Dan McCarthy of The American Conservative (and perhaps the best young journalist on the so-called “Right”) replied to my recent post on the New Yorker cover and the Atlantic‘s slide by noting:
It’s sad how far The Atlantic has fallen in recent years, especially since last summer’s redesign.
Indeed. And while it is good to see that I’m not the only one who has noticed this trend and is saddened by it, I wish we were wrong.
Not too long ago, I used to get the Atlantic from the mailbox and have trouble putting it down. I thought so highly of the magazine that I actually sent gift subscriptions to a few non-academic friends/family members. I usually warmed up with the shorter pieces, caught up with the frequently interesting letters to the editor, moved to my favorite section – the Books section edited by Benjamin Schwarz, and then started chomping on the meaty long articles. I fondly remember reading William Langewiesche’s controversial articles on the World Trade Center, Schwarz’s longer multi-book reviews on war and diplomatic subjects, and even the “Word Fugitives” that used to be at the back.
The Atlantic was just plain great even though I frequently disagreed politically, ethically, and aesthetically with its writers.
Unfortunately, today’s Atlantic is filled with articles and book reviews that are boring, sloppily executed, or superficially partisan. The really dumb “What’s Your Problem” page that replaced “Word Fugitives” probably best symbolizes the decline – though it is hard to match the State of the Union issue it produced in part with the New America Foundation for that honor.
I wonder how much of the slide is due to Michael Kelly’s death in Iraq in 2003 (although Kelly had obnoxious views on the war and war critics) or the move in 2005 from Boston to Washington (which sucks everything in and makes most things worse for it). But the Atlantic was still good well into the decade, and, as Dan points out, has really slid over the last year or so.
But I have hope. The last issue was pretty solid and harkened back to the good ole days. The cover story by James Fallows on how Google is trying to save the news and the Mark Bowden article on the Conficker worm were solid, interesting pieces that were hard to put down. Then again, it had an odd piece on Lady Gaga that reached the conclusion that she’ll kill off pop – an impossibility that has probably been uttered hundreds of times about past pop stars – and Michael Kinsley’s weak take on the Tea Party.
Here’s to the revival of this grand old magazine. And let’s hope the last issue was not a dead cat bounce.