Channels of Dissent

by Henry on February 23, 2004

The New York Times has an article on Dissent Magazine, which is about to hit its 50th anniversary. It’s a publication which is a little to my right, and to the right of some other CT-ites, but has published some really good pieces over the years. The Times refers to Dissent’s continuing financial difficulties – the journal has always been a labour of love, more aimed at getting ideas into circulation than at breaking even. This leads to an interesting question. There’s always been a lot of guff in the blogosphere about how blogs represent a fundamental threat to traditional media. It’s mostly nonsense – Atrios and Glenn Reynolds aren’t about to eat the NYT’s lunch any time soon, let alone Crooked Timber. Still, the one section of the media that faces a real challenge to adapt is the small opinion journal. There are things that these journals can do that bloggers are bad at – run long and detailed articles for one. But blogs – at least the more successful ones – are arguably starting to catch up (and in certain areas of debate to dominate). And they’re a lot cheaper. Dissent has a circulation of 8-10,000 and loses over $100,000 a year. It costs a few hundred dollars a year to run a blog with the same daily readership.

I don’t think that these magazines are going to disappear – I certainly hope not. According to Chris, Imprints, another small journal, seems to have no trouble in covering its costs. However, if blogs continue to feed directly and indirectly into public debate, it’ll be hard for small journals to resist taking advantage of the possibilities (and cost savings) that they offer. I imagine that we’ll see various forms of symbiosis continuing to emerge, from opinion-blogs like Talking Point Memo, through blog-journal hybrids like the TAP and Reason websites, to niche print journals that get smarter about using bloggers to get the word out about good pieces. All sounds good to me.

[via politicaltheory.info]

{ 16 comments }

1

Ophelia Benson 02.23.04 at 8:11 pm

Err – not to mention another blog-journal hybrid I could mention. We have long detailed articles. Among other things. And it’s true, we don’t have to spend nearly as much as Dissent does. Though if my time were worth anything we would have spent a fortune by now. But, happily, it isn’t, so that’s not a problem.

2

WillieStyle 02.23.04 at 8:42 pm

How is dissent to the right of you (other than in general hawkishness)?

I’ve never bought dissent, but it has always struck me as the sort of magazine I really should like.

3

Kieran Healy 02.23.04 at 9:04 pm

I’ve never bought dissent, but it has always struck me as the sort of magazine I really should like.

I imagine this is why it loses $100k a year.

4

Henry 02.23.04 at 9:07 pm

What Kieran said. More seriously, I’d identify _Dissent_ as a publication for mainstream Democrats with leftist leanings and an intellectual bent – its vision of the possibilities for social and economic reform is sometimes a little limited. But it has some great article – Walzer in particular is very smart and thoughtful.

5

marlie 02.23.04 at 9:11 pm

Can’t help thinking of the Woody Allen joke: what would you get if you crossed Commentary with Dissent? Dysentery.

6

Yuval Rubinstein 02.23.04 at 9:16 pm

Actually, Dissent has been on a steep downward slide since Irving Howe died a decade ago. What was once a vital voice for democratic socialism is now a bland, faintly neoconservative New Republic clone. Personally, I’d rather give it a dignified burial, as with Partisan Review after the death of William Phillips.

7

david 02.23.04 at 9:16 pm

Except when Walzer’s a prick, of course. Generally smart and interesting, sometimes a prick.

8

Woody Allen 02.23.04 at 9:33 pm

I heard that Commentary and Dissent had merged
and formed Dysentery.

9

Russell Arben Fox 02.23.04 at 9:52 pm

Yuval: Dissent is a “bland, faintly neoconservative New Republic clone”? You’re kidding, right? In what world is this true? Dissent still defends unions; The New Republic has more or less adopted the neoliberal line. Dissent talks about the systemic links between corporate power and democratic decline; TNR complains about the links between the Republican Party and K Street, but not much else. No, Dissent no longer advocates a strictly socialist movement. That doesn’t mean its social democratic bona fides are in doubt.

10

Ron Wood 02.23.04 at 11:38 pm

Surely the reason Dissent is in trouble is because it’s both shit and boring?

You can survive quite nicely as one or the other, but the two together are a lethal combination.

11

Tom T. 02.24.04 at 12:14 am

Isn’t it generally the case that most political journals lose money (at least in the US)? I’ve heard that this is generally true both on the left and the right, regardless of which party is in power. Typically, they’re too specialized and idiosyncratic to attract a wide enough audience to cover their costs, and thus have to be subsidized by a benefactor or contributions.

12

Ophelia Benson 02.24.04 at 2:01 am

You know…this has always baffled me. Barnes and Noble doesn’t even carry the Nation. The people who work there have never even heard of it. Miles and miles of gleaming tit magazines, gun magazines, boat magazines, dog magazines, computer, garden, housey, garden, sport, blah blah – and no Nation. It’s one of the oldest damn magazines in the country, with roots in the Abolitionist movement! And they don’t have it!

[bangs head on desk]

13

dsquared 02.24.04 at 7:31 am

Actually, the title of “Dissent” comes from the old phrase “dissent in the ranks”. As in “Off to bomb Iraq? There’s Dissent, in the ranks”.

14

Dissent Fan 02.24.04 at 2:56 pm

Dissent is in trouble? It is celebrating its fiftieth birthday, and is in as good a financial shape as it has been at any time in those fifty years, which is a helluva lot more than can be said for the left journals to which the various snipers in this comments section contribute. That is, Henry, when they have actually contribute to a left journal, as opposed to busily padding the resume with articles in the Journal of Comparative Tenure Seeking Articles. And Dissent raises the money to pay for its operating deficit, unlike, say younger New Left Review, which has been financed by the inheritances of its left aristocrat editors. [BTW, which left journal of any size does not rely upon contributions to balance its budget? Or perhaps some pine for the old days, when the “socialist motherland” was making the subsudies.]

But nothing is so tiresome as those who have to pose as “to the left” of those who have put in decades in these struggles, with nothing to show for their authentic “leftness” than their word. “Mainstream Democrats with leftist leanings,” “a bland faintly neo-conservative clone of the New Republic,” blah, blah, blah. At least these writers cover themselves in vapid generalities that are clearly opinion based; DSquared can not even restrain himself from misrepresenting the position of the journal, by suggesting that it supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Jeez, you make a guy embarassed to be a left academic.

15

Dissent Fan 02.24.04 at 2:56 pm

Dissent is in trouble? It is celebrating its fiftieth birthday, and is in as good a financial shape as it has been at any time in those fifty years, which is a helluva lot more than can be said for the left journals to which the various snipers in this comments section contribute. That is, Henry, when they have actually contribute to a left journal, as opposed to busily padding the resume with articles in the Journal of Comparative Tenure Seeking Articles. And Dissent raises the money to pay for its operating deficit, unlike, say younger New Left Review, which has been financed by the inheritances of its left aristocrat editors. [BTW, which left journal of any size does not rely upon contributions to balance its budget? Or perhaps some pine for the old days, when the “socialist motherland” was making the subsudies.]

But nothing is so tiresome as those who have to pose as “to the left” of those who have put in decades in these struggles, with nothing to show for their authentic “leftness” than their word. “Mainstream Democrats with leftist leanings,” “a bland faintly neo-conservative clone of the New Republic,” blah, blah, blah. At least these writers cover themselves in vapid generalities that are clearly opinion based; DSquared can not even restrain himself from misrepresenting the position of the journal, by suggesting that it supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Jeez, you make a guy embarassed to be a left academic.

16

Dissent Fan 02.24.04 at 2:56 pm

Dissent is in trouble? It is celebrating its fiftieth birthday, and is in as good a financial shape as it has been at any time in those fifty years, which is a helluva lot more than can be said for the left journals to which the various snipers in this comments section contribute. That is, Henry, when they have actually contribute to a left journal, as opposed to busily padding the resume with articles in the Journal of Comparative Tenure Seeking Articles. And Dissent raises the money to pay for its operating deficit, unlike, say younger New Left Review, which has been financed by the inheritances of its left aristocrat editors. [BTW, which left journal of any size does not rely upon contributions to balance its budget? Or perhaps some pine for the old days, when the “socialist motherland” was making the subsudies.]

But nothing is so tiresome as those who have to pose as “to the left” of those who have put in decades in these struggles, with nothing to show for their authentic “leftness” than their word. “Mainstream Democrats with leftist leanings,” “a bland faintly neo-conservative clone of the New Republic,” blah, blah, blah. At least these writers cover themselves in vapid generalities that are clearly opinion based; DSquared can not even restrain himself from misrepresenting the position of the journal, by suggesting that it supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Jeez, you make a guy embarassed to be a left academic.

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