As the president sucks up the oxygen from the media atmosphere, it’s easy to forget how important local journalism is right now. The regional press—the holy trinity of newspapers, alt-weeklies, and city magazines—is where we can find true stories of friends and neighbors impacted by immigration raids, fights over funding public education, and the frontline of relaxed environmental standards that will impact the water we drink and the air we breathe. We need to support their work.
This is why recent upheaval at magazines like Texas Monthly and Los Angeles Magazine, where new owners seem to be pushing toward “lifestyle” content over serious news, is so disheartening. On Tuesday, Los Angeles editor-in-chief Mary Melton announced she was leaving the award-winning publication after sixteen years, along with star writer Amy Wallace and “more than a half-dozen staffers—all of them women.”
The move comes after Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications announced it has sold off most of its city magazines, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Orange Coast, to Hour Media Group based in Troy, Michigan. (Emmis will keep its local publication, Indianapolis Monthly.)
Last year, Emmis also sold the award-winning Texas Monthly to Genesis Park, a Houston-based private equity group. The new owners seemed to understand and support the magazine’s history of pursuing serious journalism—then last week, new editor-in-chief Tim Taliaferro freaked everyone out in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review where he claimed “Texans don’t care about politics.” He quickly walked back the statement in a letter to readers, reasserting his commitment to in-depth storytelling about critical issues.
Aside from the ill-advised quotes, Taliaferro and other city magazine editors are understandably in a tough spot. Lifestyle content still subsidizes prestige journalism, and newsstand sales, usually in grocery stores, remain dependent on sumptuous images of food porn, or the 100 best restaurants, doctors, or lawyers.
But for subscribers, it’s the in-depth storytelling that will retain readers. Many editors have told me there are two key factors that keep them producing longform journalism every month: a growing subscriber base and ownership that believes these stories are worth telling. They’re also the stories that give magazines like Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle Met, or 5280 in Denver, a global audience.
City magazines are going to be critical to put a local face on our radically shifting national policies. The new owners need to know just how important that is to our communities.
Further reading from the Longreads Archive: