For media geeks like me, the news of late hasn't been heartening. In what legendary journalist Carl Bernstein has termed today's “Idiot Culture,” we're reading less and less. While reality TV flourishes, the masses have forsaken newspapers — in the past year alone, the Inquirer's weekday circulation has fallen three percent, and the Daily News's dropped eight percent. More people than ever get their news, such as it is, from TV. One recent poll even found that 21 percent of young Americans rely on shows like Jon Stewart's uproarious The Daily Show — a fake TV news broadcast on Comedy Central — for the information they need to be responsible citizens. Now, I love Jon Stewart. But God save the Republic when he becomes Walter Cronkite's heir apparent.
I'm actually not as pessimistic as I may sound, however. I'm jazzed by how populist the media have become; it was, after all, the bloggers — modern-day Thomas Paines — and not the newspapers that dominated last fall's election coverage, making the term “Swift Boat” part of the national lexicon. And the type of journalism I'm most passionate about — that which you hold in your hand right now — is doing quite well, thank you very much. Readers are turning to magazines in record numbers, even as they shun newspapers. That's because while we live in a time of information overload, we also suffer from a dearth of real insight. Readers are hungrier than ever for context, perspective, and engrossing stories. People — no matter what age or income level — will always want stories that shed light on the times in which they live.
That's how I explain our success. Recently, according to Capell's Circulation Report, the magazine-industry bible, Philadelphia magazine was ranked the nation's number three best-selling newsstand performer in percent of sales, behind only Cosmopolitan and Barron's and ahead of such venerable titles as Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. Yes, people have less time to read. But if you give them a reason to, they will.
In recent months, I'm proud to say, we've earned a national reputation as a leading forum for literary journalism. That's a media geek's way of saying we tell great stories. In the past six months alone, we've been the launching pad for three major books, to be published by esteemed literary houses. Writers-at-large Jason Fagone and Sasha Issenberg have inked deals to pen tomes about competitive eating and sushi, respectively, and executive editor Benjamin Wallace is hard at work on the story of the most expensive bottle of wine in history. Of course, what will make all three of these books so compelling is precisely what we try for in our pages: They will be about much more than their seeming subjects. They'll be skillfully drawn glimpses into subcultures, yes, but will also deliver insights into our shared culture at large.
All three authors will continue to grace our pages, as will senior writer Matthew Teague, whose debut piece for Philadelphia appears on page 98. Another example of magazine journalism at its best, “Abner Comes Home” goes beyond the punch-line-making headlines of Lancaster County's infamous cocaine-dealing Amish youth to take us into a mysterious world with sensitivity and eloquence. Teague serves as your proxy, delivering something that is smart and moving at the same time. In the same mode, Maureen Tkacik incisively analyzes the state of ethics (or lack thereof) in the business world in her provocative reported essay on Penn's Wharton School (page 108). We're betting that even in the “Idiot Culture,” being smart — not to mention provocative and moving — can still sell.