Shortly before Christmas, the Washington Monthly family was stunned by the loss of our publisher Diane Straus at age sixty-six. She passed away on December 20th due to complications arising from colon cancer. Diane (pronounced Dee-Ann) came to the magazine in 2008 after a three-year stint at The American Prospect. Adam Shapiro spoke for us all when he wrote in the Huffington Post, “I never had a boring conversation with Diane; every discussion was full of her vision and energy.” Our editor-in-chief Paul Glastris has said it is no exaggeration to credit her with helping to save the magazine from extinction.
In nearly all the outlets you read, publishers are vital, but mostly behind the scenes players. The best of them devote their energies to finding the financial resources—from subscriptions and ads, but also, for a nonprofit like the Washington Monthly, from grants and donations—that sustain the enterprise without compromising the editorial staff’s independence. It’s long been a tricky balance to strike, the more so in today’s financially punishing media environment, and especially for an obstreperous political publication like the Washington Monthly. But Diane pulled it off with grace. She’d let the editorial side know what needed doing—reminding us, say, that the end of the year fundraising drive was coming up—without involving herself in how we would do it. She was quick to tell prospective foundation partners, whose funding she dearly sought, that the editors have the final say on anything we publish with their grant money, and she always kept to her word.
This old school devotion to editorial independence was something Diane came by honestly. Her paternal grandfather was an early radio entrepreneur and her father, Peter Straus, ran the New York radio station WMCA from the 1950s, earning it a reputation as both a pioneer in popularizing rock and roll and a precursor to NPR in providing public service radio. Her mother Ellen was a cousin of longtime publisher of the New York Times Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Early in her career Diane worked as an editor herself at the Village Voice and under the legendary Clay Felker at New York Magazine before taking on a variety of publishing roles, including with some of her family’s newspapers. In 2003-04, she got involved in Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. They were close friends from their time as Yale undergraduates. And from that experience with progressive politics, she became publisher of The American Prospect and then of the Washington Monthly.
There were many other aspects of her life that Diane was rightly proud of. She was in the first class of women to graduate from Yale and the captain of the university’s first women’s varsity tennis team. She went on to become the Martina Navratilova of platform tennis, earning twenty-nine national championships and a 2004 induction into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame. But most of all she was proud of her kids, Rebecca, Peter and David, who were in and out of the Monthly offices and became friends with the staff.
Like many moms, Diane carried herself with the quiet authority of someone who is devoted to her job and knows how to manage chaos. “She had a passionate belief in the power of small magazines to make a difference,” Glastris has said. And with her crucial help, the magazine did just that. She will be greatly missed by the entire staff.