I've subscribed to Harper's Magazine for at least 20 years, since I got out of college. I also subscribed to The Atlantic then, but I always liked Harper's better (all the fiction in The Atlantic, we used to joke, had to have priests, Irish people, or boats in it, if not all three) and then The Atlantic stopped publishing fiction, except for once a year, so I stopped reading it. Harper's stayed good, even great; the fiction was wild and unpredictable (even publishing a whacked-out novel in serial by some crazy guy) and the non-fiction always surprising and smart. I even enjoyed Lewis Lapham's loopy rants. If the mag seemed to be less totally wonderful lately, I chalked it up to the natural cycles of publishing: everyone has their ups and downs.
But could Harper's be... over? You probably heard about the trouble they've been having with their publisher, who is laying off several editors. What it looks like from the outside -- and I certainly have no inside knowledge -- is that the magazine doesn't want to make the compromises it has to make if it wants to survive in the same world as Huffington Post and Gawker and Talking Points Memo and all those other constantly updating, endlessly interesting, free sources of news and journalism and culturey stuff. Their publisher has publicly ranted against the Internet. But is it even possible to be a print-only, general interest magazine anymore?
Well, The Atlantic seems to be doing okay. It has a real, busy, packed-with-news website, lots of bloggers, and it's spiffed up its journalism -- lots of attention getting articles like Caitlin Flanagan's anti-school-gardens screed. That knee-jerk nay-saying stuff is annoying as heck, but it gives people something to argue about. Anyway, The Atlantic feels alive.
Should Harper's take a leaf from The Atlantic's pages? Should they modernize and hyperactivate? Or go down screaming?