I still remember where I was—my attic room in a shared student flat in Oxford—when I first got an article accepted by First Things. I was so excited that I knocked over a half-full mug of tea. At the time First Things seemed like a distant, mysterious citadel. We had nothing to compare with it in the U.K.: a magazine that published long, beautifully-written, intellectually rigorous essays and that spoke quite unapologetically about God.
Well, time and familiarity have diminished the mystery, but only deepened my respect for this enterprise. The staff don’t like to go on about their hard work; I’m new here so I can. Whereas bad journalism is easy—all you need is an internet connection and an instinct for what will make people furious—good journalism needs editors who can coax the best out of writers (and excise their worst). It needs fact-checkers and proofreaders and page designers and podcast producers. It needs a sort of micro-culture, an atmosphere in which new ideas can take root and eventually blossom; which means it needs an office space, reading groups, lectures, intellectual retreats, poetry readings.
There are other ways to run a magazine. Drum up subscriptions by becoming a politically-partisan newsletter. Chase advertising revenue by focusing on outrageous click-maximizing stories. Turn your office into a factory for squeezing as much “content” as possible out of your beleaguered workers, with quality control as an occasional afterthought. It would be rude to give examples, but these strategies are not exactly unknown in the present media industry. Against that background, the existence of a magazine that publishes—to take a few recent examples—5000 words of Paul Kingsnorth’s finest writing, Mary Harrington’s “reactionary feminist” manifesto, and R. R. Reno’s magisterial treatment of Karl Barth, is near-miraculous.
In this case, though, the miracle has an explanation: It’s down to you, the readers who make up the First Things community, who sustain the great conversation about truth, beauty, and goodness that is the magazine’s raison d’être, and who give generously when, every so often, we pass the hat around. Here’s your chance to do so again.
Dan Hitchens is senior editor at First Things.
Help First Things continue to speak the truth in love. Support our 2021 year-end campaign with a tax-deductible contribution today.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.