation wages--when indexed for inflation, lower than they were 40 years ago. Job security in an era of globalization has disappeared. There's always slave labor somewhere else that is cheaper and more abuseable. And unions have all but disappeared.

Of course, we slash--eviscerated--programs like food stamps while the aforementioned corporate fatties get their "business meals" subsidized by tax payers.

The latest example of this comes from Boeing.

Boeing which gets massive tax breaks records record profits.

Then attempts to slash the pay of its highly-skilled workers (threatening to relocate to Rick Perry's serfdom, Texas) if its workers do not accept paycuts and the evisceration of their pension fund.

As Pulitzer-winner Timothy Egan wrote in Thursday's "New York Times," "This is how the middle class dies, not with a bang, but a forced squeeze. After a global corporation posts record profits, it asks the state that has long nurtured its growth for the nation’s biggest single tax break, and then tells the people who make its products that their pension plan will be frozen, their benefits slashed, their pay raises meager. Take it or we leave. And everyone caves."
The same, of course, is happening in our business, sans the tax breaks.
The downward pressure on wages.
The complete lack of job security.
And the Croesus-like pay of a few at the top.
We used to value workers.
No more.
They are a "cost-center" to be squeezed.
Read Egan here.
And find a way to fight.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Too important not to read.

We're all too busy to read. This is not snack-sized. But it's too important to disregard.

P U B L I S H E R ’ S L E T T E R
By John R. MacArthur

W hen I began my tenure as publisher
of Harper’s Magazine  nearly thirty
years ago, my biggest challenge—or
so I thought at the time—was to get
advertising agencies to pay more attention
to the celebrated journal of
American ideas and literature entrusted
to my care. Harper’s  had tens of
thousands of loyal readers but not
many loyal advertisers, so my task
seemed clear. Fawning over salesmen
rubbed against my political grain, but
those days were dominated by the
free-market dogma of the Reagan Administration,
and I fell prey to some of
the president’s most simpleminded
thinking. If advertisers didn’t sufficiently
admire serious readers of the
Harper’s  variety, then it was my job to
persuade Madison Avenue and its clients
that I was serious about their
concerns—about selling their products
to my readers.
And oh how we sold! For twenty
years, editor Lewis Lapham and I crisscrossed
the country in pursuit of what
everyone else in our business was after:
glossy, high-pro_le consumer and corporate
advertising. Armed with our
good name—Harper’s,  after all, was
deeply enmeshed in America’s cultural
and historical fabric—we maneuvered
our way into company dining rooms
from Wall Street to Rockefeller Center,
from Louisville to St. Louis, from
Boise to Palo Alto. We engaged our
hosts in discussions of the political and
literary issues of the day, but to better
impress them we also invoked our af-
_nity with the advertising world, presenting
as evidence the brief stint on
the Harper’s  board of the legendary adman
William J. Bernbach, as well as
our own very slick house ad produced
by the renowned firm of Scali,
McCabe, Sloves. It didn’t hurt our
cause that my late father, Roderick,
was something of an advertising genius.
I spoke the language of the advertising
trade because, along with
journalism and politics, I’d absorbed it
nearly every day of my childhood at
the kitchen table. It also didn’t hurt
that Lewis Lapham and I were
spawned by the very business establishment
we criticized in nearly every
issue of America’s oldest continuously
published monthly.
Current readers may be surprised
to learn that we were largely successful
in our efforts: many corporations
encouraged their ad agencies
to take a fresh look at Harper’s Magazine,
 and the ads began to roll in.
For my part, I was astonished that
most of the CEOs we met, though
nearly all Republicans, were barely
ideological and almost never objected
to the subversive, sometimes
overtly anticapitalist articles that
appeared in our pages. As our advertising
revenue grew, I rarely worried
about reprisals for anything we published.
Indeed, one of the most
stinging critiques I ever heard of
George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion
of Iraq came from the chairman
of a major American oil company
over lunch at his headquarters in
Houston. For many of these men,
and for their more liberal-minded
advisers, Harper’s  and its brand of
open-minded, freewheeling discourse
were automatically worthy of
their backing.
But as the magazine’s bottom line
improved through the dot-com boom
that ended in 2000 and the anti-Bush
boom that ended in 2009, something
crucial seemed to be missing from
our “marketing equation.” In all my
scurrying back and forth between
Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and
New York, I never considered a fundamental
question: Why did a magazine
of ideas, criticism, and reporting
need to serve as a sales medium between
advertisers and readers; why
should advertising be our principal
means of support? Not that I didn’t
want advertising or have respect for
our advertisers, some of whom were
genuinely civic-minded. But wasn’t
the truly important compact—really
the only relationship that mattered—
between reader and writer or, to some
extent, reader, writer, and editor?
Harper’s  is published _rst and foremost
to be read. If the magazine
functions as an intermediary, it is between
the creative imagination of the
_ction writer or essayist and the creative
spirit of the sensitive reader; between
the inquiring mind of the
journalist and the engaged mind of
the alert, occasionally outraged citizen.
This compact now needs to be
stated forcefully and in unmistakable
terms. A s it happens, recent technology
has brutally pressed my question
about the appropriate connection
between reader, writer, and
advertiser on every publisher in our
increasingly wired-up world. I was
immediately suspicious of the Internet
being touted, in the late 1990s,
as a miraculously ef_cient publishing
platform because of the Web’s
capacity for massive copyright violation.
But what disturbed me more as
a publisher and a writer was the
ugly commodification of writing
itself—the renaming of prose and
poetry as something called “content.”
Suddenly, my colleagues and
competitors were reducing wellwrought
sentences and stories to the
level of screws and bolts. Not only
was “content” an empty and offensive
word, but my fellow publishers
also proposed to give it away free in
the quest for more advertising. Instead
of honoring the reader, writer,
and editor, this new approach to the
publishing business insulted them,
both by devaluing their work and by
feeding it—with little or no
remuneration—to search engines,
which in turn feed information to
advertising agencies (and, as it turns
out, the government).
The result, as anyone with even a
passing interest can observe, has
been catastrophic: massive layoffs of
editorial employees; the collapse of
major publications; the impoverishment
of writers; the alarming decline
of editorial standards for accuracy,
grammar, and coherent thought;
and the dumbing down of journalism
across the board. Great American
publishing institutions such as the
Washington Post and the Boston
Globe have been placed on the auction
block for a fraction of their
former value. Meanwhile, the advertisers
themselves have _ed traditional
publications for the allegedly
greener pastures of social media and
Google. Paradoxically, the more
advertisers demanded eyeballs and
clicks, the more writing the publishers
gave away, and the less advertisers
advertised. We know what
happens to lemmings—thanks to
YouTube you can watch it in graphic
detail any time of the day or
night—so I decided early on I
wouldn’t join in the frenzy of free
content. From the launching of our
website in 2003, we at Harper’s insisted
that subscribers continue to
pay to read our well-written, factchecked,
scrupulously edited, and
extremely entertaining paragraphs.
When the magazine became fully
accessible online, our paywall remained
_rm. We are pleased to be
able to offer the magazine in a digital
format, but what we won’t do is
give in to the free-content “logic” of
so many publications. Tellingly, very
few subscribers have complained,
and we are still in business, having
conceded nothing in the quality of
our character or, dare I
say, our content. Paywalls are now being erected everywhere.
Even the champion blogger
Andrew Sullivan is asking his readers
to pay twenty dollars a year for unlimited
access to his work. But as with
global warming, so much damage has
already been done to the literary and
journalistic atmosphere that I’m
afraid we’re approaching a point of no
return. I can’t quite believe my ears at
the nonsense still being peddled by
the advocates of free content. Who
needs fact-checkers when we have
crowdsourcing to correct the record?
Why doesn’t Harper’s give away a particularly
good investigative piece
(such as Ted Conover’s powerful undercover
report in May on an industrial
slaughterhouse) so that more
people will read it?
Because good publishing, good editing,
and good writing cost money,
and publishers, editors, and writers
have to earn a living. We are proud
that we can send a photographer to
Iran for a couple of weeks and then
deliver the resulting images to readers
in our September issue through the
mail on good paper and over the Internet
in high resolution for computer
screens and tablets. This photographer,
who requested anonymity,
risked arrest and prison to take excellent
pictures—as do other photographers
such as Samuel James—for the
bene_t of Harper’s and you. The censors
in Tehran are surely upset.
Shouldn’t Anonymous be paid for
this courage and skill? Shouldn’t
Harper’s be compensated for sending
Anonymous into the _eld? All told,
the photo essay cost us about $25,000,
including printing, paper, and mailing.
It is unreasonable to expect that
an advertiser would directly sponsor
such daring photography. It is wishful
thinking to believe that parasitic
Google, now bloated with billions of
dollars’ worth of what I consider pirated
property, will ever willingly pay
Harper’s, or Anonymous, anything at
all for the right to distribute Anonymous’s
pictures (although it’s worth
noting that the German government
is _ghting Google on behalf of German
publishers and writers over this
very point). We cannot even count
on America’s enlightened public libraries
to help foot the bill for Anonymous.
I recently found myself in the
Lenox, Massachusetts, public library,
where Harper’s Magazine is currently
unavailable. When our circulation director
complained that the magazine
that published Edith Wharton’s short
stories, many written just down the
road at the Mount, deserved pride of
place in the library’s periodicals section,
she was told that budget cuts
had made it impossible for the library
to pay for a subscription.
We, however, _nd it logical to trust
that 150,000 discriminating Harper’s
subscribers, tens of thousands of
newsstand buyers, and thousands of
on-screen readers will _nd it in their
interest to pay substantially more for
a magazine that publishes such outstanding
material. This seems as evident
to me today as my conceptually
flawed advertising model did thirty
years ago. And I’m beginning to sense
a turning of the tide, in the quantity
of new subscribers—many of them
signing up through our website—and
in the supportive emails and letters we
receive every day that praise the careful
editing and lively writing
that go into every issue. It has been a trying decade for publishers
and writers all over the world,
and our challenges can sometimes
seem overwhelming. In the United
States, unfortunately, the bankrupting
of journalists and authors has
been matched by an impoverished debate
about how to sustain a high standard
of publishing and writing. Until
recently, the rush to appear modern,
the peer pressure to accept the inevitability
of print’s demise, and the supposed
virtues of writing for free have
dominated what passes for a discussion.
“Is there a living to be made
when editors expect to get quality, ontime
copy for zero cents a word?”
asked Mark Kingwell two months ago
in these pages. Certainly not, unless
we lower our standards and rede_ne
the meaning of “good writing.”
Some voices of sanity, though,
have been heard in Europe, in England
most notably that of Tyler
Brûlé, editor in chief of Monocle and
Fast Lane columnist for the largely
paywalled and still pro_table Financial
Times. More compelling still has
been the experience of the French
publisher Laurent Beccaria, founder
of the book-publishing company Les
Arènes and a quarterly generalinterest
magazine called XXI (“Vingt
et un”). Together with his editor, Patrick
de Saint-Exupéry, Beccaria has
defied the conventional wisdom
about the free-content model and
turned XXI into the most dynamic,
and perhaps the most pro_table, new
magazine on the European scene.
Although it does have a website, you
cannot read XXI on a computer—
you must buy the print edition for
the equivalent of about twenty dollars
a copy at a bookstore or get it
through the mail. The quality of
XXI is guaranteed not by _ckle marketers
suffering from short attention
spans but by faithful readers whose
powers of concentration—whose appreciation
for the elegant sentence
and the hard-earned insight—have
survived the onslaught of the Web’s
unedited mediocrity.
This January, Beccaria and
Saint-Exupéry published a manifesto
in XXI that sought to reclaim the
journalistic territory conceded too
easily to online, unpaid, snippet journalism.
We’ve published an excerpt in
this month’s Readings section that I
believe speaks for itself; I urge you to
read it. Beccaria and Saint-Exupéry
offer many smart observations, but
this one seems paramount for my purposes
and for the continued health of
Harper’s Magazine:
Pompous phrases about the need “to
re invent the press’s economic model”
mask the reality: what has to be restored
is the exchange value between
news publications and their readers.
How many of us would agree to spend
two or three dollars for an espresso
downed in five minutes but would
balk at forking over the same for a
daily or weekly news organ as these
are currently conceived? To be useful,
desirable, and necessary—that’s the
only economic model worth considering.
It’s as old as the world, as old
as commerce.
Thus shall we proceed—in partnership
with advertisers who recognize
the pro_t in being associated with a
magazine of the highest editorial standards
and with our extraordinary,
paying readers. We are investing heavily
in reporting and photojournalism,
consistently running more pages than
we have in decades. Along the way
I’ve learned that to be “useful, desirable,
and necessary” is to serve the
reader and the writer, not the Internet,
or the consumer, or the lords of
merchandising. Harper’s Magazine is
not a cutting board for sausages sold at
a certain cost per thousand. It is,
among other things, what the late
New York senator Daniel Patrick
Moynihan called “the fulcrum of
American letters and public comment.”
It is a storehouse of the American
experience dating back 163 years,
including much of the country’s greatest
belles-lettres, journalism, and, increasingly,
art and photography. At our
best, we provoke that “zig-zag streak of
lightning through the brain” (a phrase
of Edward Grey’s quoted by Lord Asquith
to describe Winston Churchill)
when a reader’s mind is pierced by an
understanding or a realization that was
previously inaccessible.
But Harper’s is also an agreement
between reader, writer, and publisher
to reject spoon-fed, tailored solutions—
and that goes for the Internet publishing
model as much as it goes for invading
Iraq, democratizing Afghanistan,
and protecting the American population
from terrorists by warrantless
spying on every last one of us. With
your support, we’ll do better than just
survive; we’ll help bring the national
conversation back to a level of intelligence,
comprehension, and authenticity
that will make our readers and
contributors proud. A literary and political
conversation, I hope, in the
spirit of the great editor Maxwell Perkins,
who, feeling pressured to make
Ernest Hemingway conform to the
short-term exigencies and whims of the
marketplace, wrote to the author in
1935: “All You have to do is to follow
your own judgment, or instinct, + disregard
what is said, + convey the absolute
bottom quality of each person,
situation + thing. . . . I can get pretty
depressed but even at worst I still
believe—+ its written in all the past—
that the utterly real thing in writing is
the only thing that counts, + the whole
racket melts down before it.” n