Brainy Young Things

Clockwise, from top left: Roger Hodge, Harper's; Philip Gourevitch, The Paris Review; Franklin Foer, The New Republic; James Bennet, The Atlantic.Photo: Platon

The very serious magazine is the antithesis of the blogosphere. Time-consuming to produce, obstinately unscalable in an era of multiple media platforms, often deeply reported, they’re self-consciously pedigreed heirs to a tradition that can seem, at the very least, quaint amid the kicky assertional blur of the Internet. Over the past year, four of these publications—The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Paris Review, and Harper’s—appointed new editors-in-chief, the last two after decades of leadership by men who dated from a time when it was easier for magazines to be a technology of change and when striving to create a literary elite seemed like a reasonable goal. The four magazines have another thing in common, a by-product of how expensive they are to make relative to how little coverage they give to Jennifer Aniston’s personal agonies: They all lose money.

“We’re all sort of the anti-blogs,” says Roger Hodge, the new editor of Harper’s. “And I think we will eventually triumph over the blogs!”

Not likely, but then the four new editors are all accomplished old-school journalists themselves. Perhaps hewing to the model of The New Yorker’s David Remnick, a reporter turned editor who reengaged his magazine in world affairs, The Paris Review hired a New Yorker writer, Philip Gourevitch, a year ago. Gourevitch, at 44 the eldest of the four, has added more photography and reportage in his effort to pull the quarterly out of the avocational egghead’s Playboy Mansion that George Plimpton had built up around it over the years. Also Remnickian is James Bennet, newly hired from the Times to edit The Atlantic. Bennet, 40, was the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief before he was lured by the magazine’s wonkish owner, David Bradley (who’d conducted an endless-seeming search for what he termed “extreme talent”). Just two years before, Bennet had turned down the job as Washington correspondent of The New Yorker, and was about to head to Beijing for the Times when Bradley called.

Bennet started out as an intern at The New Republic, that spawning ground of very serious magazine editors, which just got its own new editor: Franklin Foer (also a contributor to New York). In keeping with the magazine’s promotioning traditions, he’s the youngest of the four, at 31. And while he used to work for Slate, he’s a believer in print. “The thing that sort of unites us is that we’re all trying to preserve a style of journalism that flies in the face of the onslaught of the blogosphere,” he says. “You get the sense that if you grow up editing blogs, you have a different cognitive framework.” Foer’s dad was a New Republic subscriber. “When I was a wee boy, it was on the coffee table and it connoted something really important to me—a certain level of authority and fun.” He joined the weekly as a writer in 2000, and it was partly his loudly held opinions on how to improve the magazine, which has lost 40 percent of its circulation in the past four years, that got him noticed.

Hodge, 38, has a similar sense of stewardship. “I had wanted to work at Harper’s from the time I was 19,” when he heard Harper’s vet Jack Hitt speak at Sewanee. Sounding not unlike Bonnie Fuller, he says, “I am proof that you can actually attain your dream job.” Hodge worked his way up from an internship and was promoted upon the retirement of Lewis Lapham. Like Foer, he wants to expand circulation without selling out. “As much as people like to think about the marketplace of ideas, the marketplace is not the best place for ideas.” As to what the four have in common, Foer ventured another interpretation: “White guys are still in charge?”

Brainy Young Things