Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor in chief and publisher of The Nation, leafed through a recent issue of her magazine. The cover featured a drawing of Donald Trump from the shoulders up outlined and filled in with shades of orange lettering. Words such as “egomaniac,” “thin-skinned,” “misogynist,” “wall” and “racist” made up parts of the sketch; above the drawing reads the headline: “The Trump Phenomena.”
Like most in the media, vanden Heuvel is consumed with thoughts about how Trump rose to power, the role the media played in his construction, and what will happen after the election.
From The Nation’s new, bright offices in New York’s fashion district, she spoke almost academically, with a kind of detached fascination about the Republican presidential nominee.
“He’s a creature of a media age in which the lines between media and news have been slowly blurred, if not obliterated,” she said. “He is a creature of reality television. ‘The Apprentice’ made him a household name, but he’s also a creature of the sensationalistic, flamboyant news that we have come to expect. He’s someone at this moment, as we speak, who may have been abetted by the rise of reality TV, but he may die politically because of reality TV, ‘Access Hollywood’ and all of that. In the end, that may take him down.”
Vanden Heuvel, who has served as editor in chief of The Nation since 1995, is a political junkie with expertise on the Left, Russia and international policy. She has covered the Clinton White House and recognizes the media circus of the Trump “movement” as playing a pivotal role.
It’s “media malpractice” she said, explaining that networks began covering Trump rallies before he was considered a viable candidate for “money and ratings.”
While today’s “zing culture” helped Trump’s rise, she acknowledged he tapped into a an “anger” in the country.
“Trump is kind of a creature. He’s a monster of the party’s creation. He is a creature. He’s going to kill his own party. He comes out of this culture…the conspiracy culture, the denialist,” she said, referring to birtherism.
“But he is also saying things that are important to say. He’s out in Ohio and Michigan, saying these bad corporate trade deals have led to the de-industrialization and loss of jobs,” she said. “The Republican Party hasn’t been saying that…he’s exposing that the establishment of both parties, but particularly the Republican Party, has been shafting working people for decades.”
Without giving Trump too much credit, vanden Heuvel cited his comments on women.
“This guy is a predator,” she said. “Locker room talk? Come on.”
That aside, the editor reflected on the role that social media and technology have played in uncovering Trump’s misogyny and womanizing, and has her “wondering” if we would have elected presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton if such technology had existed then.
Vanden Heuvel didn’t spend much time meditating on it and instead spoke broadly about the kinds of stories the media gravitates toward.
“A lot of the media thrives on the concept of division,” she said, noting that while the election is a major focus, her magazine has tried to diversify its coverage to include reports on criminal justice, the economy and international politics.
Founded in 1865, The Nation, which is the country’s oldest continuously published weekly, is like most older media properties — it is in the process of balancing its journalism with the need to attract new readers via its web site and on social media.
Unlike most, however, the magazine, which has a print circulation of 125,000, does not rely on advertising, but instead large and small private donors, which number about 25,000. Vanden Heuvel, who owns part of The Nation, said the publication’s web site also brings in money via its metered paywall. In a sense, the editor is looking to David Remnick’s New Yorker for inspiration, with its various brand extensions. The Nation has a podcast, a nascent sponsored content business and a live events division. (Postelection, readers of The Nation can take a postelection cruise with editors to a variety of locations).
But vanden Heuvel is “cautious” about native advertising, calling it a “slippery slope.” The title does not create campaigns for advertisers, but instead has used archival content to complement advertisers’ campaigns as opposed to creating advertising for a brand.
While she wears many hats — editor, publisher, part owner — vanden Heuvel said she’s focusing on editorial and digital strategy and not on the business side — even though she prognosticates that native advertising “is not going to be the savior of media.”
“The old media order is dying, the new one is not yet born,” she offered and explained that it’s important to mind the tradition of a legacy brand even as it evolves digitally.
Case in point: The New Republic, which Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes sold after a failed attempt at renovating the old media brand. Vanden Heuvel’s friend and former Nation publisher Hamilton Fish now serves as TNR’s publisher and editorial director under the new ownership of Winthrop McCormack. She said she expects Fish to apply lessons from his time at The Nation to TNR. As for Hughes?
“He is a digital guy. The New Republic wasn’t for him,” she said. “You need digital but you can’t just be digital. You have to respect the tradition. That’s what we do at The Nation. You can’t stand still.”
Watch the full interview here: