“This was a business decision,” McKibben said. “As we looked at all of our options, we saw we were facing a steady decline in revenues and circulation. That drove us to our decision to close this week. . . . It was a tough decision.”
Staffers who were told of the closure by McKibben at a morning meeting on Friday were skeptical of the business rationale, saying Clarity has invested heavily in the Washington Examiner, with far greater losses than those produced by the Weekly Standard.
Several noted the timing of the closure announcement, calling it “the Christmas massacre.”
The Standard was founded in 1995 by three journalists — Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz — with funding from conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch sold his interest to billionaire Philip Anschutz in 2009.
At its peak, the magazine’s circulation topped 100,000. But it has been in steady decline in recent years, losing about half its circulation and revenue since Clarity, owned by Anschutz, took it over, McKibben said.
It became an influential “thought” journal among neoconservatives, particularly during George W. Bush’s presidential administration, when it strongly backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
However, the magazine has not been profitable throughout its existence.
Clarity Media tried to sell the Standard earlier this year, but was unable to find a “viable” buyer, according to McKibben.
Kristol, the magazine’s top editor for more than two decades before becoming a contributing writer two years ago, said last week that he’d received “expressions of interest” from would-be buyers, but no firm offers.
Clarity is revamping the Examiner’s weekly magazine and will offer a subscription to it to the Weekly Standard’s subscribers. The latter magazine has about 50,000 weekly print subscribers and attracts about 2 million unique visitors per month on its website. McKibben said the decision to close the Standard was unrelated to the operation of the Examiner. “These are stand-alone businesses,” he said.
In the Trump era, the Standard has differentiated itself from other conservative publications, including the Examiner, by maintaining a skeptical and sometimes oppositional tone regarding the president.
Under Kristol’s successor, Stephen Hayes, it has maintained its traditional criticism of Democrats while publishing a number of investigative and feature stories critical of Trump.
“I am profoundly disappointed in the decision to close the Weekly Standard,” Hayes said. “For nearly a quarter century, [the magazine] has provided an unapologetically conservative and fiercely independent voice on American culture and public affairs. That voice is needed now more than at anytime in the previous 23 years.”
The printed magazine, which is published 48 times a year, has lost about 10 percent of its circulation during the Trump era.
Employees have been told they will receive severance pay in exchange for signing a nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreement.