David Goodhart wishes The Critic every success
Does the world need another magazine of tastefully-written, somewhat contrarian, conservatively-inclined thinking? Probably not. Did the world need a monthly essay-based current affairs magazine when I set up Prospect in 1995? Not really. Of course, we all try to persuade ourselves that we are plugging some gaping hole in the cultural marketplace. But we’re actually doing it because we think we’ve got something to say and contributing a new voice to the republic of letters is a peculiarly romantic calling.
The world, I can promise you, will remain supremely indifferent to your existence and getting it to pay attention will be costly and frustrating. But if you are any good and the funding doesn’t run dry you will eventually establish a little foothold, and you might then be able to climb aboard a mini-virtuous circle that will make your name a bit more familiar among the writing and reading classes, which in turn makes interesting people want to write for you and then more people want to read you.
You need some luck and some scoops. Not necessarily of the “Boris squeezed my thigh” variety but scoops of ideas, new ways of making sense of the world, spotting a trend that no one has quite put their finger on before, saying something that is shocking but true very loudly.
Looking back on the first issue of Prospect I wince at some of the amateurishness, but I had forgotten what an impressive collection of welcoming letters I had persuaded various grandees to write, including Stephen Spender, Isaiah Berlin, Daniel Bell, Mel Lasky and Ken Minogue. Many of them mentioned Encounter magazine, with which they had all been involved — Lasky as editor and Spender as founding literary editor. (It was a remarkable magazine but few people under 60 remember it today and I would strongly advise against saying that you want to be the new Encounter.)
The best letter came from Toby Young, who a few years earlier had set up (with Julie Birchill) the Modern Review. His warning to me proved all too accurate:
“All I can really say is that you should prepare for your life to become complete hell. The amount of work involved is horrendous — and the anxiety! Your life will be an unending crisis, putting out one fire after another. The chances of the magazine making any money are negligible; the only thing which will keep it going are blood, sweat and tears. I don’t mean to discourage but I hope you don’t have a family.”
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