harperscover2.jpgLast week, Harper’s Magazine announced an editorial shift. The 160-year-old magazine announced that its editor, Roger D. Hodge, was stepping down, to be replaced (at least for the time being) by longtime managing editor Ellen Rosenbush.

But, it didn’t take long for the media to catch a whiff of sometimes smelling off. That same afternoon, The New York Times reported that some Harper’s staffers were saying Hodge hadn’t left on his own; he had been “dismissed.”

Today, the Times has a more in-depth piece about the shift at Harper’s, opening with a description of a meeting led by the magazine’s president and publisher, John R. MacArthur last week:

“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.”

MacArthur did not talk about Hodge, who the Times now reports definitively, was fired early last week.

While the struggles of Harper’s are nothing new within the industry, its story is unique in that it’s one of the oldest magazines in the country and a nonprofit to boot. Although the nonprofit model has been touted as a possible savior of the industry, Harper’s should serve as a model for the rest. Is it truly independent? How long can it last?

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