National Journal, the deeply reported, nonpartisan and often wonky weekly bible of Washington policy and politics, will cease publication at the end of the year, another casualty of the digital media era.
In announcing the closure Thursday, the magazine’s owner, David Bradley, said in a staff memo that “news in Washington now moves too quickly for a weekly publication.” More broadly, he said, “likely, the best years of weekly print magazines are passed.”
Bradley, who declined to be interviewed, said the firm intended to redeploy the resources devoted to the Journal to its daily publications, National Journal Daily and Hotline, and its Web site, NationalJournal.com.
During its 46-year run, the magazine covered major legislative battles and political races and delved into social and economic issues, often in-depth and without evident bias.
It has also been the professional home of some of the best-known and accomplished political reporters in Washington, including NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS’s Major Garrett, the late Michael Kelly, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, the Week’s Marc Ambinder, author Neal Peirce, USA Today’s Susan Davis, newsletter editor Charlie Cook and its current columnists, Ron Brownstein and Ron Fournier.
But news magazines, especially the print kind, have been in general decline since the advent of the Internet, smartphones and social media, which have drawn readers and advertisers away from print. Newsweek, formerly owned by The Washington Post Co., ceased print publication at the end of 2012 before being revived under a new owner. Another Washington-based newsweekly, U.S. News & World Report, began to phase out print publication in 2008 and moved entirely to digital publishing in 2010.
At the same time, National Journal’s franchise as a purveyor of long-form stories about politics and policy has been beset by a host of speedy new Web-based competitors, such as Politico, Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post and Real Clear Politics.
The magazine was founded by the late journalist Thomas Schroth and has been through several changes of ownership since it began in 1969. Bradley’s privately owned Atlantic Media, headquartered in Washington’s Watergate complex, acquired it in 1997.
In a show of public contrition rare for a media executive, Bradley blamed himself for the publication’s demise. “I believe I failed,” he wrote. “When I first entered publishing, [former Washington Post Co. chief executive] Don Graham taught me his motto: ‘Eyes on, hands off.’ A few years back . . . I took both my eyes and hands off the task. In the long run, I don’t think a weekly print magazine can thrive. Still, had I not failed for a time in my role, I think National Journal might have prospered longer.”
He added: “At a minimum, I don’t assign any fault to our editors and writers. The problems here were strategic — and mine entirely.”
Starting in 2011, National Journal Group began selling memberships, rather than subscriptions, that entitled customers to the magazine, unlimited Web site access, proprietary charts and graphics, and entry to events. The company has about 1,000 members — corporations, government offices, trade associations — that pay an annual fee based on size, typically four or five figures.
Despite what he called National Journal’s “gentle decline,” Bradley said the company overall was financially healthy and growing.
The magazine’s closure won’t result in direct layoffs. Its staff of 10 to 15 — some employees hold dual roles within the group — will be reassigned to other parts of the newsroom, which has about 80 employees overall. Although Bradley said that the number of positions would be reduced, he added an apology and wrote, “I have never left anyone ‘on the street.’ I won’t do that here.”
The magazine’s editor, Richard Just, declined to be interviewed, as did Tim Grieve, its editor in chief. But Just said in a statement, “Starting in the spring of 2014, we built a magazine of storytelling and ideas that we could all be proud of — and, while I understand that this is a business decision, I am disappointed to see the magazine ending at a moment when I believe it is, by any standard, thriving journalistically.”