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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

February 1, 2010


NY Times - Just before noon last Wednesday, John R. MacArthur, the president, publisher and chief benefactor of Harper's Magazine, joined his editorial staff after its monthly meeting. . .

John R. MacArthur has appointed Ellen Rosenbush the acting editor of Harper's, whose top editor left last week.

"We are going through a crisis," Mr. MacArthur, who goes by Rick, told them in a crowded conference room, where the business employees had joined them. Bound volumes dating from 1850 reminded everyone of Harper's pedigree and prominence.

In a rambling 40-minute monologue that left many attendees perplexed, Mr. MacArthur, 53, talked about the problems facing Harper's: readership was down 35,000, newsstand sales were plummeting, the only direct-mail piece that seemed to work was 20 years old. Worse, Harper's seemed irrelevant - "the mainstream media is ignoring it to death," he said - according to people who were at the meeting.

What he did not address was the chief concern on everyone's mind: two days earlier, without warning, he had fired the magazine's well-liked editor, Roger D. Hodge, in a five-minute conversation as Mr. Hodge was finishing his breakfast croissant.

The episode has sent ripples through the placid magazine, which has long been an outlier in the fast-paced New York publishing world.

Harper's is a nonprofit that relies on the support of Mr. MacArthur's foundation. As advertising revenue in publishing has declined, many organizations have considered that foundation model - combining traditional revenue with donations - to finance quality journalism. But as the Harper's situation shows, no publishing model is immune to change - especially when one influential person runs the place.

With Mr. Hodge's dismissal, "there is a sense that there is only one authority to appeal to," said an editor who, like almost everyone inside the magazine who was interviewed, asked to remain anonymous for fear of being fired.

"We all on the editorial side were surprised," Donovan Hohn, a senior editor, said. "He is the best editor I've worked with." At least one contributing editor, John Berger, asked to be removed from the masthead in protest. . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hodge's notebook piece in the current issue was a critique of Obama, which I read twice. Excellent essay. Maybe his dismissal was political.

February 1, 2010 4:38 PM  

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