Talk for any length of time with a journalist who lived through The Great Die-Off of 2008 and you’ll learn about what they did to survive.
First, they took pay reductions: That stung, but you could still live, especially if a friendly flack paid for lunch occasionally. Next, there were the layoffs. That was a blow, but there were often sad drinks in dank bars and whoever was still working usually picked up the tab. Then came the speedup, with lots more work for many fewer people: The survivors soon envied the dead. Finally, the shutterings: Magazines you’ve heard of (Radar), magazines you’ve forgotten (Men’s Vogue), magazines that never seemed to exist (02138) were all gone. The publications that were left went digital, essentially burning the furniture to heat the house. Over time, some sites migrated to platforms like Medium or threw their lots in with Facebook, the hopeful/hopeless 21st century equivalent of Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl for California, if California had confiscated their remaining property when they reached the border.
A lot of other stuff happened. (Imagine a clock spinning quickly; pages flying off a calendar.) Publications came back, but smaller. New publications were launched with venture backing, but mostly digitally. Publications became apps, but you didn’t download them. Publications pivoted to video, but we made fun of them. And then, publications died again. And again.
As we close 2018, the year of the Second Great Die-Off, here is a look back at our fallen comrades (and Lena Dunham’s thing).
The Awl ceased publication. Founded in the depths of the media recession in 2009 by Choire Sicha and Alex Balk (with a name supplied by the editor of Hmm Daily), it was beyond categorization and always managed to pay its writers.
Where It Lives On: The New York Times Styles section; anywhere exclamation points are used!
The Hairpin, an Awl offshoot with a passionate following all its own, joined its older sibling in the death notices. (Silvia Killingsworth served as the final editor of both.) Launched in 2010 with Edith Zimmerman as its first editor, it opened a space for editors and writers including Emma Carmichael, Jia Tolentino, and Jazmine Hughes.
Where It Lives On: Buzzfeed, The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg, The New Yorker, and everywhere else its writers have found a way to arbitrage the difference between what people like to read and which business models work.
NME announced it was going digital-only. Started as The New Musical Express in 1952, the tastemaking British music newspaper featured everyone from Elvis to Morrissey (and many others without pompadours) on its covers over the decades. New Wave fans in particular pored over this import’s onion-thin pages looking for news of the long Blur/Oasis wars and any other obscure music news from Blighty.
Where It Lives On: Pitchfork; anywhere music nerds are making lists.
Flex Magazine was folded into Muscle & Fitness so its parent company, American Media Inc., could focus on its core competency in aiding and abetting the violation of campaign finance laws. Founded in 1983 by Canadian muscle-lover Joe Weider (he also founded the Mr. and Ms. Olympia competitions), Flex offered practical tips and eye-popping photos for bodybuilding enthusiasts and 90 lb. weaklings who dream of looking like a condom filled with walnuts.
Where It Lives On: Muscle & Fitness and a zillion YouTube workout how-to videos.
Interview shuttered. Famously started by famous artist and famous-person admirer Andy Warhol in 1969, Interview was a famously friendly publication where famous people talked to one another and editors did little if any editing of the transcripts. Often fun, sometimes tedious, it was a rare celebrity magazine that didn’t try to convince you that celebrities were inherently interesting or particularly intelligent.
The Village Voice ceased publishing altogether after going digital-only in 2017. The granddaddy of alt-weeklies was started in 1955 by Norman Mailer and three other guys who never stabbed their wives, Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and John Wilcock. The Voice’s influence cannot be overstated: Its muckraking journalism, era-defining cultural criticism, and sui generis columnists changed journalism in the second half of the 20th century. It also ran a completely made-up cover story in 2006 and one time it fired this writer, but, hey, pobody’s nerfect!
Where It Lives On: Vice, which figured out how to monetize (kinda?) showy, rebellious journalism; the few alt-weeklies still doing god’s work and just barely scraping by.
Lenny Letter announced it would close. Started by America’s sweetheart Lena Dunham and her producing partner Jenni Konner in 2015, the site (and later book imprint) rode a wave of celebrity-published content and commerce sites like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, Zooey Deschanel’s HelloGiggles, Derek Jeter’s Player’s Tribune, and others. Lenny Letter undoubtedly ran many great pieces by smart writers, but its legacy will forever be overshadowed by one of its founder’s tendency to offend people every time she speaks publicly.
Where It Lives On: Whenever a magazine asks a celebrity to write their own profile or interview a friend.
Glamour announced it would be going digital-only with limited print “products” in the near future. Started in 1939 as Glamour of Hollywood, the magazine was repositioned as a women’s book in 1943 called Glamour: For the Girl With a Job. (It was 1943, don’t @ them.) Featuring a more accessible approach to fashion and lifestyle than Vogue or W, Glamour was widely mourned upon shuffling off its print coil.
Where It Lives On: Glamour.com.
Rookie’s founder (and probable future President of the United States) Tavi Gevinson announced she was closing her teen site in a pragmatic and widely-quoted editor’s letter. Gevinson, who is all of 22 years old, started Rookie in 2011 (it grew out of Style Rookie, her personal blog started in 2008) and published annual print yearbooks. For a generation of girls born too late for Sassy (or even Jezebel), Rookie was, like, everything.
Where It Lives On: Maybe Snap? We’re too old to know.
Recode announced it was folding into Vox.com, a fate possibly worse than death. Started by Silicon Valley good cop/bad cop team Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher in 2014 (and originally called Re/Code), the tech news and analysis site carved out a cozy, but tough-loving position in a tech journalism landscape that tends towards artfully repurposed press releases and rare critical sites bankrupted by lawsuits funded by tech billionaires who have things to hide. (What things? We’ll never know.) Now it’s a part of Vox’s vast explainer empire, which is explained here.
Where It Lives On: Live events where Swisher lightly grills tech CEOs when she’s not eating them raw.
The Weekly Standard was closed by its reclusive, right-wing billionaire owner, Philip Anschutz. Founded by Bill Kristol, the Fredo Corleone of neoconservatism (and Dan Quayle’s “brain”), along with Fred Barnes and John P. Normanson in 1995 with funding from non-reclusive right-wing billionaire Rupert Murdoch, the publication was home to most of the writers who helped drive us into war with Iraq and Matt Labash, who’s good.
Where It Lives On: Rumors of a resurrected Standard, possibly under a different name, persist; in the meantime, David Brooks is still forming letters and punctuation marks into opinion-shaped objects for The New York Times.
Tin House announced it would end its print publication and go web- and events-only. Started by the husband-and-wife team of Rob Spillman and Elissa Schappell in 1999, this literary quarterly published most, if not all, of the best writers working today. Owner and publisher Win McCormack has also owned The New Republic since 2016, when he bought it from boy billionaire Chris Hughes’ lemonade stand.
Who’ll die next year? Anyone’s guess. But please let it be The New York Post.