With the Death of AJR in Print, What’s in Store for Media Commentary?

Wednesday the American Journalism Review broke the news that it’s going to quit publishing its print magazine.

Starting this fall (the date isn’t specified), all AJR content will only be available online, and they’ll introduce this change alongside a major website overhaul. The story making the announcement explains that University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism students will soon, in large part, be the voice of the magazine, under faculty supervision.

As the second-oldest American journal dedicated to media commentary, this is pretty big (and sad) news, but not surprising.

The AJR ultimately could not overcome significant slides in funding over the last decade (reportedly, over a third of its cash comes from philanthropic-minded donors), Merrill College Dean Lucy A. Dalglish, who also serves as the president and publisher of AJR, said in an official press release. On top of that, the cost of production couldn’t be justified since readers prefer to read content online.

“It no longer made financial sense for the award-winning AJR to continue producing a print magazine because most AJR readers accessed content on the Web,” Dalglish said.

Back in 2007, the Washington Post reported a looming shutdown for AJR, when one of the mag’s freelancers was sued over allegations of a libelous story, and AJR found itself in approximately $200,000 in debt. At that time, editorial management wasn’t aware that AJR‘s libel insurance didn’t hold up for independent contractors. Still, they footed the legal bills and defended the story (save for a couple of fairly routine corrections).

Originally titled Washington Journalism Review and later renamed, AJR has an editorial staff of one according to its website — Rem Rieder (who’s apparently still consulting with AJR despite his very recent move to USA Today) — and a slew of freelance reporters, photographers and graphic designers keeping it afloat. Even in 2007, then-journalism review President Tom Kunkel seemed to sense the monetary challenges ahead, citing past difficulties of sustaining a journal specializing in media industry reporting.

“It’s always been ‘The Perils of Pauline’ with the finances of a journalism review,” Kunkel said.

It’s not just print news publications that no one seems to value anymore (Newsweek, maybe more to come?); it’s the print magazines ABOUT the news people clearly aren’t reading, too. I’m hoping this doesn’t indicate a general lack of interest in journalism about journalism, but perhaps it does.

In the meantime, we can defer to Columbia Journalism Review‘s print and online presence as it oversees and assesses the state of the media industry. I can’t fathom CJR going all-online or folding anytime soon; Capital New York’s Joe Pompeo suggests something different. But, given the weight of the extensive research done under the umbrella of publications like CJR and the accountability they provide, I just don’t think we can do without them. Or the less-established Gateway Journalism Review, focused on Midwest journalism, and USC Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review.

But as for AJR: this fall, we can look ahead to a (hopefully) more sophisticated website design for AJR and an overall better aesthetic. A mobile app would be nice, too.

Your turn to sound off: What do you think about the bulk of AJR‘s content being produced by students? Does it change the way you view the publication as an authority on media? Do we, as journalists and news consumers, have enough sources serving as watchdogs over media practices?

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