Not Everything Can Move to Substack or the Times

A healthy media still needs organizations that fit in-between, such as The Washington Monthly

Journalism is currently in a period of simultaneous consolidation and decentralization. Neither are particularly healthy for sustained, quality journalism and opinion.

On the consolidation side, the New York Times and Washington Post increasingly dominate the media landscape, boasting record subscriptions and readership. These organizations attract almost all the eyeballs and top-flight talent among mainstream within the mainstream space. High-profile writers like Ezra Klein are moving there, furthering the trend toward monopolization in organized journalism and opinion writing.

Meanwhile there is also a worrying trend toward individualized decentralization. Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Yglesias, Casey Newton and many others have left their respective organizations–many of which they cofounded–to start Substack newsletters. This trend represents a quasi-retro return to subscription-model blogging but in an atomized way. It’s interesting, but there are two problems: first, problem is that there aren’t enough subscription dollars to go around for every worthy journalist and opinion writer; second, new and upcoming writers can hardly get noticed in an environment where the only games in town are the Times/WaPo or celebrity journalist newsletters.

A healthy media environment still needs medium-sized organizations like the Washington Monthly. Medium-sized organizations can hire promising new talent and foster creative cultures different from the consolidated media empires, without fragmenting into thousands of individual brands. But as the challenges from these trends grow, in addition to downward pressure on revenues from social media, organizations like the Washington Monthly now need your help more than ever.

Please, if you can, help make a donation to keep our work going. If you can give today, NewsMatch will match it with generous challenge grant  dedicated to helping nonprofit news organizations like the Monthly–which also means your donation is tax-deductible.) Plus, if you give $50 or more, you’ll receive a free one-year subscription to the print edition of the Washington Monthly–an always welcome arrival to alleviate quarantine boredom and broaden horizons.

A world where the writers of the Monthly and similar hard-hitting news organizations all moved like dandelions in the wind to bang the tin can on Substack or beg for a job at the Times would be a sad one. Please help us stay healthy this holiday season and let us keep delivering you the quality journalism and opinion we’ve become famous for. And thank you.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.