About this project
Current Affairs is a new print magazine of cultural and political analysis, showcasing some of the country's best contemporary writers. Our magazine is informative, entertaining, and beautiful, and loaded with everything from book reviews to fake advertisements. We bring a sharp critical eye to the absurdities of modern American life, and provide a fresh set of voices amid the desiccated wasteland of contemporary media.
Our print magazine will be published bimonthly, and mailed to subscribers. We are also equally oriented toward the web, and are building a site full of our best writing. We're confident that it will be a popular destination for those exasperated by clickbait journalism, and in search of something refreshingly frank, in-depth, and ruthless.
To build Current Affairs, we're assembling the best set of people we know. We've hired Position Development, the top-notch web designers behind Jacobin magazine. And the Los Angeles-based artist Bob Pece, whose work is one-of-a-kind, is contributing eye-catching designs for our cover. We're consulting with the best editors, designers, and writers we can find in order build something of exceptional quality.
We're putting every ounce of skill and determination that we have into making Current Affairs a great publication. When you see the end result, we think you'll realize why we care so deeply about making it successful.
By donating $12, you can secure yourself a copy of our first print issue. But we'd like you to consider trying a six-issue subscription. Selling a lot of copies of our first issue will be a proud achievement, and we're deeply grateful to all of our donors, large and small. However, our goal is to be sustainable for the long term. To do that, we need people who want to receive Current Affairs regularly!
NATHAN J. ROBINSON, Editor - Nathan is a writer, sociologist, and lawyer. He is currently a PhD student in Social Policy and Sociology at Harvard University. He has written for the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, and the New Republic, and is the author of six children's books. Here is what some people have said about him.
HOLLY DEVON, Literary Editor - Holly is a writer and journalist based in New Orleans, where she currently writes for Antigravity magazine and is co-founder of the literary review The Iron Lattice.
SPARKY ABRAHAM, Finance Editor - Sparky is a consumer finance expert currently working for Housing and Economic Rights Advocates in Oakland, California. He has worked for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and co-edited the first comprehensive book of U.S. military law, Military Court Rules of the United States.
OREN NIMNI, Legal Editor - Oren is a civil rights attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, where he is the founder of the People's Law Project. He has previously worked at the Brazilian Immigrant Center, the Sex Worker Organizing Project, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. He serves on the National Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild, and is the co-author of Blueprints for a Sparkling Tomorrow.
SAHAR MASSACHI, Tech Editor - Sahar is a writer, political strategist, and tech expert. He has worked as a Data Scientist for Wikimedia and a fellow at both the Roosevelt Institution and Democracy for America. He was the Deputy Digital Director of the Zephyr Teachout for Governor campaign.
From editor Nathan J. Robinson:
Let me tell you a bit about my own motivations. I've always enjoyed writing about politics, and at the beginning of this year I started doing it semi-professionally. This has been quite successful, and I have already had bylines in a number of popular publications, including:
I'm very proud of the work I've produced for these outlets, and their editors have been extremely generous in helping me to make my work better.
But my time as a writer has also exposed me to some of the dysfunctions in the world of digital media. Unfortunately, the online writing economy has some major problems. Political writing, for example, is heavily constrained by the vicious demands of the 24-hour news cycle. It's very difficult to step back and reflect on the long-term implications of issues. There's also a strong incentive to produce predictable opinions, because these have guaranteed audiences. Online political writing generally acts less as a way to offer new and unexpected perspectives on things, and more as a way to stroke people's preconceptions. I'm sure that sounds quite cynical. And I suppose I am a bit cynical. But I reject the idea that cynicism should imply hopelessness or despair.
Actually, the present situation should energize us tremendously, because it means we have something novel to offer. Over the past few months wehave come to realize that we could put together a publication that would be more exciting, vibrant, and astute than nearly anything else out there.
We also realized that there was nothing whatsoever stopping us. The wonderful thing about living in 2015 is that the costs of competing with the major media outlets are lower than ever. We can get a website that looks just as good as The Atlantic, and ours won't be boring and reactionary!
Current Affairs is not a magazine like any other. It's got plenty of top-notch writing about news, film, books, and ideas. But it's also dazzlingly colorful, with satirical advertisements, subversive parodies of traditional media, puzzles, cut-outs, and an array of other unexpected amusements and surprises. It's as if Christopher Hitchens and Willy Wonka edited a magazine together, or a gang of anarchist mimes raided the offices of the New Yorker. It's as sophisticated as Vanity Fair or the Paris Review, but as exuberant and playful as Mad or Spy.
The magazine we're preparing is a visual feast. When you open a copy of Current Affairs, here are some of the sights that might greet you straightaway:
But Current Affairs is not just about lively design and sharp satire. Our feature-length articles are substantive, serious, and beautifully written. They provide surpising new perspectives on topical issues, and offer engaging investigations into questions that are rarely asked.
Here are examples of some of the features we're preparing for our first issues:
- The Perils of Prison Literature: A lot of writers have attempted to write books about the problems with the criminal justice system. But why are they all somewhat unsatisfying? Is criminal justice writing destined to be dry and clinical, or can it somehow achieve the heights of great literature?
- Keeping the Content Machine Whirring: A look inside the "hot take factory" of contemporary digital media. Many young writers now seemingly make their living producing 600-word bursts of outrage about pop culture; how did this economy spring up, and can it be stopped? Includes tips for manufacturing your own clickbait! Get a successful career as an impoverished writer for Salon!
- The Majesty of the South: Depictions of the South still overwhelmingly portray it as racist and backward. It's strange that such stereotypes are so persistent. So what's the South's true story? Is there a different way to think about it? We should think of the South as the home of Stax and the blues, rather than the Confederacy.
- The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Fetish: Among millenials, there's an odd fascination with the Supreme Court justice known as "Notorious RBG." Why has a small cult emerged around an elderly, middle-of-the-road jurist?
- Economics at the Movies: Do some films contain secret socialist propaganda? Secret free-market messages? Current Affairs analyzes the economic undertones of cinema past and present.
- Was Foucault Full of It?: The French philosopher Michel Foucault seems to hover persistently over academic thought, three decades after his death. He's known both for his penetrating insights and his obscurantist prose. But where do his ideas leave us? Was he brilliant or a blowhard? (Spoiler: blowhard.)
- Memoirs of a City Engineer: In political writing, local government is either ignored or treated as boring. Yet the machinations of city councils can have devastating impact! Our anonymous correspondent from a Midwestern city bureaucracy gives us the down-and-dirty stories from the front lines of municipal policymaking.
- Politics and the Children's Book: All children's books are a kind of benevolent brainwashing. But some of them are less benevolent than others. Which ones teach children worthwhile lessons, and which turn them into the servile functionaries of the corporate state?
- Reviews of Books By: Bill O'Reilly, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Peggy Noonan, Gloria Steinem, and others.
Current Affairs is committed above all to a quality reading experience. We want our pages to feel good, we want our magazine to look good, and we want our words to sound good.
You might say that we're the first magazine that actually cares about our readers. There will be no advertisements, no filler content, no lazy writing. We don't do horse-race politics, we don't do obscure academic jargon, and we don't preach to the choir.
You'll be proud to display Current Affairs on your coffee table or hassock, thanks to its combination of substance and elegance. People who see you with a copy will think "My, there goes an individual with exceptionally well-cultivated taste."
We live in a digital era. Nobody denies that. Bringing out a print magazine may therefore seem an unusual move, in a time when many newsstands have closed.
It isn't, though. As a matter of fact, the rumors of print's demise have been greatly exaggerated. After several years of hype about e-books and the closure of bookstores, things seem to have reversed. Independent bookstores are bouncing back, e-book sales have plateaued, and people are returning to print media. Even Amazon recently did the unexpected and opened a physical bookstore.
The world of periodicals shows similar promise. A lot of magazines have disappeared, it's true. But new, small scale magazines are actually starting up. Last year, the Guardian went so far as to say that "it's not so much a resurrection of the magazine in the digital age as an explosion." We've been especially inspired by the example of Jacobin, a beautifully-designed socialist quarterly that has reached nearly 20,000 print subscribers in just under five years of existence.
Why is this happening? Well, for one thing, people misunderstood the reasons that magazines began to die. The techno-utopians were wrong to say that all content is destined to be digital because digital media is in every way more convenient. In fact, digital content can be much less convenient. It's harder to navigate, harder to focus on, and you can't put it on display because it disappears when you navigate somewhere else.
The problem has been that print publishers did not capitalize on their advantages, or adapt to technological change. Instead of figuring out the inherent weaknesses of digital media, they kept producing the same product as before. That strategy was doomed. If the model of the magazine in 2015 is the same as in 1995, the magazine will die. Why? Because most aspects of old-style magazines can easily be replicated digitally. Also, people didn't really like most magazines. They were full of ads, they were on flimsy paper, they were out-of-date by the time they arrived, and their content was thin.
Digital media could outcompete print on all of these fronts, by being more timely, less ad-cluttered, and more attractive. So the magazines, which were unreadable and ugly, lost ground.
The new magazines of 2015 don't fall into this same trap. They take advantage of the assets that digital media can't offer. They are designed much more as objects; they're beautiful, ad-free, and collectible. People buy them because they want to savor something well-crafted, which has been put together with care and with the experience of the reader in mind.
Current Affairs follows this model. You'll know the moment you see it why we had to be in print. Reading our magazine is an immersive, gratifying experience that can't be recreated in any other medium. You'll want to cut out pages, or keep a selection of issues on prominent display in your home.
We're far from technophobic, though. In fact, our website is a key complement to our print edition. It's going to feature a lot of our best writing, as well as a blog with short, timely perspectives on matters that just can't wait for print. So Current Affairs will be anchored by a formidable print publication, but will also be updated online daily. We're going to take advantage of the best of both traditional and modern formats.
No! Or rather, not in the way that you mean that question. Partisanship, in the sense of having a pre-existing bias toward one side, is the enemy of good writing. Writing well requires empathy, which requires hearing people out and being fair to them. Partisanship, to us, occurs when liberalism caricatures conservatism, or conservatism caricatures liberalism. Good writing never descends to caricature, but appreciates depth and nuance.
However! That doesn't mean our writers don't take sides. If there's one thing worse than partisanship, it's wishy-washiness. Being fair doesn't mean refusing to stake out a position. Our writers offer challenging perspectives that trouble the dogmas of both left and right, without a cowardly refusal to take a stand.
The one thing we promise you is that our writing will never be boring or didactic. No matter who you are, you will find material in our magazine that states your own beliefs with a clarity you never thought possible, and material that outrages you to the point where you are compelled to spend an evening drafting an infuriated letter to the editor.
Contemporary media are trapped in the orbit of New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. As a result, they too often reflect the narrow worldviews that come with living in these places. The rest of the country, and the world, is reported on as if it's some sort of alien planet.
We want to be different. We're consciously trying to bring in political and cultural voices from outside the existing ranks of the professional class. We want to be a bit more New Orleans than Brooklyn.
There's also an aesthetic and stylistic difference between our magazine and the rest of the major media. We're maximalist rather than minimalist; we never want you to feel as if you got less than you hoped for. We're also affably irreverent; our magazine uses vintage advertising and style in order to poke fun at traditional print media.
The thing that will immediately strike you upon opening Current Affairs is just how very different it is. So much these days is derivative or clichéd. Whatever you think of our magazine, you'll never be able to describe it as either of these things.
Current Affairs has a single mission, which we summarize in our informal slogan: Making Life Joyful Again. It is common to feel despair at the state of the media. There is nothing to read, nothing to watch; everything is bland, dreary, and obsessed with the inconsequential and trivial. Current Affairs is putting an end to that, once and for all. We want to make sure that nobody in America is without access something fresh, fun, amusing, and intelligent to read.
You cannot go wrong with a subscription to Current Affairs. Receiving it in the post is almost certain to generate a burst of ecstatic joy, and a frenzied scramble to be the first in the family to get your claws on the new issue.
We're aiming to get $10,000. That money will fund our first print runs, our web development, and pay our writers. We also want to get 250 subscribers right away, and to 500 within the first six months. Once we hit 500 subscribers, the quality of the magazine will become extraordinary, as we will at last be able to pay our writers decently, which will allow them to produce solid, original journalism. The more money we are able to raise, and the more subscriptions we sell, the better a magazine we'll be able to produce. Every penny you give us goes towards increasing our quality, by commissioning great essays, articles, and illustrations.
We're not simply asking for donations. We want you to try out a subscription. Get six issues of the magazine, and see what you make of it. If you don't care for it, toss it out and never think of us again. But we suspect you'll find yourself picking up your copy repeatedly, reading and re-reading every word. Why are we so confident? Because when we make it, we're thinking about you. We're trying to create something you'll truly enjoy.
It would be great to be able to exceed our fundraising goal. That's because all of the money on top of the initial $10,000 will improve the magazine and allow us to publicize it and get it into newsstands.
We're therefore offering a wonderful array of awards to those who donate money. In addition to single issues and year-long subscriptions, you can get original signed copies of colorful surrealist children's books by Nathan Robinson. You can get recognized as a benefactor within the pages of Current Affairs. You can get one of our signature posters, t-shirts, or bags. You can even get an in person reading of the children's book of your choice. For a large enough contribution, Mr. Robinson will even write you a custom children's book of your own.
Risks and challenges
We're designing our project to be relatively low-risk. We want to guarantee we'll be able to sustain ourselves over the long term, by keeping our costs low. But the more donations and subscriptions we can secure, the easier it will be to stay afloat.
Putting out a quality edition every other month is a straightforward task. We have enough talent aboard, and enough access to excellent writing and design, that curating something magical will be easy.
Of course, actually getting the magazine into readers' hands involves organizational as well as creative acumen. The biggest challenge is going to be the logistical one of coordinating printing and distribution.
Fortunately, we're making sure this process will go smoothly, by partnering with people who have significant expertise in the field. We've secured a highly-regarded printer and distributor, and a great team of web designers, to make sure that our infrastructure is functional and dependable.
Starting a magazine is tough work, and we're aware of that. But we're fundamentally committed to getting you something of great quality, and we're going to enlist whatever expertise is necessary in order to get Current Affairs in your hands on time.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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