Presidents, Magazines, and the Power of Good Slow Journalism… A Mr. Magazine™ Musing

April 26, 2020

The more I dive into my old magazines collection, the more I discover that there is nothing new under the sun.  Same stories, same characters, similar events, and similar affairs, yet the similarities end there. What is different is the role and power of how magazines covered those issues and events.

Take for example the January 1942 issue of Fortune magazine.  The world is in the midst of World War II and the country is facing dire decisions on both political and economic situations dealing with the war.  Excuse me, if I say, this sounds so eerily familiar! But, let me not digress here, but rather head back to the early 1940s.

In addition to the regular magazine and its monthly coverage, Fortune started a series of round tables that gathered around all kind of experts in their fields and discussed and debated the issues of the days with them and later published them in white papers.

The Ninth Fortune Round Table was held on May 9, 10, 11, 1941 at the Seaview Country Club, Absecon, New Jersey.  The topic “Labor Policy and National Defense.”  The Tenth Fortune Round Table was held on September 5, 6, 7, 1941 at Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  The topic “On Demobilizing The War Economy.”

Those white papers represented the best of what journalism can offer in a calm calculated constructive way in order to help both country and public. The magazine publishers and editors took their responsibility seriously and rather than pontificate they sought answers, they assembled the who’s who from the experts on the issues, asked the right questions, checked the answers and double checked them, then summed up the questions and answers and presented them to the public.

So, back to the January 1942 issue of Fortune magazine.  The lead story of that issue was titled “The Presidency: Its tradition is leadership in freedom. Will Franklin Roosevelt preserve that tradition against the world thrust toward the all-powerful state?”  The lead paragraph of the article stated, “Several years ago, during debate on the Neutrality Act, a delegation of congressional leaders went to the White House to discuss it with President Roosevelt. Afterward it was widely rumored that the President, angered at some phase of the argument over this attempt to hobble him in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations, had blazed out: “I could put this country into war in six weeks, and you know it.”

Again, not to digress, does the aforementioned paragraph sound familiar? Just change the names and the war from World War II to World War C.  But, back to the magazine.

The article on The Presidency went on to reprint a series of cartoons of several important presidents from Washington to Roosevelt, with the following caption at the end, “These are contemporary cartoons of the chief Presidents who, after Washington had endowed the office with his personal prestige, enlarged the powers of the presidency. One and all have been assailed as would-be despots. Sample alarm: “The eyes and hopes of the American people are anxiously turned to Congress… The will of one man alone prevails and governs the republic…The premonitory symptoms of despotism are upon us.” Henry Clay on President Andrew Jackson, December 26, 1833.

Case closed.  We need more magazines like the Fortune of 1942 and less talking heads like we see on TV where everything is breaking news.  Good magazines stop the rat race and the horse race and focus on the issues, in-depth coverage, or what some folks like to call slow-journalism.  Slow journalism is good journalism, race against time and the clock was, is and will never be good journalism.  The old saying in the 24 hours news cycle, “report first, check second” is the beginning of the ills of journalism.

In this faster than fast delivery of news and information, it is about time, time that we have in this “stay at home” order, to rethink the role of magazines and good journalism and deliver some great “slow journalism” to help inform, educate, and serve the “customers who count.”

Magazines that focus on those customers will continue to be the light at the end of the tunnel while other platforms will continue to be the train coming at you.


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