John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper’s Magazine and a monthly contributor to The Providence Journal, among other publications. This essay is one of this year’s Delacorte Lectures at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The Delacorte Lectures, presented each week in the spring semester, examine aspects of magazine journalism by a leader in the field of magazine publishing.
Long before I took myself off Facebook, I doubted the so-called revolutionary potential of the Internet. In part my viewpoint was formed early on by the annoying smugness of the pre-crash dot.com “entrepreneurs,” who always seemed to be murmuring initial public offering nonsense at a table next to mine in tony restaurants.
I recall one such occasion in the year 2000 when Lewis Lapham, then editor of Harper’s Magazine, and I were dining in indirectly lit luxury, somewhere near San Francisco on our promotion tour to celebrate the magazine’s 150th anniversary.
Lewis was born skeptical, but when he heard the three men at the next table discussing in hushed tones what sounded like easy money, he couldn’t help himself and he inquired about how we could get in on the ground floor. “It depends,” said one of them smoothly, “on what kind of platform you want to establish, how you want to present your content.” I said that I wanted to publish a magazine filled with sentences, not build a tree house, and the conversation came to an abrupt halt.
Click through for the whole thing. It is … fascinating, at least. And will make you look around to see whose lawn you should be getting off of.