National Journal From The Inside

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Dec. 11, 2015, 5 a.m.

Former Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­ers share memor­ies from 46 years of Na­tion­al Journ­al Magazine. 


By Paul Starobin

It was the era of truck­ing de­reg­u­la­tion and the misery in­dex, and I was smit­ten—with a magazine stamped with punched-in holes for keep­ing back is­sues in two-ring bind­ers. In 1979, fresh out of col­lege, I couldn’t af­ford a sub­scrip­tion to Na­tion­al Journ­al, “The Weekly on Polit­ics and Gov­ern­ment,” but my bet­ter-en­dowed em­ploy­er, the Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachu­setts, took one—and it seemed to me that staff cor­res­pond­ents like Robert Samuel­son and Richard Cor­rigan had the best jobs ima­gin­able.

Ten years later, now the time of the S&L crisis, I joined NJ as a staff writer at the in­vit­a­tion of the ed­it­or, Richard S. Frank—en­dear­ingly gruff, with a (lit) ci­gar ever in mouth, ab­sent flaws ex­cept for an at­tach­ment to the Yan­kees. I re­por­ted to Dick Cor­rigan, by then a man­aging ed­it­or, a gentle man for­giv­ing of a young re­port­er’s mis­takes and har­bor­ing mis­chiev­ously ir­rev­er­ent sen­ti­ments about Wash­ing­ton’s puffed-up people of power.

One morn­ing, I got a call at home telling me that Cor­rigan had died of a heart at­tack suffered at the of­fice. It was a death in the fam­ily—my new fam­ily—and we took it hard.

Like any proud fam­ily, we also railed at the in­justices meted out to us. None rankled more than the Mor­ris­on “black budget” Pulitzer Prize af­fair. Dav­id C. Mor­ris­on was our fiercely com­pet­it­ive—well, just plain fierce—na­tion­al se­cur­ity cor­res­pond­ent. He was a piece of work, apt to show up at the of­fice, and not just in sum­mer, in white T-shirt, black shorts, and black hik­ing boots. His “N.J. Upchuck: A Monthly Diatribe from the Cof­fee Czar,” signed by “Turtle Shit Head”—os­tens­ibly a memo to let us know how much we owed him for his man­age­ment of the com­mun­al cof­fee pot—ex­cor­i­ated ed­it­ors for their man­i­fold de­fi­cien­cies. But Dav­id’s flip-the-bird at­ti­tude served him well in fer­ret­ing out the sort of in­form­a­tion the con­trol freaks at the De­fense De­part­ment strove to keep hid­den. His for­mid­able tal­ents, both as an in­trep­id re­port­er and a trenchant writer, were dis­played in his March 1986 ground­break­ing cov­er story on the Pentagon’s secret spend­ing on clandes­tine weapons sys­tems and mil­it­ary op­er­a­tions.

Less than a year later, The Phil­adelphia In­quirer ran a series on the Pentagon’s black budget, for which it won a Pulitzer Prize. The In­quirer’s art­icles made no men­tion of NJ’s pi­on­eer­ing work. Stand­ing up for his re­port­er (to no avail), Dick Frank asked the Pulitzer board to “re­con­sider” the award, since the In­quirer’s series “plows no new journ­al­ist­ic ground.”

The epis­ode res­on­ated for us be­cause this sort of thing—the ap­par­ent ap­pro­pri­at­ing of an idea first ex­plored au­thor­it­at­ively by the magazine—was a com­mon oc­cur­rence. NJ was a kind of tip sheet for a lot of re­port­ers in town. The press crew un­der­stood that re­port­ers like Mor­ris­on (and later James Kit­field) on de­fense, Ju­lie Kosterl­itz (later Mar­ilyn Wer­ber Ser­afini) on health, Rochelle Stan­field (later Mar­gie Kr­iz Hob­son) on the en­vir­on­ment, Bruce Stokes on trade, and Richard E. Co­hen (aka “The Dean”) on Con­gress were true ex­perts in their fields.

The appropriating of an idea first explored authoritatively by the magazine proved to be a common occurrence. 

Of course, sport could be made of a pub­lic­a­tion with an ac­ronym­ic pen­chant for eye-catch­ing head­lines like this one from 1997: “Budget Deal May Still Hang on a CPI Fix.” (Still!) Mi­chael Kins­ley, ever the wit, once told me that, all things con­sidered, he pre­ferred to read the D.C. tele­phone book. But genu­ine policy wonks craved this fare. Fed Chair­man Alan Green­span, a wonk’s wonk, for whom the latest wrinkle on CPI was a double scoop of ice cream, was a de­vout NJ read­er. On one oc­ca­sion he wel­comed this NJ re­port­er in­to his in­ner sanc­tum for a one-on-one chat. (The ground rules: No quot­ing, not even on deep back­ground.) He was known to do his read­ing in the bathtub at his Wa­ter­gate digs. The im­age lingers.

R.W. “Johnny” Apple was an at­tent­ive read­er, too, dur­ing his stint as Wash­ing­ton bur­eau chief of The New York Times. One day in the fall of 1993, he rang up Dick Frank to growl about a piece con­tain­ing sharp cri­ti­cisms—from Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and oth­ers—of the health-re­form cov­er­age of vet­er­an Times re­port­er Robert Pear. Dick wasn’t around to take the call—he later, with a chuckle, played back Apple’s voice-mes­sage re­cord­ing for some of us to hear.

The ed­it­or­i­al shop, mostly male and vir­tu­ally all white, would have flunked any di­versity test. If there was any­thing that united us by char­ac­ter, per­haps it was a dis­pos­i­tion to ar­gue. We were a hive of quib­blers and carp­ers. Our news­room was a place of con­ten­tion, a home for iras­cible, anti-au­thor­ity, of­ten ex­pens­ively edu­cated, egg­head war­ri­ors (with a couch, in Dad’s of­fice—yes, we called Dick that, when he wasn’t around—for the oc­ca­sion­al Jim Barnes snooze). CNN’s Cross­fire had noth­ing on the snip­ing between Peter Stone, from the Left, and Neil Mun­ro, from the Right, on mat­ters ran­ging from the war on ter­ror­ism to im­mig­ra­tion. Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment—and Ken Starr’s in­quis­i­tion (as I cer­tainly thought of it)—an­grily di­vided us, nearly bring­ing us to blows. Good for us, be­cause it was an­ger born of strong feel­ing, even of pas­sion, about what con­sti­tuted good gov­ern­ment. Had we been cyn­ic­al, or merely in­dif­fer­ent, we would have had no en­thu­si­asm for our feuds.

And yes, we could laugh, at Mor­ris­on’s “diatribes” (the clas­sic of the genre had our pampered pub­lish­er bathing in Ar­a­bi­an mare’s milk) and at Jake Welch’s game-show-like gift for bark­ing out, from the pro­duc­tion bull­pen, for a re­port­er scram­bling to meet dead­line, the middle ini­tial of vir­tu­ally any Wash­ing­ton poli­cy­maker in our In­dex. Jake knew every m.i. by memory, from Le­on E. Pan­etta to Henry J. Aaron. Kirk Vic­tor main­tained by his cu­bicle a con­tri­bu­tions-wel­come candy bowl and, on Hal­loween, ritu­ally donned his Tricky Dick Nix­on rub­ber mask (the one with the eer­ie grin, a fa­vor­ite of bank rob­bers) and stalked the halls while flash­ing the “V” sign and croak­ing, “I am not a crook.”

Man­age­ment forced us to work as lack­eys at the na­tion­al polit­ic­al con­ven­tions to put out a (highly prof­it­able) tabloid-style daily. For Hou­s­ton 1992, they housed the re­port­ing crew in a roach-in­fes­ted motel with a green slime of a swim­ming pool seem­ingly best suited for roller skates, while the pub­lish­er and seni­or ed­it­ors nestled un­der the cov­ers at the Four Sea­sons. But we got even by vi­ol­at­ing our ex­pense-ac­count stric­tures in every pos­sible way—Yes, Johnny, the seared scal­lops are good, more cham­pagne, any­one?—and dar­ing the pay­mas­ters not to re­im­burse us.

We fended off, as best we could, the ad­vert­ising de­part­ment’s oc­ca­sion­al en­croach­ment on ed­it­or­i­al’s turf. Some­times we lost such battles—as we did when we took ex­cep­tion to the bad idea to be­stow awards for ex­em­plary ser­vice on gov­ern­ment man­agers. (Our point: We shouldn’t be hand­ing out hon­ors to the people we cov­er.) Man­age­ment no doubt thought we were pains in the butt—be­cause we were—but, hey, journ­al­ism really is about speak­ing truth to power, even if that means the power in the front of­fice.

Start­ing in the late 1990s NJ got hip, sort of. The holes in the magazine dis­ap­peared, and so did its staid ma­roon bor­ders. Un­der new own­er­ship, there was money avail­able to com­mis­sion ex­quis­ite cov­er il­lus­tra­tions. (Polit­ic­al-con­ven­tion ac­com­mod­a­tions got sharply up­graded, too.) Re­port­ers were en­cour­aged to do more TV—a dis­tinct chal­lenge for our scruf­fi­er scribes, un­ac­quain­ted with a comb or per­haps even a shower stall. We talked about man­u­fac­tur­ing “buzz”—the trendy word that some­how mi­grated from the sound that cer­tain winged in­sects make to the cap­tiv­at­ing drone that journ­al­ists were now sup­posed to gen­er­ate. But there could be no out-buzz­ing the list­icle likes of Buzzfeed, and the core mis­sion of the NJ re­port­er, to spend three weeks or so prob­ing some top­ic worthy of deep ex­plor­a­tion, re­mained stodgily un­altered.

Is Na­tion­al Journ­al, the magazine, then, a vic­tim of “nat­ur­al” causes—a cas­u­alty of a me­dia en­vir­on­ment rad­ic­ally trans­formed since the pub­lic­a­tion’s found­ing dur­ing the Nix­on ad­min­is­tra­tion? My own an­swer to that ques­tion, as the pro­pri­et­or is well aware—in my ex­per­i­ence, he has al­ways wel­comed reasoned ar­gu­ment, in ven­er­able NJ style—is a de­cided no.

I’ll boil it down. Yes, we live in the di­git­al age. Maybe news­print is dead; maybe the fu­ture, for all magazines, is ex­clus­ively on­line. But the ap­pet­ite, cer­tainly in Wash­ing­ton, for the sig­na­ture sort of NJ magazine piece, the com­pel­ling fram­ing of some weighty mat­ter of policy or polit­ics, is alive. Truck­ing de­reg­u­la­tion yes­ter­day, cli­mate change today: Someone needs to ex­plain and ana­lyze the is­sues, and it takes more than 140 Twit­ter char­ac­ters to do it. Speak­ing truth to power is a time­less mis­sion, and by the way, the Pentagon still has a black budget.

 … … … … … … 

This piece is writ­ten in memory of Dav­id C. Mor­ris­on, 1953–2013.


By Timothy B. Clark

Na­tion­al Journ­al star­ted with grand am­bi­tion: We would sys­tem­at­ic­ally cov­er all the sources of power in Wash­ing­ton, map­ping the net­works of in­flu­ence that pro­duced new ex­ec­ut­ive and le­gis­lat­ive pri­or­it­ies. Our founders (I was one) came from Con­gres­sion­al Quarterly, which had pi­on­eered close cov­er­age of the le­gis­lat­ive branch. But we thought that fo­cus­ing on Con­gress was not enough: Ex­ec­ut­ive agen­cies, the White House, and in­nu­mer­able in­terest groups pressed their agen­das with de­cision-makers and the me­dia. Na­tion­al Journ­al could help all of them, and Con­gress too, bet­ter un­der­stand and nav­ig­ate the cor­ridors of power.

Tom Schroth, who had been dis­missed as ed­it­or of  Con­gres­sion­al Quarterly, be­came our first ed­it­or. We quickly staffed up, oc­cupy­ing a whole floor of 1730 M Street. New York en­tre­pren­eur F. Ran­dall Smith, heir to the Cap­it­al Cit­ies broad­cast­ing for­tune, sup­plied the dough. Randy was a char­ac­ter, who’d fire up his ice ma­chine and be­gin pour­ing cock­tails at about 5:30. Then we’d re­pair to Freddy’s Bar next door to plot our in­vest­ig­a­tions. Randy’s part­ner from New York, An­thony C. Stout, lived the high life; from my desk, I could hear his sec­ret­ary book­ing rooms at Clar­idge’s in Lon­don and slots on the shoot­ing moors of Scot­land.

From the be­gin­ning, we at­trac­ted great people. Neal Peirce, polit­ic­al ed­it­or at CQ, was a founder, and he went on to be­come the na­tion’s lead­ing journ­al­ist on the polit­ic­al eco­nom­ies of cit­ies and states. Dom Bonafede came to us after years of re­port­ing at The Wash­ing­ton Post, New York Her­ald Tribune, New­s­week, and The Miami Her­ald. We at­trac­ted two Ph.D.s who had been teach­ing his­tory at Yale, Bill Lil­ley and Claude Bar­field, and later, Har­vard Ph.D. Bill Schneider, who be­came an on-air polit­ic­al ana­lyst for CNN. Their care­ful, aca­dem­ic ap­proach to re­port­ing set stand­ards for oth­ers on the staff. Cliff Ses­sions, dis­tin­guished for his cov­er­age of in­teg­ra­tion battles in the South, was our man­aging ed­it­or. An­oth­er found­ing ed­it­or was Roan Con­rad, scion of a dis­tin­guished North Dakota fam­ily (and broth­er of Sen. Kent Con­rad), who went on to serve as polit­ic­al dir­ect­or at NBC News for 14 years.

The first is­sue, dated Novem­ber 1, 1969, car­ried stor­ies on 20 fed­er­al de­part­ments and agen­cies, and sec­tions on Con­gress, the courts, lob­by­ing, and polit­ics. It fea­tured the first of a series of de­part­ment­al pro­files—a 12-page fea­ture on the work­ings of the Treas­ury De­part­ment, in­clud­ing an in­ter­view with Sec­ret­ary Dav­id M. Kennedy. The is­sue, tightly packed in­to 60 pages, con­veyed a clear mes­sage: An am­bi­tious new play­er had joined the Wash­ing­ton me­dia scene.

De­tailed cov­er­age of ac­tions and trends in gov­ern­ment was the magazine’s bread and but­ter. But we wanted scoops as well. One mem­or­able story in 1971 de­tailed the dis­pro­por­tion­ate cas­u­alty rates of Afric­an-Amer­ic­an sol­diers fight­ing in Vi­et­nam—a re­port­ing coup by An­drew J. Glass, an­oth­er Her­ald Tribune alum­nus who went on to head the Wash­ing­ton bur­eau of the Cox news­pa­per chain.

We wanted our sub­scribers to see us as a valu­able ref­er­ence tool, so we gave them big red bind­ers and numbered our pages con­sec­ut­ively throughout the year. In 1970, the first full year, we pub­lished 2,850 pages.

Every new ven­ture needs en­dorse­ments, and I reached out to Daniel Patrick Moyni­han, a fam­ily friend who was work­ing in Richard Nix­on’s White House at the time. Moyni­han, later a sen­at­or from New York, served up a quote we used for years: “What a grand en­ter­prise … and already in­dis­pens­able. In­so­far as many of us do without that which is in­dis­pens­able, may I also say ir­res­ist­ible.”

The first issue, dated November 1, 1969, carried stories on Congress, the courts, lobbying, and politics. 

We ap­pealed to many be­cause we were about and for in­siders. In 1981, for in­stance, an NJ staffer dialed ran­dom White House–pre­fix num­bers un­til one was answered in the pres­id­ent’s of­fice. We pub­lished that and the num­bers of dozens of oth­er White House of­fi­cials. Real­iz­ing that we had a bet­ter list than theirs, the White House sent for 600 cop­ies—and quickly changed the num­ber of Pres­id­ent Re­agan’s sec­ret­ary. The phone list grew in­to a semi-an­nu­al book, The Cap­it­al Source, more than 100 pages long. It was au­thor­it­at­ive on names, titles, and phone num­bers of hun­dreds of key play­ers on the Wash­ing­ton scene.

In 2003, we launched our In­siders polling pro­ject, which was dreamed up by polit­ic­al re­port­er James A. Barnes. Barnes re­cruited dozens of Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives and ex­perts to an­swer a few ques­tions each week. Top­ics ranged from fu­ture elec­tion res­ults to the pro­spects for pending le­gis­la­tion.

We also re­lent­lessly pro­filed key act­ors and in­flu­en­cers in Wash­ing­ton, pub­lish­ing spe­cial is­sues with titles like “The De­cision Makers,” “The Wash­ing­ton 100,” “The In­flu­ence In­dustry,” “The Hill People,” and “Con­gress’s Rising Stars.” “The Hill People” was deeply “in­side”—pro­fil­ing not mem­bers of Con­gress but rather their staffs. We were just as deep in the weeds with the Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­ven­tion Daily, pub­lished at each of the na­tion­al polit­ic­al con­ven­tions from 1984 to 2012. We up­rooted our en­tire staff, es­tab­lished of­fices in the con­ven­tion cit­ies for a week, and served up news and gos­sip for all the polit­ic­al in­siders who at­ten­ded.

The eco­nom­ics of all this worked be­cause of John Fox Sul­li­van. He wasn’t among the founders, but after his ar­rival in 1975, he be­came the heart and soul of Na­tion­al Journ­al. Sul­li­van had gradu­ated from Yale, then from Columbia Busi­ness School, and he had been work­ing at New­s­week. When Stout called, he was eager to make the move from New York to Wash­ing­ton. He knew his job was to lead the busi­ness side, but he loved the in­side-the-Belt­way “game,” as he called it, and he quickly be­came ac­quain­ted with many of its play­ers. He was out most every night, ming­ling with the down­town lob­by­ing crowd, people from the Hill, and the town’s in­flu­en­tial me­dia play­ers. In one par­tic­u­lar com­pli­ment to Sully’s quick-wit­ted and good-natured per­sona, he was taken in as the young­est mem­ber of the Carlton Club, whose mem­bers headed the Wash­ing­ton of­fices of ma­jor do­mest­ic and in­ter­na­tion­al com­pan­ies.

He un­der­stood that people like his friends in the Carlton Club were al­ways look­ing for bet­ter ways to reach gov­ern­ment de­cision-makers. So he had the in­spir­a­tion that Na­tion­al Journ­al might carry ad­vert­ising de­liv­er­ing policy mes­sages to its audi­ence. His ini­tial ad­vert­ising pro­pos­i­tion had an el­eg­ant sym­metry: $2,900 for a page of ad­vert­ising to reach the magazine’s 2,900 pay­ing sub­scribers.

Ad­vert­ising saved the en­ter­prise. We car­ried every ma­jor policy cam­paign, from the fight to reg­u­late to­bacco to the epic battle among tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions com­pan­ies over broad­band policy to the struggles by ma­jor de­fense con­tract­ors to build the next big weapons sys­tem. If a com­pany—or an in­dustry—needed im­age re­hab­il­it­a­tion, our pages were the place to be seen.

Cir­cu­la­tion was al­ways a chal­lenge—and we found ourselves com­pet­ing against in­creas­ingly ag­gress­ive play­ers fo­cused on the Hill. But Sul­li­van conquered the Hill, so to speak, with an in­nov­at­ive “site li­cense” ne­go­ti­ated with the House. At a dis­coun­ted price, we agreed to serve every rep­res­ent­at­ive’s of­fice with five cop­ies of each is­sue—as­sur­ing at a min­im­um that their staff would come to know NJ. The cir­cu­la­tion coup was cru­cial to our suc­cess with ad­vert­isers.

Sully treas­ured val­id­a­tions of our status that would come our way—Dick Cheney’s un­so­li­cited en­dorse­ment; The Wash­ing­ton Post’s cov­er­age of our 20th an­niversary; the time when George H.W. Bush, chal­lenged by the press on the wis­dom of choos­ing Sen. Dan Quayle of In­di­ana as his run­ning-mate, held up a Na­tion­al Journ­al is­sue tout­ing the young sen­at­or as one of “Con­gress’s Rising Stars.”

John Sul­li­van is re­tir­ing as pub­lish­er-at-large. But in a fit­ting end to a long run at the heart of in­tel­li­gent journ­al­ism about gov­ern­ment and polit­ics, the pub­lish­er has be­come a politi­cian him­self: the may­or of Wash­ing­ton, Vir­gin­ia. From his lib­rary full of memen­tos of his life in the cap­it­al, from his reg­u­lar table at the el­eg­ant Inn at Little Wash­ing­ton, and from the old City Hall that he has filled with polit­ic­al books from his own col­lec­tion and those of his friends, he presides on sew­er is­sues, eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment, and oth­er mat­ters of in­terest to his 134 con­stitu­ents.


By Alex­is Si­mendinger

When I left Na­tion­al Journ­al in 2010, I hauled boxes of old magazines from the of­fice to my base­ment, think­ing I’d sort through the mess even­tu­ally. After join­ing the re­port­ing staff of Real­Clear­Polit­ics, I found my­self dig­ging through those old is­sues more fre­quently than I had ima­gined. Gov. Bobby Jin­dal as­pired to be pres­id­ent? Where was that in­ter­view I con­duc­ted with Jin­dal when he was in­aug­ur­ated as gov­ernor in Bat­on Rouge? The gov­ernor, am­bi­tious from the get-go, wanted to be taken ser­i­ously na­tion­ally, and ap­pear­ing in the pages of Na­tion­al Journ­al met his defin­i­tion of elite cov­er­age. While he cam­paigned for the White House this year, I showed him the old art­icle be­fore ask­ing him to dis­cuss his state’s wobbly bal­ance sheet.

And how about that 2010 NJ art­icle in which a smil­ing Sen. Mitch Mc­Con­nell and Rep. John Boehner de­scribed their strategy for bring­ing Re­pub­lic­ans to power? They didn’t suc­ceed in mak­ing Barack Obama a one-term pres­id­ent, as Mc­Con­nell told me they hoped to do, but each man dom­in­ated his re­spect­ive cham­ber and rose in power with Obama in the White House. I dug out that 2010 Q&A with re­newed in­terest after the GOP gained con­trol of the Sen­ate.

There are oth­er treas­ures in those base­ment boxes, many still rel­ev­ant and re­veal­ing years later. The Af­ford­able Care Act’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies? NJ’s health care ex­pert, Mar­ilyn Wer­ber Ser­afini, fore­shad­owed the course of fu­ture events in her ex­cel­lent cov­er­age. The fray­ing clout of na­tion­al polit­ic­al parties? Jonath­an Rauch’s early ac­count was like gaz­ing in­to a crys­tal ball. The rise of the in­tel­li­gence state and cy­ber-risks among gov­ern­ments? Shane Har­ris was far ahead, and NJ read­ers were his be­ne­fi­ciar­ies. Money in polit­ics? Eliza Newl­in Car­ney not only as­sessed the seis­mic shifts un­der­way but in­ven­ted a term for a new leg­al en­tity: “su­per PAC.”

As Wash­ing­ton in­siders fell out of fa­vor among voters in 2015, I re­vis­ited NJ’s old In­siders Poll, an in­tim­ately elite en­deavor in­ven­ted by Jim Barnes. Dog-eared cop­ies still of­fer ret­ro­spect­ive in­sights about how ex­per­i­enced in­flu­en­cers un­wit­tingly frayed ties with a rest­ive elect­or­ate.

That’s a long way of say­ing Na­tion­al Journ­al had a mas­ter­ful run pro­du­cing non­par­tis­an, in­flu­en­tial, and pres­ci­ent re­port­ing about polit­ics and policy, people and bur­eau­cra­cies, and emer­ging trends vis­ible and over­looked. It was an hon­or to learn from such smart re­port­ers, ed­it­ors, colum­nists, artists, and pho­to­graph­ers for more than a dec­ade.

These days, I re­port for an on­line news or­gan­iz­a­tion, where things move faster and deep re­search might con­sume a week, not a month. On­line news or­gan­iz­a­tions are fond of list­icles, so here’s one:

NJ had im­pact: The magazine’s rev­el­a­tions and con­cep­tu­al scoops sparked con­gres­sion­al hear­ings and policy changes, out­rage among lob­by­ists and ad­vocacy groups, and even a con­sti­tu­tion­al clash between the ex­ec­ut­ive and le­gis­lat­ive branches. Think Hil­lary Clin­ton’s State De­part­ment email habits were newsy? Former Bush White House ad­viser Karl Rove con­duc­ted more than 90 per­cent of his gov­ern­ment work via non­gov­ern­ment­al email ac­counts. NJ was the news or­gan­iz­a­tion that ex­posed his off-the-grid com­mu­nic­a­tions.

NJ in­nov­ated: The daily news­pa­per that NJ dis­trib­uted every four years in na­tion­al polit­ic­al con­ven­tion cit­ies proved to be a nov­el and luc­rat­ive in­ven­tion well ahead of what later be­came pos­sible with In­ter­net pub­lish­ing. Lots of in­sider in­form­a­tion, pack­aged rap­idly and dis­sem­in­ated to an audi­ence de­voted to the same sub­ject, isn’t too tough to pull off on­line. NJ’s pop-up daily tabloid, on the oth­er hand, was a feat.

NJ at­trac­ted im­port­ant news con­sumers: Those in top po­s­i­tions of in­flu­ence in Wash­ing­ton and many state cap­it­als felt the need to read the magazine (or at least have staff clip from it). Dur­ing the George W. Bush pres­id­ency, I re­mem­ber the White House Press Of­fice ask­ing me for an ur­gent ex­tra copy of the magazine at the re­quest of the vis­it­ing George H.W. Bush.

NJ was fair and bal­anced be­fore that be­came a slo­gan: Me­dia trends and cable tele­vi­sion nudged journ­al­ism to­ward at­ti­tude, opin­ion, and speed. But well-writ­ten and deeply re­por­ted sub­stance, presen­ted without bi­as or fa­vor, is en­joy­ing a bit of a comeback. What Na­tion­al Journ­al cre­ated re­mains valu­able and time­less, even with the ex­tinc­tion of weekly, pa­per-based magazines.

I’m sad this will be the last is­sue of such a fine magazine. But I’m in luck. When I want to delve in­to cur­rent events and the con­text of events, I can pull out the boxes in my base­ment. All those Na­tion­al Journ­al is­sues still have plenty new to teach.


By Charles Green

If you’re read­ing this art­icle the old-fash­ioned way (that is, in print), odds are that your magazine was de­livered on a Fri­day. Therein lies a story.

John Fox Sul­li­van, the long­time pub­lish­er of Na­tion­al Journ­al and the per­son most re­spons­ible for its suc­cess, bucked tra­di­tion in de­cid­ing the day of the week NJ would come out. Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom dic­tated that weekly news magazines should be dis­trib­uted on a Monday so that they could re­flect the events of the week be­fore. For many years, Time, New­s­week, Con­gres­sion­al Quarterly, and oth­er pub­lic­a­tions fol­lowed this for­mula. Sul­li­van, however, didn’t want Na­tion­al Journ­al to be just one more magazine in a stack on of­fice desks. Bet­ter to have it de­livered on a Fri­day, he reasoned, so people could read it at the end of the week or on the week­end.

As usu­al, Sul­li­van was right. His de­cision helped dif­fer­en­ti­ate NJ from its com­pet­it­ors for much of its 46-year run. But it also cre­ated some in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges for the ed­it­or­i­al staff.

The first big one I faced was in Novem­ber 2000, about a year after I had been named the magazine’s ed­it­or. George W. Bush and Al Gore were locked in a tight pres­id­en­tial race, and the elec­tion was a few days away. Elec­tion is­sues were al­ways a heavy lift be­cause of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s pro­duc­tion sched­ule. In or­der for cop­ies of the magazine to be on de­liv­ery trucks be­fore dawn on Fri­days, NJ had to be prin­ted on Wed­nes­day nights and Thursdays—not all at once, but in sec­tions, which were then stapled to­geth­er. The cov­er was among the first parts of the magazine to go to print be­cause it needed time to dry. Typ­ic­ally, the news­room would fin­ish its work on the cov­er on a Tues­day, but for a Tues­day elec­tion we would push the dead­line and send the cov­er out around noon on Wed­nes­day.

For the 2000 elec­tion is­sue, we cre­ated two cov­ers—one to use if Bush won, the oth­er if Gore won—and told the print­er to pre­pare both. As it turned out, we couldn’t use either. As you no doubt re­call, no one knew the day after the elec­tion who had won, and no one knew when we would know. Maybe a win­ner would be de­clared on Thursday. Maybe on Fri­day. Either way, any cov­er prin­ted on Wed­nes­day would be out­dated.

Sul­li­van and I dis­cussed every pos­sible scen­ario. Fi­nally, we de­cided to delay pub­lic­a­tion. By the next day, Thursday, it was ap­par­ent that a win­ner wouldn’t be de­clared any­time soon (al­though no one ex­pec­ted it would take more than a month). We de­cided to pro­duce a cov­er on the elec­tion chaos, print the magazine over the week­end, and de­liv­er it on Monday.

I men­tion the 2000 ex­per­i­ence not to rev­el in nos­tal­gia (al­though it was an ex­cit­ing time to be a journ­al­ist in Wash­ing­ton) but to sug­gest that it is rel­ev­ant to the de­cision to dis­con­tin­ue the print ver­sion of Na­tion­al Journ­al. News con­sump­tion has changed so dra­mat­ic­ally in the past 15 years that the no­tion of de­liv­er­ing an elec­tion is­sue of a magazine six days after vot­ing con­cluded seems al­most un­fathom­able today. It’s hardly a news flash that the ex­plo­sion of on­line con­tent, which doesn’t have to wait for presses to run and cov­ers to dry, has made print news magazines something of a rel­ic. So while this is a sad mo­ment for those of us who worked at Na­tion­al Journ­al, it is prob­ably an in­ev­it­able one. That’s why I will read this fi­nal is­sue with ap­pre­ci­ation, not re­gret. Ap­pre­ci­ation for what
Na­tion­al Journ­al ac­com­plished over its long, dis­tin­guished run.

Work­ing at NJ was a priv­ilege. We were able to ex­plore the most im­port­ant is­sues of the day for the most im­port­ant people in gov­ern­ment and polit­ics. The magazine’s cir­cu­la­tion was small, a res­ult of the high cost of a sub­scrip­tion. But its reach was large. To be suc­cess­ful, we knew, NJ couldn’t be just an­oth­er pub­lic­a­tion cov­er­ing Wash­ing­ton. Na­tion­al Journ­al needed to jus­ti­fy its status as an ex­pense-ac­count item by help­ing read­ers do their jobs bet­ter, wheth­er they were mem­bers of Con­gress writ­ing le­gis­la­tion, lob­by­ists in­flu­en­cing le­gis­la­tion, or polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives try­ing to win elec­tions. We tried to help read­ers bet­ter un­der­stand the forces, is­sues, and people shap­ing Wash­ing­ton, the na­tion, and the world.

Some­times we did that by be­ing more com­pre­hens­ive than oth­er pub­lic­a­tions, oth­er times by provid­ing sharp­er in­sights, writ­ing with more depth, or tack­ling sub­jects our com­pet­it­ors wer­en’t cov­er­ing—all the while re­main­ing stu­di­ously non­par­tis­an and nonideo­lo­gic­al. Read­er­ship sur­veys con­sist­ently found that Na­tion­al Journ­al com­manded a trust matched by few oth­er pub­lic­a­tions—a trust shared by Demo­crats, Re­pub­lic­ans, and in­de­pend­ents.

We had our faults, of course. Re­port­ers and ed­it­ors some­times con­fused length for depth and a lack of ana­lyt­ic­al rig­or for a lack of bi­as. We wer­en’t al­ways as en­ga­ging and timely in our cov­er­age as we should have been. And we oc­ca­sion­ally fell in­to the trap of writ­ing for oth­er journ­al­ists rather than for our core audi­ence. But, on bal­ance, we pro­duced a magazine worthy of our sub­scribers’ time.

The decision to publish on Friday created interesting challenges for the staff. 

Here are a few of my most vivid memor­ies from my 16 years at NJ:

• The aw­ful morn­ing of Tues­day, Septem­ber 11, 2001, and the ex­cep­tion­al work that fol­lowed. We ripped up a magazine that was largely fin­ished, pro­duced a new one solely about the ter­ror­ist at­tacks, and wrote cov­er stor­ies on the sub­ject every week for the next three months.

• The aw­ful morn­ing of April 4, 2003, when we learned that former NJ ed­it­or Mi­chael Kelly had died in Ir­aq. Mike was a gif­ted writer and ed­it­or. He was also in­des­crib­ably fun to have as a col­league.

• The touch­ing let­ters and emails we re­ceived from young Mar­ines in awe of our cor­res­pond­ent em­bed­ded in their ar­til­lery unit at the start of the Ir­aq War in 2003. His name was George C. Wilson. He was 75 at the time.

• Our staff’s dis­tinct­ive cov­er­age of im­port­ant is­sues and in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing eco­nom­ics, en­ergy, demo­graph­ics, health care, na­tion­al se­cur­ity, polit­ics, Con­gress, and the White House.

• The ex­haus­tion and ex­hil­ar­a­tion as­so­ci­ated with pro­du­cing daily news­pa­pers every four years in the host cit­ies of the Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an con­ven­tions. There’s noth­ing quite like walk­ing in­to your hotel’s res­taur­ant for break­fast and see­ing most of the oth­er pat­rons read­ing the pa­per you fin­ished pro­du­cing six hours be­fore.

• The un­so­li­cited notes and phone calls from sub­scribers prais­ing—and some­times pan­ning—our magazine stor­ies and cov­ers. One cov­er that gen­er­ated com­plaints fea­tured a photo of chick­ens be­ing burned alive be­cause of the avi­an flu. Ad­vice to cov­er de­sign­ers: Avoid burn­ing chick­ens.

• The sat­is­fac­tion (after the is­sues were fin­ished) of hav­ing pro­filed hun­dreds of con­gres­sion­al staffers in our Hill People is­sues, hun­dreds of ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials in our De­cision Makers is­sues, and scores of new mem­bers of Con­gress in our elec­tion is­sues.

• The sink­ing feel­ing I had upon learn­ing that NJ’s an­nu­al vote rat­ings in 2004 and 2008 had de­term­ined that John Kerry and Barack Obama, re­spect­ively, had racked up the most lib­er­al vot­ing re­cords of any sen­at­ors. With Kerry and Obama on their way to win­ning the Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tions, I knew the des­ig­na­tions would gen­er­ate a lot of con­tro­versy—and mis­char­ac­ter­iz­a­tions. I was right.

• My grat­it­ude for the years when ad pages were plen­ti­ful and news­room budgets were large; my ad­mir­a­tion for the per­sever­ance of col­leagues in the years when ad pages dwindled, as they did in vir­tu­ally every print pub­lic­a­tion.

• Own­er Dav­id Brad­ley’s sup­port, gen­er­os­ity, and com­mit­ment to ex­cel­lence.

• The joy of work­ing with a staff of bright, ded­ic­ated people de­voted to Na­tion­al Journ­al and its mis­sion.

One fi­nal note: I had a ritu­al when I worked at Na­tion­al Journ­al. Every Fri­day night, I came home and slowly flipped through the magazine, page by page. I didn’t do it to read the magazine; by then, I had already seen everything in the is­sue in one form or an­oth­er, some­times many times over. I did it be­cause I was proud of what we had ac­com­plished and wanted to sa­vor that week’s product one last time.

As the products offered by Na­tion­al Journ­al evolve in the com­ing years, I hope its staffers have the op­por­tun­ity to ex­per­i­ence the same sort of pride in their work, wheth­er they’re see­ing it on a smart­phone, tab­let, com­puter, or a new­fangled device we can’t even fathom. Dis­tinct­ive journ­al­ism was the key to NJ’s suc­cess. Not pa­per.


By Mar­ilyn Wer­ber Ser­afini

In the late 1990s, I found on my desk a hand­writ­ten note from Mike Kelly, a great among many ex­cep­tion­al Na­tion­al Journ­al ed­it­ors. At­tached to my health care story that week—a five-page fea­ture ana­lyz­ing a missed stat­utory dead­line for law­makers to ad­dress the pri­vacy of med­ic­al re­cords—he had scrawled, “The pa­tients’ pri­vacy story was NJ at its best—smart, ori­gin­al, avail­able not else­where.”

When I learned that NJ would be pub­lish­ing its fi­nal is­sue, I set off on a mad search to find that note, be­cause Kelly, in a few words, had put his fin­ger on ex­actly what gave NJ an im­port­ant role among Wash­ing­ton me­dia.

The magazine “provided the most thor­ough, well-re­searched art­icles avail­able in Wash­ing­ton,” Mar­gie Kr­iz Hob­son, NJ’s mas­ter­ful en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment cor­res­pond­ent for more than two dec­ades, told me re­cently. NJ, she noted, in­tro­duced the “be­hind-the-scenes pup­pet mas­ters, how they op­er­ated, and why the changes were emer­ging at the time, in that place.”

Those be­hind-the-scenes play­ers were will­ing to talk to us be­cause our art­icles had im­pact. Early in her ten­ure at NJ, Kr­iz Hob­son covered com­mu­nic­a­tions policy and was in­vited to in­ter­view me­dia mogul Barry Diller, who was then lob­by­ing for less strin­gent cable TV laws. She met Diller for break­fast at the Ritz-Carlton near Em­bassy Row. “Pulling apart a dry piece of toast, Diller said that ini­tially he had no idea why I was even on his agenda,” she re­called. So why did Diller meet with her? “The day be­fore, he’d been in a con­gress­man’s of­fice, and there on the desk was a copy of my art­icle on cable-in­dustry le­gis­la­tion. Diller as­ser­ted that the only reas­on the con­gress­man knew any­thing about cable policy was be­cause he’d read my art­icle.”

Once at NJ, journ­al­ists stayed for years—of­ten for dec­ades—be­cause we en­joyed something that did not ex­ist at most oth­er news out­lets: We could pur­sue pro­jects that took time. Be­fore each pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, for ex­ample, I was lucky enough to work with one of Wash­ing­ton’s best polit­ic­al re­port­ers, Jim Barnes, to cre­ate a fair and mean­ing­ful way to as­sess the health-re­form pro­pos­als and po­s­i­tions of the top-tier pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. We spent weeks de­vel­op­ing a set of cri­ter­ia to rate the plans’ prob­able im­pact on the un­in­sured, on gov­ern­ment spend­ing, on con­sumer costs, on em­ploy­er-based in­sur­ance, and on the qual­ity of care. We then provided in­form­a­tion on the pro­pos­als to a bal­anced group of 10 judges, who spanned the ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum. And we breathed a sigh of re­lief when such ideo­lo­gic­al op­pos­ites as former Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial Len Nich­ols and then–Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Policy Ana­lys­is Pres­id­ent John Good­man scored the plans sim­il­arly.

The day of the first edition, one press secretary balked about this “trash” clogging up his fax machine. 

In 1999, I took nearly half a year to write a story about the grow­ing trend—and dangers—of im­port­ing drugs from oth­er coun­tries. I could have simply quan­ti­fied the trend and ex­plained how Wash­ing­ton reg­u­lat­ors might re­spond. With the lux­ury of time, however, I tracked down a South Afric­an phar­macy that was will­ing to sell me some very dan­ger­ous med­ic­a­tions without a val­id pre­scrip­tion. The drugs ar­rived in brown pa­per wrap­ping with a false cus­toms de­clar­a­tion that it con­tained echin­acea, a di­et­ary sup­ple­ment that can be pur­chased over
the counter.

But while in-depth, time-con­sum­ing re­port­ing was the spe­cialty of the magazine, NJ was more than a magazine. And amid the jus­ti­fied cel­eb­ra­tion of the magazine’s leg­acy, it shouldn’t be for­got­ten just how in­nov­at­ive its oth­er products were.

There was Amer­ic­an Health Line, one of the ori­gin­al ag­greg­at­ors of health care news; polit­ic­al plat­forms like Hot­line and The Al­man­ac of Amer­ic­an Polit­ics; a pub­lic­a­tion called Tech­no­logy Daily, which began in 1998 and, ac­cord­ing to one of its re­port­ers, Bara Vaida, “be­came a must-read for lead­ers at Apple, eBay, Cisco, Hew­lett-Pack­ard, Mi­crosoft, Or­acle, etc. be­cause we were the only ones pub­lish­ing daily, in-depth stor­ies about what was hap­pen­ing on tech­no­logy is­sues.”

Then there was Con­gress­Daily, launched in 1991. (It’s now called Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily.) Louis Peck was Con­gress­Daily’s first ed­it­or, and I was part of its ini­tial staff of full-time re­port­ers, along with Bud New­man, Steve Kay, and Brooks Bol­iek. Con­gress­Daily was de­livered by then-cut­ting-edge fax tech­no­logy at ex­actly 3:00 each af­ter­noon to the closest of Con­gress watch­ers, in­clud­ing, of course, those work­ing on Cap­it­ol Hill.

The day of the first edi­tion, Jim Jaffe, the long-time press sec­ret­ary for the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Demo­crats, balked about this “trash” clog­ging up his fax ma­chine, and pre­dicted it wouldn’t last more than a few weeks. What could re­port­ers tell in­siders that they didn’t already know?

As it turned out, Hill in­siders hungered for Con­gress­Daily. Con­gres­sion­al of­fices com­plained if it rolled off the fax even a few minutes late. That’s why, dur­ing a power out­age, our tiny staff of four re­port­ers hand de­livered hard cop­ies to every con­gres­sion­al of­fice. It didn’t take long for Jaffe to come around, and for oth­er pub­lic­a­tions to fol­low our lead.

“I en­vi­sioned Con­gress­Daily as the smoke sig­nals or tom-toms, if you will, of the elec­tron­ic age,” Peck told me. “The idea was to en­able the three legs of the in­side-the-Belt­way iron tri­angle—Con­gress, the fed­er­al bur­eau­cracy, and the K Street lob­by­ing com­munity—to send mes­sages to each oth­er. In the pro­cess, a lot of in­ter­est­ing stor­ies would fall in­to our laps—many of which would be too in­side even for pub­lic­a­tions such as The Wash­ing­ton Post but non­ethe­less of im­me­di­ate sig­ni­fic­ance to the den­iz­ens of a few square miles of down­town D.C.”

Two years later, Con­gress­Daily began pub­lish­ing twice a day. In 1997, The New York Times cited Con­gress­Daily in a story about “a new breed of cor­res­pond­ents” and a “grow­ing num­ber of news out­lets of­fer­ing al­most in­stant­an­eous up­dates to and about Con­gress.” In the years that fol­lowed, as more and more pub­lic­a­tions began to spe­cial­ize in up-to-the-minute, in­side-D.C. re­port­ing, it be­came clear that Con­gress­Daily was ahead of its time.

To my great pleas­ure, Con­gress­Daily lives on, no mat­ter the name. And while the re­tire­ment of Na­tion­al Journ­al magazine leaves a hole in the Wash­ing­ton me­dia com­munity, its pres­ence re­mains vi­brant in the alumni who are shin­ing at nu­mer­ous oth­er out­lets.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle stated the name of Amer­ic­an Health Line as Heath­Line.


By Stu­art Taylor Jr. 

When Na­tion­al Journ­al ed­it­or Steve Smith and own­er Dav­id Brad­ley offered me a po­s­i­tion as a colum­nist 18 years ago, I was ex­cited to be join­ing a very spe­cial group of journ­al­ists.

Week in and week out, they were pro­du­cing at least as much ser­i­ous, fact-driv­en, nonideo­lo­gic­al, in-depth ana­lys­is of na­tion­al policy and polit­ics as any oth­er pub­lic­a­tion.

In­deed, just a few months be­fore, I had de­voted one of my columns for Amer­ic­an Law­yer Me­dia en­tirely to ex­plain­ing and ex­tolling a Na­tion­al Journ­al cov­er story by Jonath­an Rauch on cam­paign fin­ance.

My em­ploy­er, Steve Brill, kid­ded me about go­ing to a magazine that he de­scribed as pre-punched with bind­er holes to en­able sub­scribers to file it without read­ing it. But I learned how good a call­ing card Na­tion­al Journ­al was for get­ting phone calls re­turned. And any con­cern that sub­scribers might be fil­ing it without read­ing it was soon dis­pelled.

Oh, were they read­ing it. And care­fully enough to make them­selves heard when they thought Na­tion­al Journ­al had gone astray. Many of them re­acted ad­versely to a de­vel­op­ment that none of us had ima­gined. It came in the wake of the Janu­ary 1998 rev­el­a­tion, in my first week at Na­tion­al Journ­al, that Pres­id­ent Clin­ton was un­der crim­in­al in­vest­ig­a­tion for ly­ing in a civil de­pos­ition about his re­la­tion­ship with White House in­tern Mon­ica Lew­in­sky. The un­ex­pec­ted de­vel­op­ment was that both of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s new colum­nists—my bril­liant col­league Mi­chael Kelly and I—were ar­guing week after week that the pres­id­ent had in­deed lied, first in his de­pos­ition and then to the na­tion.

This put Mike and me in the un­ac­cus­tomed po­s­i­tion of per­sist­ently tak­ing the same side as the pres­id­ent’s most bit­ter polit­ic­al ad­versar­ies. It also ob­liged Steve, Dav­id, and John Fox Sul­li­van, our widely es­teemed pub­lish­er, to ex­plain to more than a few up­set sub­scribers, of­fi­cials, and oth­ers that Na­tion­al Journ­al re­mained as non­par­tis­an and nonideo­lo­gic­al as ever, not­with­stand­ing the two new colum­nists’ con­tro­ver­sial views on one big is­sue.

When the pieces came back, each of us confessed that his draft had been dramatically improved by our editor. 

Those must have been try­ing times for the magazine’s lead­ers, as I came to real­ize. But none ever put any pres­sure on me to back off. That took forti­tude. I have al­ways been grate­ful for it and for the pa­tience of oth­er col­leagues who had their doubts about my views but re­mained per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally sup­port­ive.

Months later, after Steve had been hired away by U.S. News and World Re­port and Mike had suc­ceeded him as ed­it­or of Na­tion­al Journ­al, I got an­oth­er mem­or­able win­dow in­to the magazine’s qual­ity and in­teg­rity. It was an all-hands-on-deck ef­fort to pub­lish the first spe­cial is­sue in Na­tion­al Journ­al’s his­tory, on the oc­ca­sion of in­de­pend­ent coun­sel Ken­neth Starr’s massive re­port ur­ging
the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives to con­sider im­peach­ing the pres­id­ent. Clin­ton’s al­leged crimes centered on ly­ing about Lew­in­sky to a crim­in­al grand jury as well as to every­one else. The spe­cial is­sue’s many art­icles were to in­clude one com­ment­ary mak­ing the case for im­peach­ment and an­oth­er mak­ing the case against. I wrote the first and my friend Kirk Vic­tor wrote the second.

We worked fe­ver­ishly all day in our side-by-side cu­bicles to pro­duce our drafts, while much of the rest of the coun­try was tit­ter­ing about the Starr re­port’s more sa­la­cious pas­sages. When the ed­ited copy came back, each of us had to con­fess to the oth­er that his draft had been dra­mat­ic­ally im­proved in re­cord time by our ed­it­or. That was the same Mike Kelly who had been pound­ing on the pres­id­ent with un­equaled elo­quence week after week in his own column. Now he was adding his spe­cial verve to the com­ment­ary ar­guing against im­peach­ment as well as the one ar­guing for.

We lost Mike in April 2003, in the early days of the U.S. in­va­sion of Ir­aq. A pas­sion­ate be­liev­er in end­ing Sad­dam Hus­sein’s bru­tal and bloody tyranny, Mike had con­trived to get him­self em­bed­ded with U.S. forces near the tip of the spear. He was killed un­der fire in a Hum­vee ac­ci­dent at the age of 46. It was a great tragedy for all of us at Na­tion­al Journ­al and at The At­lantic, of which Mike had be­come ed­it­or in 2000, as well as for his won­der­ful fam­ily, his le­gion of friends, and his many more ad­mirers. Many of us have wondered how he would feel, had he lived the long life he de­served, about the way it all turned out.

Mike had handed off the ed­it­or­ship of Na­tion­al Journ­al in 1999 to a worthy suc­cessor, Charlie Green, whose great skills, sure judg­ment, cease­less work, and calm dis­pos­i­tion won him wide ad­mir­a­tion both in­side and out­side the magazine. I en­joyed sev­en more ful­filling years un­der Charlie’s lead­er­ship. By 2010, eco­nom­ic trends had made my column a lux­ury that Na­tion­al Journ­al could no longer af­ford. Now it can no longer af­ford to put out a print magazine. But I fer­vently hope that Na­tion­al Journ­al will live long on the Web.

I left with only one re­gret. After ac­cept­ing Charlie’s gra­cious of­fer of an of­fice with a spec­tac­u­lar view of the Po­tom­ac, I spent far too much time at my desk, down the hall from the buzz of the news­room, bur­row­ing through emails, news­pa­pers, magazines, and oth­er stuff, and far too little time en­joy­ing the com­pany, and learn­ing from the in­sights, of my ex­traordin­ar­ily tal­en­ted col­leagues. For­tu­nately, through the mu­tu­ally sup­port­ive “post-NJ” net­work, I con­tin­ue to fol­low their work and en­joy their com­pany when pos­sible, and they re­main what they have al­ways been: prac­ti­tion­ers of journ­al­ism at its very best.


By John Fox Sul­li­van

The magazine’s founders in 1969 were surely am­bi­tious: cre­ate a new magazine, cov­er­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, that would fill a per­ceived ed­it­or­i­al void not filled by The Wash­ing­ton Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journ­al, The Wash­ing­ton Star, trade news­let­ters, or weekly news magazines. Folks with too much to read already would still find the time for more. Na­tion­al Journ­al would provide in-depth, non­par­tis­an cov­er­age of the is­sues be­ing de­bated, lob­bied, and de­cided upon by the in­side-the-Belt­way polit­ic­al and policy pro­fes­sion­als. With an ed­it­or­i­al staff of more than 75, fancy new of­fices, and a sub­scrip­tion price tag of more than $1,000, Na­tion­al Journ­al would feed the in­sa­ti­able de­sire of poli­cy­makers to read about them­selves and the mak­ing of le­gis­lat­ive saus­age. An au­da­cious no­tion.

The magazine even­tu­ally would cov­er, and be read by, pro­fes­sion­als in the ex­ec­ut­ive branch, Con­gress, the courts, the me­dia, think tanks, and lob­by­ing shops. The ed­it­or­i­al mis­sion was to cov­er the is­sues be­ing de­bated in great de­tail, as well as the play­ers in the high stakes Wash­ing­ton “game” of mak­ing policy. Core to Na­tion­al Journ­al’s is­sue cov­er­age was bal­ance, fair­ness, and most of all hav­ing no ideo­logy as to what the out­come should be. “Fe­ro­ciously non­par­tis­an” was the man­tra, and we lived it suf­fi­ciently that our read­ers found our work cred­ible and trus­ted us. Over time, we found a sub­stan­tial sub­scriber base will­ing to pay prices not nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with magazines. Na­tion­al Journ­al won sev­er­al pres­ti­gi­ous Na­tion­al Magazine Awards, was pro­filed by Time, New­s­week, and The New York Times among oth­ers, and found its niche.

The key to our suc­cess was, of course, our re­port­ers and ed­it­ors, sev­er­al of whom share their ob­ser­va­tions in this is­sue. After some early turnover, the magazine was su­perbly ed­ited by a se­quence of tal­en­ted in­di­vidu­als, each of whom had his own dis­tinct­ive touch yet shared a de­vo­tion to, and pas­sion for, dogged re­port­ing, in­tel­lec­tu­al hon­esty, fair­ness, and re­spect for the in­tel­li­gence of the read­ers. The soph­ist­ic­a­tion of the audi­ence de­man­ded re­port­ers and ed­it­ors who them­selves had a soph­ist­ic­ated un­der­stand­ing of how policy is ac­tu­ally made in Wash­ing­ton.

Of course, there was the on­go­ing com­mer­cial chal­lenge com­mon to all small magazines. In 1983, Na­tion­al Journ­al began car­ry­ing is­sue and ad­vocacy ad­vert­ising dir­ec­ted to­ward its tar­get audi­ence of poli­cy­makers. We were the first to de­vel­op this mar­ket, which ex­ploded over the next dec­ades, help­ing to fin­ance not only Na­tion­al Journ­al, but also Roll Call, The Hill, Con­gres­sion­al Quarterly, and more re­cently Politico.

Dur­ing the 1980s, Na­tion­al Journ­al ex­pan­ded dra­mat­ic­ally to in­clude The Al­man­ac of Amer­ic­an Polit­ics, the “polit­ic­al Bible” cre­ated by the uniquely tal­en­ted Mi­chael Bar­one; Gov­ern­ment Ex­ec­ut­ive, which be­came the premi­er magazine cov­er­ing the ex­ec­ut­ive branch and ca­reer civil ser­vants; and Con­gress­Daily, which covered le­gis­lat­ive activ­ity on the Hill and be­came a morn­ing and af­ter­noon must-read. We were the first to pub­lish news­pa­pers every four years de­voted solely to cov­er­age of the na­tion­al polit­ic­al con­ven­tions. And in the 1990s, Hot­line, the cre­ation of polit­ic­al geni­us Doug Bailey, be­came part of Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Dur­ing the last dec­ade, Na­tion­al Journ­al has moved in­to the di­git­al world, with its more timely de­liv­ery, and it has ad­ded cus­tom products and live events for our audi­ence. The com­pet­it­ive land­scape has ex­ploded ex­po­nen­tially, yet Na­tion­al Journ­al has emerged as a ma­jor di­git­al pub­lish­er, con­tinu­ing to serve the needs of its read­ers and the Wash­ing­ton com­munity. However, with this is­sue, it is time to say farewell to the weekly print magazine called Na­tion­al Journ­al, a me­dia form more of the 20th cen­tury than the 21st. To even de­scribe the de­liv­ery of news and ana­lys­is as “weekly” seems so quaint in this day and age.

As one in­volved in the en­ter­prise for nearly 40 years, thanks to all of our tal­en­ted staff who put so much of their in­tel­lect, en­ergy, and com­mit­ment in­to it. Thanks to the ad­vert­ising com­munity who sup­por­ted it. And, most of all, thanks to all of our read­ers. It was, after all, meant for you.

It’s been a great ride. No re­grets. Lots of pride.


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