Dear Friends (because I assume our enemies have no interest in reading this),
I often tell young people interested in journalism that this is the most exciting time in a century to be involved in journalism, particularly for conservatives. The rules are being wiped away like the sartorial customs of the Habsburg Court after World War I (or some other analogy that makes sense). The reason the commercials on shows like NBC Nightly News are mostly about medical-alert bracelets, adult diapers, and Anthony Weiner pills is that customers for those products are the only people who watch. The gatekeepers of the old order are standing outside a burning fortress insisting we still need them.
You are living through one of the most significant moments of Schumpeterian creative destruction in the history of any industry. Young people no longer need to be credentialed by the priestly guild running the Columbia Journalism School, and news consumers are no longer constrained in their choices by a near-total ideological monopoly. In many ways, we are returning to a high-tech version of the media landscape that was the norm in America from the time of the Founding until the end of World War II.
Not everything is wonderful about the new normal, but it is better than what came before, at least for those eager to smash the dull, gray concrete edifice of elite liberal hegemony. There’s only one significant problem with the new normal: No one knows how to get paid for it. On the Internet, consumers want their news for free. They also don’t want to be bothered with pop-up ads, which most of us consider the digital equivalent of the squeegee men who once plagued the streets of New York City. Moreover, many advertisers are leery of being associated with outlets that offer controversial opinions, at odds with a liberal establishment that still maintains a vise-grip on academia, Hollywood, and what’s left of the old-guard media.
National Review was a rebel enclave — a free city, if you will — under the old order, and we are working tirelessly (Okay, sometimes we do get tired) to press every advantage in this new age. We have hired litters of smart, energetic young reporters. We’ve invested millions in expanding our reach to young people (did you know that every college student in the country can get a free subscription?). At the same time, we are determined not to lose sight of the core principles that spurred Bill Buckley to found National Review in the first place.
It is a difficult project and an expensive one, and, like nearly everyone else on the Web, we haven’t figured out how to get paid for it. But that was always the case. When Buckley founded National Review, he was implicitly relying on the famous advice often attributed (incorrectly) to Goethe: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Those mighty forces were people like you. National Review has always counted on the generosity and patriotism of Americans who believed that our message was one the country needed to hear. That hasn’t changed.
National Review is now more than just a magazine, even as the magazine remains the heart and soul of the operation. The suits like to call it a “brand,” but I think of it as a community. I don’t mean that in a namby-pamby way, but in a glorious, and gloriously conservative, way. As the founding editor of National Review Online and the creator of the Corner, I’ve never seen NRO as anything other than a digital commons. It is one of Burke’s “little platoons.” And in this new order, this new age, it is a platoon that needs to be on the march.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville writes that “newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.” What he was getting at was the vital role newspapers once played in galvanizing, organizing, and clarifying public questions that free citizens of like mind and passions could rally around. Newspapers were the backbone of geographic and political communities in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and National Review strives to play the same role in the 21st. But, like any community institution, we need your help, your support, and, yes, from time to time your indulgence as occasionally the squeegee men spray digital toilet water on your screen.
— Jonah Goldberg is an NRO columnist and the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback.