I’ve had some opportunities to interact with Chris Lewis during his tenure as the editor of Civil War Times Illustrated. Chris published JD’s and my article on the charges at Fairfax Court Huse and Westminster in this year’s first issue, and we enjoyed working with him on the project. We were very pleased with the way that the article came out, and with the fact that it was chosen as the cover story for that issue.
Last week, Dimitri Rotov posted that Chris has resigned as editor. Chris circulated an e-mail announcing his resignation that included the following passage:
Naturally this is not an easy decision for me to make. As many of you know, I am a lifelong reader and care a great deal about this publication—which is why I cannot be a part of the “new direction” that the magazines in thisgroup are either already going in, or will be going in soon. There is no respect here anymore for history, historians or the core audience. I want to thank all of you for your support ofthe magazine over the last couple years.
I will miss Chris, as I think he’s done a fine job.
CWTI and America’s Civil War are part of the Weider History Group. Previously, these magazines were owned and operated by Cowles, but they were all sold to a company owned and operated by Eric Weider. Eric’s family has long been in the physical fitness business, and they made a fortune in that industry. They decide to foray into the realm of history because Eric also publishes Armchair General magazine, which is oriented toward military gamers. There are forum boards on the Armchair General site, and I post there occasionally. Consequently, I’ve been closely following the threads discussing the changes to Military History magazine, most of which have been extremely negative.
Tonight, Dimitri has added an open letter to Eric Weider on his blog. Dimitri raises some interesting points, and I agree with most of them. However, I definitely disagree with him on one of his major suggestions. He wrote, “Relying on freelancers for articles has long put your magazines at a quality disadvantage; it is better to hire a small but reliable staff who can produce to a standard you set and deliver that consistently. Booking articles from name authors to supplement freelance work is also very dangerous, for unless those authors are closely supervised, they will hand you their bottom drawer leftovers (see especially Geoff Norman’s piece on ‘surrender monkeys’ in the current Military History and William Marvel’s article on ‘McClellan apologists’ in the current America’s Civil War).”
I think that this is a bad idea for a variety of reasons. First, and foremost, people have areas of expertise, and hiring a staff of generalists will mean that experts will no longer participate. Second, if the same writers do every article for every issue, the writing will become stale and will be too standardized. It is, of course, an old cliche that variety is the spice of life. However, I really believe that maintaining variety in the types of articles and the authors who write them is critical to the future of the publication. While I understand Dimitri’s point, I think it’s a bad idea.
In any event, I do hope that Eric Weider takes the criticisms of his readers and the radical step of resigning by Chris Lewis (who was there less than a year, if I recall correctly) to heart. I certainly hope that these publications can be turned around and restored to their prior level of quality, or else they will wither and die. I would hate to see that happen.Scridb filter