Editorial Shake-Up as Harper’s Tries to Stabilize in a Downturn

Just before noon last Wednesday, John R. MacArthur, the president, publisher and chief benefactor of Harper’s Magazine, joined his editorial staff after its monthly meeting.

“We are going through a crisis,” Mr. MacArthur, who goes by Rick, told them in a crowded conference room, where the business employees had joined them. Bound volumes dating from 1850 reminded everyone of Harper’s pedigree and prominence.

In a rambling 40-minute monologue that left many attendees perplexed, Mr. MacArthur, 53, talked about the problems facing Harper’s: readership was down 35,000, newsstand sales were plummeting, the only direct-mail piece that seemed to work was 20 years old. Worse, Harper’s seemed irrelevant – “the mainstream media is ignoring it to death,” he said – according to people who were at the meeting.

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