The Final Third
We probably don’t need to tell you that 2018 was a problematic year for print publications. Then again, when was the last time you heard of a good year for print publications? For some, though, difficult is putting it mildly. The roll call of magazines that folded last year, or announced their impending folding, includes, in order of longevity: Redbook (founded in 1903), Glamour (founded in 1939; its parent company, Condé Nast, reportedly lost $120 million in 2017), Interview (founded in 1969 by Andy Warhol; it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May), Montana Magazine (1970), All About Beer (1979), Cooking Light (1987), and literary journal Tin House (1999; its 20th anniversary issue, to be published in June, will be its last).
It seems that no publication, no matter how robust or obscure, no matter what its focus — travel, fashion, food (or beer!) — is safe these days.
Included among these disparate journals that met, or are meeting, their demise is a curious case, one that is likely familiar to NOR readers: The Weekly Standard, the flagship publication of the American neoconservative movement, edited by rabid war-hawk Bill Kristol. Its December 24 issue was its last.
Ed Kilgore eulogized TWS, calling it a magazine “born in service to the Republican Party” that eventually “fell too far out of step with [the GOP] to survive with a coherent mission” (New York Magazine, Dec. 14). Partisan politics was what drove TWS and what doomed it.
Founded in 1995 on the heels of the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution, TWS reached the pinnacle of its influence in the Bush II years, becoming known at the time as the “inflight magazine” of Air Force One. However, some of the policies it pushed, particularly the ill-advised U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, proved disastrous: Thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives, the Christian population was decimated and the entire region destabilized, leading to the formation of the Islamic State and, indirectly, to civil war in Syria — all at a cost of more than $1 trillion. And for what? Nevertheless, TWS put out a punchy product, even if you didn’t agree with its politics.
After George W. rode off into the Texas sunset, its editors floundered around with a series of failed Republication candidates — Kristol helped push Sarah Palin onto the national stage — and TWS’s influence began to wane. In the current White House, its influence is nil. The present occupant, you see, isn’t completely on board with the neoconservative agenda.
During a Republican debate in early 2016, Donald Trump, to his great credit, slammed the neocons’ signature stratagem, the invasion of Iraq, as a “big fat mistake.” He’s an anti-globalist who has no interest in making the world safe for democracy. “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” Trump reiterated during a December 2018 visit to U.S. troops in Iraq. “We are spread out all over the world. We are in countries most people haven’t even heard about. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.” How true!
As Trump’s presidential campaign gained steam, Kristol worked diligently to recruit a challenger to wrest away the Republican nomination. After Trump won, Kristol, through TWS, actively worked against him — something of which Trump, who seems to live by the mantra keep your friends close and your enemies closer, wasn’t unaware. When the curtain came down on Kristol & Co., Trump tweeted gleefully, “The pathetic and dishonest Weekly Standard, run by failed prognosticator Bill Kristol (who, like many others, never had a clue), is flat broke and out of business. Too bad. May it rest in peace!” (Dec. 15).
Blaming the demise of TWS solely on its “Never Trump” trumpery would be simplistic and inaccurate. The magazine was reportedly losing millions of dollars a year, despite its parent company, Clarity Media Group, having invested, according to CEO Ryan McKibben, “significant resources into the publication.” Announcing the termination of TWS’s 23-year run, McKibben cited “double-digit declines in its subscriber base all but one year since 2013” as one of the causes. The magazine had been “hampered by many of the same challenges that countless other magazines and newspapers across the country have been wrestling with,” he said.
McKibben is right: Those challenges aren’t limited to gung-ho neoconservative influence-seekers. They’re indiscriminate, choking out each of those diverse publications listed above, and they reach all the way down to small, independent Catholic publications. Indeed, magazines like the NOR are at even greater risk.
We’re no strangers to declining subscriber bases; as a nonprofit, we hemorrhage money almost as a matter of course — though we can only dream of losing millions of dollars. In December 2017 our website suffered a bot attack that resulted in massive (for us) financial loss, contraction of our (already struggling) subscriber base, the inability to fund new advertising campaigns, and, ultimately, our decision to redesign and strengthen the security of our website.
We went into the nitty-gritty in “Attack of the Bots!” (editorial, Oct. 2018), explaining how the attack on our website indirectly affected the viability of our print product and was the start of a series of events that led to our urgent need to raise $205,000 if the NOR is to have “a fighting chance at survival” in a future that looks “dubious.”
And dubious, from where we were sitting, was putting it mildly.
Now, however, six months on, our outlook is brighter. We’re happy to announce that, thanks to the tremendous response from our faithful readers, as of this writing we have raised $138,000, or 67 percent, of our fundraising goal. We’re two-thirds of the way there. We extend our deepest gratitude to all those who have helped us along the way — with financial support and with prayers.
While it would be premature at this juncture to make proclamations about the future — it still looks rather dubious, though not as dire as it did six months ago — we aren’t content to spend the present sitting on our hands hoping for a miraculous turnaround. Not when there’s work to be done.
Since the rollout of our remodeled website, we have corrected a number of glitches and anomalies, the type that typically arise with an undertaking of this nature. We’ll be making more tweaks and adding new wrinkles as time goes on because websites are forever works in progress, never complete.
One measure of our progress is the addition of another year’s worth of issues to our online archives: 1986. The future might be dubious, but the past is glorious. That year was representative of a unique era in the history of the NOR, during which we featured a range of different writers and topics. Highlights from 1986 include:
- “Seams in the Seamless Garment?” by Sheldon Vanauken (Jan.-Feb.)
- “The Infantile Illusion of Omnipotence & the Modern Ideology of Science” by Christopher Lasch (Oct.)
- “The Vatican’s New Look at Liberation Theology” by Russell Shaw (June)
- “Is Christianity the Same as Buddhism Underneath?” by Thomas W. Case (May)
- “Capitalist Self-Seeking or Christian Self-Denial?” by L. Brent Bozell (Oct.)
- “Kurt Waldheim & Franz Jägerstätter: Contrasting Austrian Responses to the Unjust War” by Gordon C. Zahn (Nov.)
- “Orthodox Downward Mobility or Secularist Prosperity?” by Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen (Nov.)
- “Short-Term Thinking & the Decline in Values” by Norman Lear (Sept.; yes, that Norman Lear)
- “Searching for the Real Ratzinger” by Dale Vree (Jan.-Feb.)
- “The Sanctity of Life & the Right to Adequate Health Care” by Archbishop John O’Connor of New York (March)
We also featured regular columnists Robert Coles (“Harvard Diary”), John C. Cort (“Christ & Neighbor”), and Robert E. Lauder (“A Cinematic View”), as well as the book reviews of James J. Thompson Jr. — his reviews for the NOR were so highly regarded that Ignatius Press selected several and published them in book form in Christian Classics Revisited (1983).
We invite you to see what the NOR was like in 1986 by browsing our archived articles from that year. You can do so by visiting www.newoxfordreview.org/volumes/1986-volume-liii.
Online subscribers enjoy full access to all features of our website, including all the articles in our archives, which now span 33 years. Online subscriptions cost as little as $29 for one year. Even better, you can get a combined print and online subscription for only $38 for one year. If you’re still not convinced of the value, you can register for a free seven-day trial subscription to our website, during which time you’ll have the same full access as regular online subscribers. To sign up, go to www.newoxfordreview.org/register.
Another of our ongoing online projects involves filling out and adding to our online dossiers — known as “topics” at the new site. Each dossier culls articles from past issues on a certain topic under a single header for easy perusal and research. We’ve been repopulating some of the old dossiers that were stripped of entries during the conversion from the old site to the new one, and we’ve added new dossiers on the following hot topics:
- “Eschatology & the End-Times” (over 70 entries)
- “Conversion Stories” (over 50 entries)
- “Pope St. Paul VI” (over 20 entries)
- “Capital Punishment & the Death Penalty” (over 15 entries)
- “Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide” (over 15 entries)
- “Fatima: Secrets & Conspiracies” (15 entries)
Additional new dossiers pertain to the columns we introduced last October (and Lauder’s from 1986). Jason M. Morgan’s “Cultural Counterpoint” column now has its own dossier, as do Casey Chalk’s “Revert’s Rostrum” column, Michael S. Rose’s “Literature Matters” column, and Pieter Vree’s “New Oxford Notebook” column. We invite you to check out all 75 topical dossiers by visiting www.newoxfordreview.org/topics.
Soon we’ll be adding another dossier to the list — a dossier that pertains to yet another column. As our website is a work that progresses, so too is the print edition. Though we’ve dedicated a lot of money and man hours to our website, it has never been our intention to neglect our print apostolate in favor of our online presence. Indeed, the rollout of our revamped website was accompanied by the inauguration of the above four columns.
Now we are excited to announce an additional enhancement to our print edition. This issue features the first installment of a new column by NOR contributing editor David Mills. Called “Last Things,” it will close out each issue henceforth.
Mills is an accomplished figure in Christian journalism — a prolific writer and an esteemed editor — and we are extremely pleased that he will be a regular presence in these pages. His credentials are deep and distinctive. He taught writing to master’s and doctoral candidates at an Episcopal seminary. (Mills and his family were received into the Catholic Church in 2001.) He has served as editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things. He is currently a consulting editor of the journal Sacred Architecture, editor of the website Hour of Our Death (www.hourofourdeath.org), a senior editor of the website The Stream (www.stream.org), and a member of the editorial board of the website Ethika Politika (www.ethikapolitika.org).
Mills has authored two books, The Saints’ Guide to Knowing the Real Jesus (2001) and Discovering Mary: Answers to Questions About the Mother of God (2009), and he is finishing a third for Sophia Institute Press on death and dying. He also edited a collection of scholarly essays about C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Guide: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (1998). His “Catholic Sense” column appears in The Pittsburgh Catholic and other diocesan newspapers; he’s a regular contributor to the Human Life Review, and he’s had over 200 articles featured at the website Aleteia (www.aleteia.org/author/david-mills). And, of course, his writing has appeared occasionally in the NOR over the past 20 years — most recently, “The Narcissist’s Religion” (June 2017).
Now Mills will share his incisive insights and unique voice with NOR readers on a continuing basis. You can read the inaugural “Last Things” column on page 44 of this issue.
As you will see, David Mills is a singular talent. His presence fortifies our prospects as we proceed into that perilous future. Publications like The Weekly Standard, Redbook, and Glamour failed despite massive investments from deep-pocketed sources (in the case of the former, wealthy conservative foundations). The NOR toils at the other end of the spectrum, a little magazine that strives to do more with less. We’ll never lose $120 million in a single year for the simple fact that we’ll never sniff $120 million. We don’t have the luxury of massive failure — we can’t laugh off losses of any scale — because we don’t have a parent company bankrolling our endeavors. Rather, we rely on a small pool of donors — namely, you. Compared to the big guys who were “too big to fail,” our needs are modest, but they’re vital to our survival. Will you help secure the survival of the NOR?
We’re anxious to resume springtime direct-mail advertising and launch a full-scale display-ad campaign — but we haven’t raised enough to do that. These measures should help halt the decline of our print subscriber base (and, by extension, our income) and perhaps even reverse it. We’d also like to explore a promotional campaign for our redesigned website — all our growth has been on the digital side of our operation, while our print side has struggled — but that’s a matter for another day. We’ve not forgotten our promise to keep producing a print publication as long as possible. To do that, we still need to raise $67,000. Can we count on you?
To help us complete the final third of our fundraiser, please send your donation to: New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. The NOR is a nonprofit entity and has 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Donations are, therefore, tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Checks are, of course, to be made payable to New Oxford Review. Credit card donations can be made at our website: www.newoxfordreview.org/donations.
With your help, we can march forward with confidence to face the uncertain future.
A Note of Thanks
I have received so many heartfelt, beautiful responses to my editorial about the death of my father and former NOR editor, Dale Vree (Jan.-Feb.) — more than we have space to print. I thank each and every one of you who called or sent a note, email, letter, or card, and especially those who promised to pray for the repose of my father’s soul and who have had Masses said for him. The outpouring of condolences and remembrances is nothing short of astonishing and has been a great consolation to me and my family.
We have more planned to honor my father’s memory in these pages. Stay tuned!
Pieter Vree, editor
©2019 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.
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