Killing It Softly

Landing less with a “thud” and more a Roberta Flack whisper in my tunnel-form street-side mailbox, the new issue of “Columbia Journalism Review” (CJR) arrived just the other day.

Published every other month, CJR offers critical assessment of contemporary journalism as practiced, especially, in print media but on broadcast and digital platforms as well.

Initially, I began subscribing to CJR more than 30 years ago to assuage my guilt at reading so heavily about television and theatrical motion pictures.

I needed, I thought, something about printed media to “balance” my scholarly reading regime in mass communications. And “Rolling Stone” wasn’t the answer, though I subscribe to that, too.

Occasionally reading CJR out of obligation (or guilt), but much more often pleasurably, CJR informed me of issues, concerns, ethical dilemmas and the overlooked or overplayed aspects of journalism.

Its venerable 50-plus year publishing history is replete with lively and frequently passionately argued positions by well-respected members of the Press. CJR keeps me abreast of things that (should) concern the profession as much as the public.

What’s most interesting, if not downright depressing, about the current issue of CJR is what’s NOT there.

Advertising.

Never a publication cluttered with ads, one need not go too far back to find a robust advertising presence in CJR.

Rarely would one encounter product or service ads as one expects to in, say, “Time” or other newsstand periodicals. More often, instead, manufacturers took out full-page ads reminding journalists not to abuse their trademark (e.g., “photocopy” and not Xerox, “facial tissue” and not Kleenex).

Book publishers announced new titles relevant to CJR’s readership. Philanthropic foundations advertised opportunities for professional fellowships. And Columbia University (CJR’s publisher and home base) would likewise present commercial messages.

The current issue runs 64 pages, plus front and back covers.

There are fewer than 10 pages of ads in the entire issue. To be precise: there are eight pages, including one page advertising CJR’s online presence.

To use the current cliché: this is not sustainable.

With an annual subscription rate of under $20, and even if none of the writers were paid for their work (a hypothetical), one cannot publish at break-even level with the quality of printing and distribution CJR currently does.

Most of the world, one suspects, cares little about CJR’s future. As reported in the November-December issue (p. 62), CJR has an average print run of about 16,000 and a paid circulation of 12,500.

And, ordinarily, the most common human response to advertising is annoyance.

Maybe we need to rethink that.

What’s the ad count in your favorite magazines?

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