Tuesday, February 25, 2003

From Pony Express to instant delivery. The New Republic has finally, and quite intelligently, solved its biggest problem: getting itself into the hands of paying subscribers in a timely manner.

Last year, I wrote an item urging TNR to emulate the Weekly Standard, which makes its entire issue available to subscribers as a PDF download as soon as it comes off the presses. TNR, which unveiled its upgraded website yesterday, has gone one better than that.

Not only will the PDF edition of TNR be available on Friday mornings, many days before the print edition arrives in your mailbox, but the entire issue is being made available to subscribers in regular HTML format as well. (The Standard makes much of its content available in HTML, but not the entire magazine.)

There are two advantages to the PDF format: it looks exactly like the printed magazine, and since you can save the whole thing to your hard drive, you can take it with you and read it on your laptop without an Internet connection. But the latter advantage is actually less important than it was even a year ago, which is why I think the HTML alternative is such a great idea.

Increasingly, Internet connections are becoming untethered from wires, thanks to high-speed wireless networks (Airport in Apple lingo, WiFi to everyone else). That means more and more people can take their Internet connection with them. And since PDF files can be fuzzy and difficult to read unless you print them out (quite an undertaking except for those who have high-speed laser printers), the HTML files are actually more usable.

The downside of TNR's new digital strategy is that very little of the print-edition content will be available to non-subscribers. As a reader, I don't care. But it does make it less enticing to write about TNR articles in Media Log, since I will not be able to link to them. (On the other hand, TNR is selling digital-only subscriptions for just $20, one-fourth of the usual subscription cost -- an interesting insight into how much money a magazine blows on printing, production, and postage.)

The print edition of TNR is unveiling a new design this week as well, which surely demonstrates that its last redesign -- just a few years old -- was seen as unsuccessful by editor-in-chief/owner Marty Peretz, as well as his new co-owners, Roger Hertog and Michael Steinhardt. Blessedly, those thick black vertical lines are gone from the "TRB" and "Diarist" columns.

There's also been a lot of chatter lately about TNR's supposed ideological revamping. Both the New York Observer's Sridhar Pappu and the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz report that the magazine's publicists have been touting the magazine's move to the right. The nominally liberal TNR strongly supports the Bush administration's Iraq policy, and has been lambasting the Democratic presidential candidates as well.

Please. TNR has been lurching back and forth between neolib and neocon for years. ("Here we go again," is how Pappu begins his piece.) With Peretz's friend Al Gore now off the presidential stage and a young, right-leaning editor, Peter Beinart, at the top of the masthead, it's hardly surprising that TNR is tilting more conservative than it did under Beinart's predecessor, Charles Lane, now of the Washington Post. But Lane's predecessor, Michael Kelly, was seen as so hostile to liberalism that even Peretz could not abide him. Conservative Andrew Sullivan is a former TNR editor as well.

If TNR can even be said to have a consistent ideology, it would be generally liberal on domestic policy, except affirmative action, which it staunchly opposes; and neoconservative on foreign policy. No wonder it's been seen as swinging back and forth over the years.

No comments: