National Journal bets on longform content with magazine redesign

"Print is not for everything anymore," Richard Just said in an interview with Poynter. Just is the editor of National Journal magazine, which relaunches with a new print design Thursday.

So what's print for? "It’s for longform, it's for things that are beautifully crafted, it's for things that reflect months and months of reporting," Just said. He came to National Journal in March after stints at the tops of Newsweek's and The New Republic's mastheads, and National Journal Editor-in-Chief Tim Grieve said that Just has been tasked with bringing the magazine to a place "where it can compete with the best magazines in the country."

The first issue of the rethought magazine features six long features (including a buzzy interview with former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer), as well as a new front-of-book section called The Inner Loop, featuring three 1,000-word "storytelling" features about politics and policy. This issue opens with an article by NJ staffer Alex Seitz-Wald about New Hampshire towns jockeying to replace Dixville Notch as one of the first places to declare its election results, now that its voting population has dropped to two people.

The front will also feature some shorter features based around the idea of "One Good" -- a book, a chart, an idea. "But the guts of the magazine are the longform features that we are very proud of," Just said.

Features will come from NJ staffers as well as contributors. Just has built a bench that includes Michelle Cottle, Ethan Epstein and Simon van Zuylen-Wood.

National Journal's website will also feature a revamped presentation of the magazine's work, Just and Grieve said. Most of the magazine's content will go online for free, but some features will be held back to reward subscribers and members, some of whom can spend more than $25,000 per year, Michael Calderone reported in February.

Speaking of longform journalism that takes on Washington's culture, Just said, "I think we’re pretty unique because I don't think there's any other magazine that is doing that stuff, and is doing it in a nonideological way."

Before the redesign, National Journal did "about two features per issue," Just said. "But they differed pretty significantly stylistically from the kinds of pieces we're planning to emphasize now. It's not so much a question of length, although I would say that the average length of our pieces will probably grow. It's more a question of style: we want to do narrative story-telling about policy, politics, and ideas that's really beautifully crafted and is genuinely fun to read."

Just declined to identify competitors, but Politico Magazine launched late last year with a similar plan to focus on longform journalism. Politico's print magazine is distributed for free, six times per year (it publishes daily online). National Journal's magazine will come out 32 times per year. That's a lot of 7,000-word features for Just and his fellow editors -- Managing Editor Amanda Cormier, deputy editor Andie Coller, production editor Jason Mann and associate production editor Julie Abramson and an editor to be named later -- to shepherd into print.

"Look we’ve got great reporters, we’ve got a newsroom full of people who are experienced doing this stuff," Just said. "We are going to come out weekly, but we need to think like a monthly or a bimonthly." Just said he's already assigning stories he plans to run in September.

The magazine's relaunch is "very much of a piece" with NJ's website relaunch last fall, Grieve said. "Traffic is up 57 percent, digital revenue is up 118 percent, and I really view this as the next step."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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