The Weekly Standard may live to fight another day.
The conservative political and cultural magazine’s future appeared imperiled this week by its owner’s consideration of a restructuring plan that might restructure it out of existence.
The Standard’s owner, Clarity Media Group — which is, in turn, owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz — wants to expand its other Washington-based conservative publication, the Washington Examiner, a move that may leave no room for the money-losing Standard.
Clarity has been opaque about its plans beyond a statement issue earlier this week reading, “It is no secret that news organizations across the U.S. are dealing with an evolving business landscape. The Weekly Standard is dealing with these same issues. Clarity Media has been exploring a number of possibilities regarding the future of the Weekly Standard. At this time, Clarity does not have any news to share about the evaluation process.”
However, the Standard’s founding editor, Bill Kristol, said Thursday that reports of the publication’s demise had elicited a “gratifying outpouring of support and, actually, offers to buy or help buy” the magazine. “So that’s nice,” he said.
Kristol declined to name interested parties.
He later amended his comment to say that there have been “expressions of interest from serious people — not quite offers yet, but we’ll see.”
In either case, any interest in the Standard would represent progress. Editor Stephen F. Hayes reportedly shopped the publication around earlier this year but did not appear to find a willing buyer.
Staffers say they are unsure if Clarity wants to sell the magazine, fold it or somehow incorporate it into the Washington Examiner. The Examiner is revamping its own magazine and would benefit from the Weekly Standard’s subscription list. The Standard has about 48,000 print subscribers.
The Standard has differentiated itself from other conservative publications, including the Washington Examiner, by its skepticism of, and sometimes outright opposition to, President Trump.
Under Hayes, it has maintained its traditional criticism of Democrats while publishing a number of investigative and feature stories that demonstrate its independence from Trump and his policies. A recent editorial, for instance, blasted Trump’s rhetoric about Saudi Arabia in the wake of the slaying of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The approach has not yielded big growth in digital traffic, however. According to the tracking firm ComScore, the Weekly Standard’s website attracted just 822,000 unique visitors in April — about half the monthly total it had when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017. It gradually made up that lost ground, and then saw a jump to 2.8 million and 2.6 million unique visitors, respectively, in September and October, the first month in which ComScore started including traffic flow to publishers from Snapchat.
The printed magazine, which is published 48 times a year, has lost about 10 percent of its circulation during the Trump era.
Kristol co-founded the publication in 1995 with journalists Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz, with financial backing from Rupert Murdoch. The Standard quickly became a leading voice of the neoconservative movement and strongly backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush.
Murdoch sold his interest to Anschutz in 2009. Barnes remains its executive editor and Podhoretz contributes movie reviews. Kristol, who resigned as its top editor in late 2016, remains a writer and editor-at-large for the magazine. He is also a contributor to CNN, where he frequently criticizes Trump.
The possible demise of the magazine drew alarm from conservative figures and journalists on Twitter.
Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt gave the magazine a boost, tweeting, “The @weeklystandard is a grand magazine, full of superb writing and analysis. Hopefully a @JeffBezos is out there to buy it and keep @stephenfhayes and gang in the game for decades to come. It’s a big, serious brand. Public minded deep pocket needed.”
(Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, owns The Washington Post).
Politico columnist Jack Shafer was more succinct. He tweeted, “We’re going to miss the @weeklystandard when it’s gone.”