Breaking news – I’m not conservative and I’m pretty wholesome
Reader’s Digest began in 1922 as a family magazine co-founded by Lila Bell Wallace and DeWitt Wallace. A wonderful compendium of humor, inspiration, information, and fun, it’s reached millions of people over the decades — farmers and ranchers, soldiers far from home and immigrants dreaming of a life in the States some day, “housewives” and boy scout leaders, and children growing up whose families value the lessons of patriotism and brotherhood. Everyone I knew in the 50s loved Life magazine for its photos and humorous back page and Reader’s Digest for its fun and galvanizing sense of America. It was sweet, simple, and not stupid. If you didn’t read it at home, you read it at the dentist’s or in the school library. It was for people who didn’t necessarily go to college or write a thesis on Sophocles. It was dependably about patriotism, not politics, and love of family, not family feud. It might have been mischievous, but it was never damning — an unabashedly happy place for grown-ups.
One of the most valuable assets of the company became its subscriber base. As the list grew into the millions, with reams of marketing information about its demos, the list became a marketer’s dream of a niche and was sold all over the world. It was one of the company’s most valuable assets. Still is. And that’s fine. Here’s my problem …
As new ownership figures out how to take Reader’s Digest forward, and retain and grow its wholesome subscriber base, it’s taken to seeing its readership not as who they are in full, but as who they are politically. When did patriotism and family and the dream of America become the province of the Conservatives? It may be streamlined to see “traditional” and “conservative” as the same thing. Problem is, they’re not the same thing. I know many liberals who are extremely traditional. I know many Conservatives who are not. And wholesome people don’t all go to church. Some go to other places of worship. Some have looked deeply and decided not to go to places of worship. Does this mean they’re not Reader’s Digest people, lovers of patriotism, of sweet and humorous looks at American life, even among members of the military?
In a sort of macaroni and cheese country club way, Reader’s Digest is about to become “restricted,” a gated community for conservative politics.
And already, somewhere along their journey from the center of the earth, the elitist word has started to find itself never far behind the “C” word in their vision for the magazine. It’s a dangerous thing. And Reader’s Digest should know better.
Here’s the NY Times on what’s going on over in that little corner of Chappaqua legally re-named Pleasantville by the lovely couple who also brought us the “liberal” Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Foundation — its founders:
After years of trying to broaden the appeal of Reader’s Digest, the publishers are pushing it in a decidedly conservative direction. It is cutting down on celebrity profiles and ramping up on inspiring spiritual stories. Out are generic how-to magazine features; in are articles about military life.
“It’s traditional, conservative values: I love my family, I love my community, I love my church,” said Mary Berner, the president and chief executive of Reader’s Digest Association.