Home » News » Inside Modern Media and Journalism Trends with Brian C. Anderson

Inside Modern Media and Journalism Trends with Brian C. Anderson

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What are the key media trends shaping public opinion? Join host Roger Ream and Brian C. Anderson, editor of City Journal and recipient of the 2023 Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award, as they delve into the intricate dynamics of modern journalism and how it has impacted Brian’s career. Brian provides expert analysis of the constantly changing landscape of news dissemination, ranging from the evolving strategies of traditional newspapers like The New York Times to the implications of social media censorship. He also shares valuable insight into the role of the media as he explores current issues like identity politics on college campuses, the rise of crime in cities, and the migrant crisis.

Brian C. Anderson is the editor of City Journal and hosts their “10 Blocks” podcast. Previously, he was senior editor of City Journal and a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of “Against the Obamanet,” “Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents,” “South Park Conservatives” and “Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political.” He is co-author of “A Manifesto for Media Freedom” and editor of “The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It.” Brian’s work has appeared in publications including The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, National Review, and many more.


Episode Transcript

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

Roger Ream [00:00:02] Welcome to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, faculty, and friends who are making an impact today. I’m your host, Roger Ream. I’m honored to welcome Brian Anderson to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast today. Brian is editor of the esteemed public policy magazine City Journal and was the recipient of our Thomas L. Phillips Career Achievement Award in 2023. The City Journal covers a range of topics including public health, welfare policy, urban architecture, and criminal justice. Brian also hosts their Ten Blocks podcast, insightful conversations on public policies and culture with special guests. Previously, Brian was senior editor of City Journal and before that a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute. He’s written a number of groundbreaking books, including “Against the Obama Net,” which discusses what regulatory controls are doing to our digital freedom. He’s also the author of “Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents,” which defends the uniqueness of democratic capitalism under threat from the American left, and the book “South Park Conservatives,” a behind the scenes look at how conservatives are bringing down political correctness and the liberal media. His work has appeared in notable publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, National Review, and many more. Brian, I look forward to discussing your impressive career and your view of the media landscape today.

Brian Anderson [00:01:46] Roger, thank you. Great to be on.

Roger Ream [00:01:48] Well, let me start. You’ve been in journalism now for over three decades. How did you get your start? What motivated you to pursue a career in journalism?

Brian Anderson [00:01:58] Well, it was kind of, in some ways accidental. I was working on a PhD in political theory, and while I was working on that, I went to the American Enterprise Institute, to do some research relevant to the thesis, which was on a French political thinker that several of the scholars today at the AEI knew and had worked with in the past. So, it was a summer, research internship. I went down there. Michael Novak, who I was an intern for thought I could help him out. So, he hired me. So, I finished my PhD a while I was at eight. But Michael also gave me the opportunity to become the literary editor of the magazine. He was the editor of at that time called Crisis, which was a Catholic monthly cultural magazine, political magazine. I really enjoyed that. So, I kind of got swept into the think tank world and from AEI, I was hired by Myron Magnet at City Journal, the publication, the Manhattan Institute. After about four years, I guess at the AEI. So, I went up to work with Myron at City Journal, and I’ve been there ever since. So, this was in 1997.

Roger Ream [00:03:27] Well, Michael Novak, was a great man and great scholar. He spoke at some of our events, including in our very early years in Prague, at our program at Charles University there. I had a great love for him.

Brian Anderson [00:03:42] Michael was a really great figure and a huge influence on me personally and intellectually. I had read his books when I went down to AEI. Hey, but working with him directly was extraordinary. He was a difficult boss and moving from graduate school environment to the fast paced world of AEI, working for this guy who was giving talks every week and writing books. I was very exciting and demanding and I think really improved what I could do. You mentioned being in Prague, one of one of the opportunities, that happened through Michael’s work was to help run a seminar that Michael George Weigel and Richard John Newhouse were running in Krakow, Poland. So, I did that for three years, met some incredible people. It was a program on the Federalist Papers and Tocqueville. So, I was the primary organizer for that, and that was an amazing experience as well.

Roger Ream [00:04:51]  I know when he came to Prague, he came down from Krakow, from that program there in the mid 90s.

Brian Anderson [00:04:58] It was great. It’s still has kind of ongoing life, and there’s a network of people who graduated out of the program. It was for building up a whole cohort of really talented people who then went into media and university life or politics in Poland and throughout the Eastern and Central Europe new governments, the new democracies.

Roger Ream [00:05:30] If I could ask, who was the French scholar you were doing your graduate work on?

Brian Anderson [00:05:35] So, Raymond Aron, who was the author of “The Opium of the intellectuals.” He was a classical liberal, conservative liberal. Huge figure, 20th century political thought. So, I wrote a PhD dissertation on Aron, and that was published as my first book.

Roger Ream [00:05:57] During your tenure as editor of the City Journal, it’s grown remarkably, both as a magazine, I think, and your website reaches, I’m sure, millions of people through your online presence. How are you able to grow such a successful magazine? I mean, it’s been around for a while, but it’s reaches continues to grow.

Brian Anderson [00:06:22] Yeah, it was founded in 1990, and it was a quarterly and still is a quarterly physical publication. The original model was to publish high level, policy journalism, policy analysis and get it into the hands of decision makers, elites, the media. We still do that, but the emergence of the internet really changed the model for us. So, we started being able to reach a mass audience directly. That took time. It was really, a slow, organic process. But these days, we have millions of readers online and for certain pieces we can match and reach, the editorial page of a major newspaper. So, that is a kind of huge shift in the intellectual landscape, and it gives us the capacity now to potentially produce bestselling authors, something that would have been more difficult back when we were just a targeted elite publication. So, we do both of those things. We we still publish the quarterly, put a lot of effort into it. Try to get that into the hands of decision makers, but also try to build our, our direct, mass audience. Of course, the reach of the magazine is dependent on the quality of the writers we have and we have an extraordinary group of people that we work with and some of the best journalists and analysts in the country.

Roger Ream [00:08:11] Well, speaking of reaching political opinion leaders, I’ve been at Manhattan Institute events where I’ve heard both Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor and Michael Bloomberg when he was mayor talk about the tremendous influence of the Manhattan Journal and I know a lot of that is through the The City Journal that you publish. What are some of the key policy areas where you have really had an impact in the recommendations of the Manhattan Institute have been implemented in public policy?

Brian Anderson [00:08:41] I think, when the magazine was founded and this was still a transitional period when I arrived there in 97. There were number of problems besetting New York City and other cities across the country that led many people to predict the death of the city, that it was on the way out. Chief and foremost, was the crime and disorder problem, which, when the magazine was founded, was near apocalyptic. In New York City, there were over 2000 murders a year. There was rampant homelessness and street disorder. People were making movies like “Escape from New York” depicting the city as this dystopian environment. So, that was one area where the scholars associated with the Manhattan Institute really felt, a difference could be made by reestablishing a police presence by practicing what came to be known as broken windows policing, which was aimed at order, maintenance, restoring order to the streets, going after, low level infractions as a way of signaling, the presence of order in society. And that really was hugely influential. Giuliani adopted it, Bloomberg, and maintained it. We saw the collapse of the crime rate from 2000 plus murders a year down to a couple of hundred years. It’s one of the remarkable public policy achievements ever brought New York City back. So, that was a main area. Back in the early 90s, the city had created the dependency trap. So, there were millions of people on public assistance in the city. There was very little asked of them to receive the welfare benefit. So, the Institute was a big proponent of workfare as it came to be known that there should be reciprocal obligations between the recipients of welfare and the government that give some benefits. The emphasis should be on encouraging people to work and that was an area where me and City Journal work were at the forefront and that two became hugely successful. And then education and the idea that the business community shouldn’t be viewed as the villain in cities but should be encouraged to create jobs and opportunities. So, to make the city more economically hospitable to business growth. I would say the crime and the welfare component of that agenda was more successfully realized than the education and business component, but even on the ladder to progress was made, you do have more school choice through charter schools and cities, including in New York. The city is not as hostile to business. In fact, under Michael Bloomberg, it became very welcoming to business and its economy while it has struggled. Under Bill de Blasio, who succeeded Michael Bloomberg as mayor and has become more hostile to the business community, the economy is still okay.

Roger Ream [00:12:18] On a recent episode of your “10 Blocks Podcast,” you and your colleague Steve Malanga spoke about retail fleeing New York City today. I think at the time you cited that 700 retail stores that are nationally filled have left the city. We hear about rising crime rates. I know it’s probably nothing like it was in the 70s and 80s, but what where do you see things in New York right now? Are they really deteriorating?

Brian Anderson [00:12:52] I think it’s quite visible to anybody who works or lives in the city that the New York of 2024 is not the New York of 2007 or 2008. That really starting in the second of Bill de Blasio’s two terms, there was pullback of policing, no deliberate pullback of policing. The mayor de Blasio wasn’t as comfortable with an aggressive police presence on the streets. He was rhetorically hostile to the NYPD, and you started seeing city council pass measures, decriminalizing petty crimes, basically making it easier for people to shoplift. And engage in public disorder. And lo and behold, crime rates did start to go up pretty dramatically, and they accelerated quite a bit, after the pandemic. This was largely a result, in our view of kind of de policing. Also, the state in New York, and this has happened in other states has pursued bail reform. So, they are putting hardened criminals back out on the street without a bail requirement. This is very demoralizing as you could imagine to police officers who arrest somebody for a series of robberies or thefts. I should say and see him back out on the street very quickly. So, a lot of retailers, they are finding it difficult to operate on. New York has lost retailers, but San Francisco is a particular crisis situation. If you can’t run a drug store without people just walking out without any penalty whatsoever, police generally aren’t doing anything in these cases anymore. What’s the point of continuing to operate there? So, it is a crisis, and it gets back to that first issue. I mentioned the crime and disorder problem, which is not as bad as it was when City Journal was founded by any stretch of the imagination. We’re not up to 2000 murders a year, thank God, but the direction of crime, really, since the late 2010’s has been pretty bad. Not just in New York, but in most American cities.

Roger Ream [00:15:40] I know it’s certainly true here in Washington, D.C., as well. How do you kind of strike that balance between coverage of New York versus national issues at the City Journal, because you do cover both?

Brian Anderson [00:15:53]  The website gives us the opportunity to really write about anything we want to write about, and we do try to strike a balance. We provide regular coverage of New York, in both the physical magazine and online. We have several people like Nicole Salinas or Steve Malanga, who do write about city affairs quite a bit. But we have found, especially with the internet broadening our audience that there’s a real need for the kind of coverage we provide in places like Seattle or Los Angeles, or Chicago. And often when we are doing reported pieces in particular on these cities, they tend to get a lot of attention, maybe because there’s a dearth of this kind of coverage from their own local media. So,  we do try to think about where can we tell good stories, where is the kind of perspective that we offer missing, and try to find good people who can go out and write about these places. So, there’s a lot of untold stories in a city like Seattle, or even in a place like L.A. where you would think that there was enough media to provide this kind of coverage, but there isn’t.

Roger Ream [00:17:15] In an episode of your “10 Blocks Podcast,” you talked with Lance Morrow, a senior contributing editor at the City Journal and talked about how technology is changing journalism. Talk a little bit about the future of journalism, because I think it’s of interest to people listening. And of course, we run the Joseph Rago Journalism Fellowship, the Robert Novak Fellowships. We’re doing a lot more on the campus now trying to develop young journalists for careers in journalism. How do you see that field going forward? Is it a promising career field for a young person to go into?

Brian Anderson [00:17:56] I would say there’s opportunities, but you have to be entrepreneurial. There’s certainly publishing opportunities. Whether you can get compensated adequately to have a career is a different question. Obviously, the model for newspapers has shifted. Advertising used to be the way they paid for their business. There was a lot of that advertising available as other competitors for that advertising dollar emerged online, through different media platforms. It just became much less financially successful as a model for newspapers. So, they’ve struggled and a lot of them have gone under unfortunately, but that said I think there are growing nonprofit opportunities. There is push to provide investigative reporting through nonprofit models, and you do have several big papers that are going to be around and continue to have a huge influence. The Wall Street Journal is an enormously successful enterprise in terms of influencing opinion in the country. I don’t know what its financials are, but I don’t think it’s in disastrous shape. The New York Times, has turned around, I think to some degree its financial problems, and it’s become a big influence on the left. Now, what the times is doing is a little different from what it used to do. Martin Currie, the media analyst, has written about this for us as there was a shift away from advertising as a way of paying for newspaper coverage, they’ve become reliant on subscribers and streaming. So, a lot of papers and this, I think, is quite true of the New York Times have really become kind of dedicated to giving their particular readers, who tend to be left of center, what they want. So, a paper that always lean to the left, now become much more of an agenda pursuing paper and its news coverage, trying to drive a narrative. So, Mark Guthrie again, has written, very intelligently about this for us. Ondrej Mear, another, Canadian writer who studies media, has also been exploring this this paradigm shift, even though the model is shifting, people like to read stories, including stories that involve public policy issues. When you put a human face to a public policy argument, it tends to generate more interest than a research paper might. You can see the stakes in real lives, and we have found that that kind of reporting can gain millions of readers for a particular piece and make a difference in the national debate.

Roger Ream [00:21:29] Well, I know at our dinner in November when we presented you with Tom Phillips Career Achievement Award, Paul Gigot of course, was also there, the two of you had some friendly banter back and forth about stealing each other’s employees, I think.

Brian Anderson [00:21:47] Right. It’s a one way. He keeps telling them for me. Their editorial page has hired several of our editors over the years who’ve worked, as associate editors for us. I view it as a flattering observation that we have an editorial culture at the magazine, that can get people ready for the demanding and fast paced environment of The Wall Street Journal, but it does create a problem every time they do hire one of these people away for us, we have to find somebody else.

Roger Ream [00:22:31] Well, you do a superb job in your hiring because we’ve awarded a number of Novak Fellowships to young journalists working at the City Journal.

Brian Anderson [00:22:42] Right? Charles McElwee, who continues to write for us about Pennsylvania and our new associate editor, John Hirschauer, a Novak fellow, very talented young man. So, it’s a great program. We benefit tremendously from that.

Roger Ream [00:22:59] We are pleased that this year we’re going to be offering two Rago Fellowships at The Wall Street Journal. We have enough funding now to expand that to two, and it’s a great training ground because a young person can spend nine months working there in the editorial pages. But as we’re able to raise more money for that, we hope to offer similar fellowships at other publications. So, I hope to be coming to you to see if we might be able to find a spot for some of the work for a long period of time at the City Journal.

Brian Anderson [00:23:31] Well, it’s getting more and more like a daily newspaper, Roger. We do the quarterly magazine, but we’re up to publishing 3, 4 or 5 pieces a day. Sometimes, it’s almost like an newspaper op-ed page. And we do edit this stuff and are we’re pretty careful about it. It’s a fast-paced environment. You can learn a lot.

Roger Ream [00:24:00] I think your most recent book was against the Obama net, if I’m not mistaken.

Brian Anderson [00:24:04] Yes, that was a little more of a pamphlet. That was a book that Roger Kimball published through Encounter Press, looking at what was then a pretty aggressive push to a sort of a bigger government presence over in the internet, in a regulatory way, not aimed directly at content, but the argument I was making at that time is that it would likely spill over into content regulation. That was so the last book.

Roger Ream [00:24:42] And that was under the guise of net neutrality, I think, as I recall, and that was killed in the Trump administration right?

Brian Anderson [00:24:51]  It’s sort of coming back now. There’s been a kind of and we’ve certainly seen this over the last several years, real push on the part of the left to assert its presence on what can be said online and what can’t be said. It takes different forms. The most recent and most alarming development has been the pressure that social media platforms received from. The Democratic Party to shut down conservative sites. There was pressure that the media companies, the social media companies actually seemed to welcome. They became enthusiastic censors during the last election cycle of what was in many cases legitimate, political opinion and was rarely something that you would want that kind of strong presence, it was it’s a real problem. I think one of the reasons there’s been so much outrage about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter because he’s pushed it back in a more free speech model, rather than what we were seeing during the last election cycle.

Roger Ream [00:26:19] I’d love to get your thoughts, Brian, on what we’ve seen in the past few months on campus, following the horrendous terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7th. There was suddenly, a wake up call, I guess, to a lot of people about what had transpired over a number of years on college campuses and the support for the letter at Harvard signed by 30 groups, blaming Israel for the violence there and the performance of the three college presidents from Penn, MIT and Harvard at a congressional hearing. I don’t know if that’s a subject you’ve written on at the City Journal. I think you have, but on the one hand, we obviously have always defended free speech on campus, and we want the campuses to be environment that allows free speech, but on the other hand, it seems like the administrations at many of these universities have just shirked any responsibility for being the adult in the room who’s trying to create safe environment for the search for truth and the traditional role of the university. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Brian Anderson [00:27:29] We have published a lot on this. Chris Rufo and others have been covering in Heather McDonald.

Roger Ream [00:27:34] That’s right.

Brian Anderson [00:27:35] Jacob Howland. Our view is that the public just has become aware of what has been going on in the university for some time and that the response to October 7th by certain student groups was really an outgrowth of the entire leftist environment of the campus, dominated by DEI and critical race theory. So, the universities has been terrible in terms of is supporting academic freedom. That was what was particularly galling by our account, with the clotting gay experience, and in Congress and the other university presidents, they have a terrible record at supporting academic freedom, and now they were claiming academic freedom in this context where you did have very aggressive, anti-Israel protests that sometimes spilled over into pro of Hamas protests, which was obviously extremely disturbing. So, there was an enormous amount of hypocrisy on the part of the college presidents, but that got them in trouble because I think most Americans don’t really pay attention to these academic controversies. And this was shining a spotlight on them. Now, whether that will lead to real academic reform or not, I don’t know. There’s been certainly a lot of pressure coming from donors who have been radicalized on this. Somebody like Bill Ackman is now recognizing that the real problem is DEI and the kind of racial identity politics that a lot of universities have, most universities have embraced. But, reform is not going to be easy because, the bureaucracies of administrators pursuing identity politics on college campuses are pretty entrenched and well-paid. But we’ll see. We’re going to keep the pressure up, and it’s encouraging also to see other models emerging, hopefully we can see more of that you would need, 50 of these places, but if there were a dozen, alternative universities that were serious, filled with good faculty. University of Chicago was a good example. I think they’ve stayed out of this and have been saner, as an elite university than Harvard or some of the other Ivy League schools. And they’re benefiting from it, from what I’ve heard, they’re getting a higher, very top caliber students who are looking in that direction.

Roger Ream [00:30:34] Yeah, there’s certainly opportunities for especially small colleges in this country that have had financial trouble. They don’t have the big endowments to adopt a new model that would attract students and parents. It can be like a Hillsdale model, it could be something different than that, but a model that is really committed to a liberal education,  and I, in fact, I had a donor of mine. He’s deceased now, but he served on the board of a small college in West Virginia, and he tried to persuade the board to support becoming another Hillsdale College and noted that there’s a market for that. And yet, he couldn’t convince them, and they just continue on the same path that they were on, which was not getting them anywhere.

Brian Anderson [00:31:25] It’s a real market breakdown, in a sense, because you do look at how successful Hillsdale spent under Larry are and they’re getting incredibly talented students coming in there. It’s not exactly the greatest location in the world outside of Michigan, but they’re outside of Detroit and it’s a kind of isolated campus, but students want to go. They’re really good students because they’re providing great lectures, a real sense of mission, serious engagement with the great books. So, you would like to see a dozen or 20 of these kind of institutions across the country.

Roger Ream [00:32:06] We’re coming up on our time here. I did want to ask you kind of what are you looking forward to 2024? What are some of the key issues you’ll be focused on at the City Journal?

Brian Anderson [00:32:19] One big problem we’re facing in New York right now and it has national implications, is the migrant crisis, which is overwhelming. The mayoralty of Eric Adams. It’s costing the city billions of dollars, and there seems to be no end in sight at the moment. I don’t want to get into the huge details of it, but the start of the problem is absence of border control, and what is even more troubling, what seems to be the active encouragement of illegal immigration in the country by the Biden administration? Certainly there’s no urgency to control the border there. So, I think that’s going to be a big issue we’re going to try to report on it, from the border, but also, focus on it in New York. We don’t write about politics narrowly, so we don’t endorse candidates. We try to comment on political trends. So, I think we’ll look at what’s happening in the election from that standpoint, try to figure out where the electorate is heading. What a second Trump presidency might look like from a policy standpoint.

Roger Ream [00:33:40] Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Brian, and thank you so much for accepting our Thomas Phillips Career Achievement Award last November. We were honored to give it to you. We wish you continued success in your career. I was hesitant to call it a career achievement award because we don’t want the recipient to think we view their career is over, and you’re mid-career now, so keep going.

Brian Anderson [00:34:04] All right. Well, thank you. It was it was a tremendous honor to receive the award. So, thank you, Roger. Thank everybody at The Fund.

Roger Ream [00:34:14] Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure to talk today. All the best.

Roger Ream [00:34:18] Thank you for listening to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. If you have a comment or question, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org, and be sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review! Liberty and leadership is produced at Podville Media. I’m your host, Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.

ABOUT THE PODCAST

TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.

Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.

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