Editorial: The real new media
Time for tough thinking
It may be that the reading public is fed up with wall-to-wall celebrity secrets and manufactured scandals. It may be that when the going gets tough the tough get thinking. Whatever the reason, the media world has suddenly been flooded with small magazines. Two established titles, the literary quarterly Granta and the political and cultural monthly Prospect, have both acquired deep-pocketed backers, and last month saw the launch of two new monthlies. Total Politics is the brainchild of the political blogger Iain Dale, who declares that he's created "the GQ of political magazines". And then there is Standpoint, the voice of the right-leaning think-tank Social Affairs Unit, under the editorship of former Daily Telegraph journalist Daniel Johnson.
These newcomers elbow their way on to shelves already groaning under the weight of the Spectator, the New Statesman, New Internationalist, The Ecologist, The Liberal, The Literary Review and, of course, New Humanist. And we couldn't be more delighted. All of these publications are rooted in debate, ideas, political and cultural commentary and raw, naked argument. And that, after all, is what the fourth estate should be providing: a challenge to established ideas, a curb on the powerful, a questioning of assumptions, policies, shibboleths.
But while we welcome all of our competitors, while we feel there just can't be enough true thinking and good writing, we're disappointed that the two new ones, despite their claim to be politically non-aligned, betray very definite political positions.
You can't really suppress a sinking feeling, for example, when in the inaugural issue of Standpoint the editor Daniel Johnson defines the magazine's mission as a defence of Western Civilisation. So, quite predictably, the first couple of issues are packed full of jeremiads against a host of wearily familiar threats to civilisation: the break-up of the family (the courts' fault), timidity in the face of Islam (the BBC's fault), Britain's moral vacuum (atheists' fault), the loss of our former intellectual pre-eminence (the universities' fault). Standpoint comes across rather like a Daily Mail for postgrads, with more Bach, but a lot less bite.
Total Politics isn't all that total either, despite its claims to have moved beyond the old Left-Right divide, and having Labour, Lib Dem and Green politicians on its editorial board. Its contents and tone still slightly smack of a resurgent glib Toryism, where flattering portraits of Boris Johnson sit comfortably alongside "political lifestyle" features about dressing for success at Westminster.
Obviously, New Humanist is just as much a magazine with a mission. But we hope ours is not following a single creed or predetermined belief in what is the right and only way forward. We speak up for reason, for evidence-based argument and for free and open debate. So while we relish disagreement on ethics, science and, of course, politics, we certainly haven't got a set position on any of these.
This issue typifies our eclecticism, our love of argument, doubt and dissent. The distinguished American sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer tours the global hotspots of religious violence, to find the common factors that unify these apparently disparate struggles.
There are also unexpected similarities between racists and liberals, according to the political commentator Kenan Malik who questions the whole idea of culture. And, celebrating the anniversary of the granting of the vote to women, Sally Feldman finds common ground too - between the women who opposed suffrage 80 years ago and those who betray their gender today.
And a few familiar faces are unmasked. Dramatist Trevor Griffiths uncovers the real Tom Paine in a radio studio, Laurie Taylor encounters the two faces of Lisa Jardine, the new chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and Michael Bywater dissects the anxiety behind Woody Allen's comic genius.
We aim, as ever, to delight, annoy, astonish and surprise. Never to preach.