As a member of the board of directors of the old and respected print publication In These Times (ITT), I have a front row seat observing media and social transformation.  As our society changes, so does its institutions.  In These Times, like many print businesses, is facing change.

Perhaps unique to this situation is that ITT is itself a publication that represents the forces of change, having represented a Left/Progressive perspective for several decades.

In These Times is transitioning to a board-of-editors format from a traditional paid-staff paradigm, forced into this alternative organizational and production structure by an unforgiving economic environment.  There is no irony here.  As a harbinger of change, ITT is changing.

Across the country, there is much talk of the 1930s both because our economy feels informed by what happened last time things were this bad, but also because it was in the 1930s that there was a powerful societal shift from corporate interests to the commons.  In the 1930s, that shift was characterized by hierarchical institutions championing positions that empowered those with almost no ability to help themselves.  The unions exhibited strength and vision.  The Democratic Party sometimes reflected this grass roots, “common man” perspective.

Eighty years later, institutions like In These Times, inspired by the struggle that characterized the 1930s, are facing a wholly new transition environment characterized not by hierarchies carrying banners of revolution but by a massive collapsing of hierarchies as a wave of horizontal, transparent and diverse forces transform the landscape.

How do our institutions that are dedicated to social and political transformation both survive and embrace this new egalitarian/interconnected/interdependent world?

In These Times is seeking to stay centered on print, supplemented by the web.  ITT has older print subscribers and large contributors expecting to receive their news and insights on a printed page.  This is a transitional solution.  Print is embraced by an older demographic.  Yet the web offers few income engines, little opportunity to garner capital to pay expenses.  Web traffic numbers that offer robust remuneration are intimidating.

Those sites breaking news and drawing numbers are often encouraging controversy.  In addition, they are entertaining while educating by pushing video.  For a publication like ITT that seeks to calmly offer deep perspective by fleshing out the unexamined darker corners of the world, the carnival atmosphere of the web seems like a violation of mission.  Erudite and rambunctious are a challenging mix.

Rambunctious is where we are headed, and headed fast.

This new horizontal world is a world of amateurs.  Tumultuous, rude and noisy, the Internet and the new media environment are filled with creative, narcissistic, intelligent, impatient and entitled youth.  The world population is gaining confidence in the amateur perspective, viewpoints both less informed by conservative media conventional wisdom and less manipulable by the elites.

In These Times is getting its feet wet in a river of rage/exuberance/fear/grief but hesitates to fully commit to where the torrent takes us.  As in an epiphany, ITT would not be the same if it let go.

So, how would I characterize ITT as it moves forward?  What would be the descriptive tag of this transformed rag?

Chronicling and championing the integration of American political and economic democracy into a new horizontal, transparent, diverse and interconnected world.


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