The explosion of new media seems to me a development that is too big to ever be seen as straightforwardly good or bad; there's so much good and so much bad and so much different and in-between. One of the negative aspects of it, though, is that it's easy to develop a sense of entitlement towards media, an unexamined sense that there's always more good stuff to read out there and it's all for free. I really think that this is a profound mistake; in the capitalist society we find ourselves in, those things that are valued are those things that are paid for. (I could unpack that but I'll spare you.) There's an odd dynamic where the more we consume of written opinion the less we feel we should support it materially.
I always thought that the Times Select debacle was really destructive. I'm not talking about the fact that Times Select failed, and I'm not talking about people who chose not to pay for Times Select (which includes me). I'm talking about the universal derision that was heaped onto the very idea of a paywall. It's a good example of where tone was as important as message. The attitude you heard from all over wasn't just that Times Select was not going to work but that it was an inherently ridiculous idea, to ask people to pay for written content on the Internet. And now we're at this point where many people consider any kind of a paywall a nonstarter, despite the fact that online advertising is just does not seem capable of supporting Internet media properties at anything like a large scale. Some people worry that mobile online advertising or online advertising in general or social media in general are currently inflating into bubbles. There's a problem of massive supply of places to advertise online, driving revenues down. A lot of smart people think that a check is coming due soon on all of this Internet media, and I think they have a point.
This is a typically long-winded way to ask you to subscribe to The New Inquiry, which is in a subscription drive and asks only $2 a month. TNI does not employ a paywall; all of the content you'll get as a subscriber is available on the website. You'll receive it in a "magazine" form (PDF or Ipad) once a month. That's a good system for a publication of this size; it allows everyone to access the individual stories for discussion and argument, and it makes it plain that monetary support is just that, a kind of support. (This model couldn't work, I think, for a publication like The New York Times.) There's something fairly radically old-fashioned in the appeal to pay for the written content which one enjoys.
I have fairly deep disagreements with the ethos of TNI and fairly angry disagreements with some of its writers. (This is essentially to say that there are people at TNI who have opinions.) That, too, I value and welcome, and I'm of course happy to have had the opportunity to publish there, although I imagine that may not happen again. More than anything I'm happy for a new and visible left-wing media. Just as American politics runs in a range from an extreme right wing to a right wing to a centrist right wing to a centrist wing to a centrist left wing, and stops exactly there, prominent American media has long gotten about as far to the left as a mainstream liberal press and stopped there. There are of course exceptions; more of them is better.
And they've played their hand, and the times, very deftly. They have generated a lot of attention, and have taken on prominent voices in a way that has increase attention for those voices and the publication both. (For example, in an apparent bid to prove everything I've ever said about social capture and what is really valued in political discourse, Henry Farrell recently tweeted to Aaron Bady that my criticisms of Bady could be disregarded because Bady is more famous than I am.) It's exciting to witness.
And, yeah, there's a ton of problems. For a bunch of Marxists they sure don't pay a lot of attention to material conditions. This manifests itself most troublingly in the #nodads phenomenon, which is an explicit rejection of the reality of parentage and inherited privilege-- a rejection totally contrary to left-wing ends. In other words, there's a profound class tourism problem in the publication. And there's a deep tension in the showiness that attends their frequent denunciations of grad school, coming as they do from people who are in many ways more grad school-y than grad students. That is, there's a clear and panicked desire to decouple the trappings of theory and critical inquiry from the assumed social distaste for people who study those things. That kind of preemptive, defensive rejection mistakes form for content and is self-defeating, as it accepts the pejorative attitude towards caring about theory in its attempt to avoid that attitude. Theory needs to be pursued with pride, not camouflage. Finally, there is the all-to-common insistence that the middle-and-upper class problems of the writers are somehow actually lower class problems, for reasons of optics or Marxist self-defense or legetimation or appropriation.
But they publish a lot of great stuff, and it's so much better to have them than not to have them, and if you enjoy what they do you should support them. It's $2 a month. Help them out.