It is with great sadness that I report that the magazine Legal Affairs is suspending its print edition, having failed to attract sufficient funding to keep it afloat. This is a genuine loss to American journalism, for two reasons. First, LA is a publication of exceptional quality, filling a real void between the law journals, whose articles are often too long, too specialized, or too poorly written for most of us to bother reading, and law professor blogs, which while often quite illuminating, lack the polish and the in-depth reporting that LA featured. Second, LA is a real rarity in American journalism–a relatively new publication not designed to simply spout the pre-packaged positions of either side of political debate, but to provide a forum for thoughtful debate between both sides. Particularly valuable are the back and forth debates that the LA website hosts on legal questions–I can think of nowhere else on the web that publishes such sustained, illuminating discourse on important issues. For those of us who are genuinely persuadable on legal questions, this constitutes a major public service.
The potential demise of LA, at least in its print form, raises a further question, which has to do with the political polarization of contemporary philanthropy. As the LA editors point out, serious political magazines almost always run in the red, and depend for their survival on the willingness of wealthy benefactors (usually their owners) to keep them going. In modern America, what opens up the wallets of the wealthy is ideology–conservatives spent generously (and effectively) to get a network of magazines and journals going over the last quarter-century, as have liberals for longer than that. But who is willing to support a magazine that aspires not to speak to the faithful, but to be a forum for the unconvinced? I hope that there are enough of us fence-sitters in the culture war out there to provide the demand for such publications–but is the demise of LA a sign that the intensity of preference that is required to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into a magazine, year after year, simply doesn’t exist for magazines without a particular ideological slant? The sad truth appears to be that the answer is yes.