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The New Republic Asks Its Reporters To Sell Subscriptions

October 17, 2013

By Jeff Bercovici

tnr-cover-228x300You hear a lot these days about “Swiss Army knife journalists,” who are expected not just to report, write and edit stories but also to shoot photos and videos, tape podcasts, analyze data sets and write code.

But selling subscriptions? That’s a job description too far.

Nevertheless, like members of a youth basketball team raising money for a trip to nationals, staffers at The New Republic have been hawking subscriptions to their friends and family members for the past two weeks as part of an intra-office contest.

“We’re all passionate about The New Republic brand and this seemed like a good opportunity to extend an offer to those who support us most,” a spokeswoman for the magazine told me, via email, when I inquired about it. “It’s also a team building exercise and a fun way to generate friendly competition among the staff.”

To make things a little less friendly, management offered a prize of an iPad Mini to whoever signed up the most new readers at the “special friends-and-family rate” of $20 for 20 issues. The winner was senior editor Julia Ioffe, who personally sold 55 of the 309 subscriptions the contest generated. (Julia is a friend and sometime FORBES contributor; I subscribed to support her, and because she wouldn’t tell me more about the contest unless I did.)

Journalists are in the business of asking uncomfortable questions, but asking people to get out their wallets is a special breed of awkward. You could even argue that it pokes a hole in the traditional wall that’s supposed to separate editorial processes from business operations.

But while TNR’s subscription drive is an extreme example, making direct appeals to readers for financial support is increasingly common, as Capital’s Joe Pompeo notes. And crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are getting us all used to the feeling of being asked by, or asking, one’s intimates for a few bucks for a good cause.

Adding 309 subscribers probably isn’t going to alter TNR’s survival odds. But it’s not insignificant for a magazine whose subscriber base has hovered around 50,000 in recent years. It was at 44,177 in January, and the total is up 40% since the magazine relaunched under new owner Chris Hughes. Forbes.

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