There's something both puzzling and tragic about the labor disputes at Harper's. I had been aware of their struggles with circulation--indeed, I'm part of them. Given how high the price is, and how rarely I felt like I was finding surprising, challenging articles, eventually, regretfully, I stopped taking the magazine. Apparently, a lot of other people agreed, a problem that was compounded by the recession.
In the months following Hodge's ouster, the staff became alarmed when MacArthur's name began appearing on top of the masthead (previously it had been underneath the editors' names, along with the business staff). Senior editors Bill Wasik, Luke Mitchell, and Jen Szalai departed, along with web editor Paul Ford. To fill Hodge's position, MacArthur appointed Ellen Rosenbush, Harper's' longtime managing editor, as acting editor. The move struck many staffers as a way to have a more pliant editor in charge: Rosenbush helped edit MacArthur's monthly column in the Providence Journal and his book You Can't Be President.. Staffers also complained that MacArthur's business plan was doomed to fail. He seemed to show little interest in the web in general or the iPad in particular, at a moment when The Atlantic, its longtime thought-leader rival, had invested heavily online and had reaped benefits both in prestige and in financial viability. "He said no one will ever make money on the web," one staffer told me on condition of anonymity.
A couple of months after Hodge's firing, senior editor Donovon Hohn helped to convene a meeting about publishing Harper's on the iPad. MacArthur didn't attend. But shortly thereafter, staffers began receiving xeroxed articles from MacArthur in their mailboxes that trashed the iPad and Kindle. One article from the Spectator had a hand-typed line at the top:
Last month, MacArthur wrote a column for the Providence Journal, subsequently posted on Harper's' website, that bashed the Internet. "I never found e-mail exciting," he wrote. "My skepticism stemmed from the suspicion that the World Wide Web wasn't, in essence, much more than a gigantic, unthinking Xerox machine ..."
When one staffer brought MacArthur's attention to a recent New York Times article that stated The Atlantic was profitable this year because of its heavy investments in the web, MacArthur responded: "They're lying. They're a private company and they can say whatever they want."
At least in this corner of The Atlantic, we wish our brother journalists at Harper's nothing but success; any feelings of rivalry have waned to nothingness since those rambunctious days of the 1880s.
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