There is a difference between the stories you can read here, on Tablet’s site, and the ones available in our print magazine—though I’ve found the difference hard to articulate without sounding woo-woo. Put as simply as I can, the job of magazines used to be to define and reflect a moment, and at times even anticipate it. They did this by publishing stories by writers who worked hard to sense what was happening to us—what was uncomfortable and maybe misguided about the world we were either causing or allowing to exist—and who then expressed it in ways that rewired our thinking.
This kind of perspective can’t be achieved by daily dispatches—especially not the kind that exist today, in which “journalism” is defined as no more than snatching a picture of something as it happens and slapping an Instagram filter on it professional-seeming enough to inspire a warm hug from equally beleaguered colleagues on Twitter. By contrast, the psychic space forced on editors and writers by print deadlines used to be—and, for some places, still is—the necessary ingredient in the creation of work that, precisely because it used the safety of time and space to say something challenging and discomfiting, was also potentially lasting.
Thankfully, other industries have not lost sight of this basic mechanism—and the theatrical phenomenon of “Hamilton” may be the premier example of our lifetimes. “Hamilton” achieves its greatness precisely because you have to sit through the whole play. You can’t link to it on Facebook or heart someone else’s tweet and be under the illusion that you’ve experienced it. The idea that social media gamesmanship is a replacement for the experience of reading a book or a magazine sounds too silly to even phrase it as an argument. Yet when it comes to finding language for describing our social and political reality, and the often very personal ways that it resonates inside our own heads and hearts, too many of us are consuming Tweets—and then wondering how in the world we wound up with Donald Trump.
This afternoon, Longform.org posted a long piece from our most recent print magazine. It’s narrowly a story about seeing “Hamilton” with President Obama, but it’s broadly about how the America and Americanness of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant, inspiring production diverges from the America and Americanness we are inheriting now—a divergence that, whether we understand it or not, has left us with the mess splattered all over our financially crippled newspapers and shouted across partisan cable networks these days: nationalist and separatist fevers in Europe, ignorant demagoguery in the United States, instability and violent sectarianism in the Middle East, everywhere a seeming inability to confront the challenges of a planet in peril, and an intellectual class pretending that an industry run by classist lily-white Silicon Valley is somehow creating a better, more just public discourse. The allergy to power—whoever was wielding it—that was once the heart of journalism has been replaced by dull, repetitive identity politics that seeks to force all of us into narrower and narrower ghettoes with higher and higher walls.
Tweets won’t connect these dots. But great journalism can—and could again.