Quite a few people, for perfectly obvious reasons (by all means, click here and then here), have been sending your GetReligionistas all kinds of news reports about the Washington Post Company's decision to put nonNewsweek up for sale. I wasn't going to write anything about this sad story until I read some of editor Jon Meacham's comments during his very well-timed visit to Jon Stewart and his Daily Show congregation.
Then I thought: WWJD? The letter "J," in this case, stands for "Jon."
Therefore, I got out my copy of the classic Book of Common Prayer (a really battered old edition from England) and it seemed like these words might be appropriate:
Prayer 594: IN STORMY WEATHER
When through the torn sail the wild tempest is streaming, When o'er the dark wave the red lightning is gleaming, Nor hope lends a ray the poor seaman to cherish, We fly to our Maker, "Save, LORD, or we perish." ...
I could continue, but this old classic contains all kinds of narrowly doctrinal language, including the word "sin."
The elephant in the living room, in all of these stories, is whether Meacham was wise when he made the decision to cast off roughly half of Newsweek's remaining readers and focus on publishing a niche magazine sure to please a narrow, elite audience of cultural, political and religious progressives who share his vision of a broadly spiritual America based on, well, his own approach to history, theology and political thought.
Meacham announced that strategy shift with a bang, hooked to Lisa Miller's famous and/or infamous cover story under the headline, "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage." In effect, the Newsweek editor announced that he was creating a World Magazine for the Episcopal establishment and those who worship, or used to worship, in similar pews. That's the new publication that I have taken to calling nonNewsweek.
That's why it is so interesting to read, care of The Politico, Meacham's Daily Show defense of his magazine and its role in American public discourse. Read carefully:
"I do not believe that Newsweek is the only Catcher in the Rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we're one of them," Meacham said. "And I don't think there are that many on the edge of that cliff."
Asked by Stewart about today's free flow of information -- including news consumption -- Meacham struck a foreboding tone. "We have to decide, 'are we ready to get what we pay for?' If you're not going to pay for news, then you're going to get a different kind of news," he said.
That's interesting, since the Internet era offers all kinds of advocacy publications -- left and right. What it lacks is publications that strive for balance, accuracy and fairness, especially when covering divisive issues. However, later in the interview, Meacham stresses that he leads a "news, general interest" publication. Finally, there is this:
"This is an existential crisis -- and it's not just because I've had a bad day, and it's not just because I feel incredibly strongly that this magazine for 77 years ... has mattered unto the life of the country," he said. "It's one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world. ... I think the country will be poorer for our disappearing."
That's strange, isn't it? I thought that Meacham's strategy was to cast off the fetters of the old, balanced "American model" of the press and to sail boldly into the new, honest niche world of advocacy journalism -- a strategy announced with the magazine's openly one-sided cover story about the hottest or hot-button issues in American church pews and pulpits. Now he is mourning the loss of "one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world"?
It's a bit late to announce that course change. WWJD? Meacham had already openly and honestly set his ship on a different course.
Perhaps that ship has sailed.