In an interesting take on the magazine-as-incubator, Alyssa Rosenberg reacts to the recent news that the (very-loved liberal policy magazine) American Prospect is cutting down its staff and scaling back to a quarterly publishing schedule. Rosenberg points to the long list of all-star journalists who started their writing careers at the Prospect and how—though their careers were essentially incubated at the magazine—their growth did nothing to save the Prospect itself:
Vox.com co-founders Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias may be among the most prominent Prospect alumni, but they are hardly alone. Former Prospect editor Ann Friedman (who gave me my start in culture criticism with an assignment about movie superheroines) is now a columnist for New York magazine. Education journalist Dana Goldstein, Alaska Public Media reporter Alexandra Gutierrez, MSNBC’s Adam Serwer, Slate writer Jamelle Bouie, UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg and the Huffington Post’s Kate Sheppard are just some of the many, many journalists who have done stints there.
As wonderful as that roster is, being an incubator publication is a difficult place to occupy in the journalism ecosystem. Unlike Silicon Valley incubators, which stake young developers for a share of their future profits, the Prospect does not get part of what its alumni earn in the future. An excellent reputation and ongoing goodwill do not necessarily translate into piles of cash.
But we can also come at this argument from a long-term and slightly more optimistic view of the value of incubating young writers as Ezra Klein does in his reflection on his own career that began the Prospect’s blog, Tapped:
The combination of TAP’s culture and Tapped’s medium created a place where young journalists could go and experiment with policy journalism on the web. And some of those experiments worked. It turned out health-care policy could really appeal to readers. It turned out the internet loved charts. It turned out that policy writing could be short, or even just a link. It turned out that a conversational tone didn’t destroy the writer’s authority. It turned out that blogs benefitted at least as much from diligent reporting as magazine articles. Those experiments now inform journalism in places ranging from the Washington Post and the New York Times to Buzzfeed and Business Insider. Tapped’s style of policy journalism is everywhere now.
As for Vox, well, two of the three founders are Tapped alumnus. Without Tapped, there would certainly be no Vox.
And in so doing, we realize that when journalism is viewed as a community of public informants (rather than a battle between publishers) the legacy of one publication can and does lead to incredible value.