A.G. Sulzberger became the publisher of The New York Times this month, as I became the publisher of Public Seminar. I find this coincidence pretty funny, though perhaps you have to be me to get the joke.
The Times is a great institution, though ultimately just a family business. “A.G.” is the fifth generation of his family to lead the paper, after Adolph S. Ochs, who bought the paper in a bankruptcy sale in 1896.
I started publishing Public Seminar, consulting with a group of New School colleagues, as an extension of my own blog Deliberately Considered in 2013. PS was at first a small mom and pop operation. The editorial office was my home study, where I solicited and edited all the posts, and wrote quite a few on my own. My wife, Naomi, in her home studio across the hall, designed the site, prepared the posts and kept the flow going. Some of my students provided key assistance: Aron Hsiao, Zeyno Ustun and Zachary Sunderman were the first cohort of an editorial staff that has now grown to thirteen. We published three or four pieces a week, working to fulfill our mission: “Confronting fundamental problems of the human condition and pressing problems of the day, using the broad resources of social research, we seek to provoke critical and informed discussion by any means necessary…”
We were a tiny operation, and compared to The New York Times, we still are, but five years later, our goals remain ambitious, if not grandiose. We don’t claim to publish “all the news that’s fit to print,” after all. A.G.’s challenge for the New Year is to keep The New York Times preeminent in the new media environment, maintaining its standing in a hostile political world. I wish him the best. My challenge is to create a new kind of intellectual platform that addresses a broader public, drawing upon the disciplined inquiry and creative practices of the academic world.
Public Seminar has come a long way. It now is very much a team effort. Naomi has stepped aside from the project, and I have worked to make myself less indispensible. This year we have made great progress.
The day to day operations are primarily led and coordinated by my primary co-conspirator, Executive Editor Claire Potter, (aka “The Tenured Radical”), working with our creative managing editor, Dara Levendosky. Dara, Claire and I make up the inner circle.
We have a group of extremely talented and dedicated editors working with us, all graduate students drawn from New School for Social Research: Lucas Ballestin, Patrick Gilger, Christopher Paul Harris, Bettine Jostie, Colin Laidley, Joshua Maserow, Maryam Omidi Ali Shames-Dawson and Zachary V. Sunderman. They have developed an impressive set of skills and capacities, including basic copyediting, but they do much more. They review submitted pieces, and they work with authors, who frequently have little or no experience in addressing non-technical readers. They play a primary role in maintaining the special tone of our project. They are developing our special book section, including arranging for the excerpting of new and noteworthy books. Maryam and Chris Howard-Woods, a Eugene Lang College senior, are using social media so that we reach a broader audience, and they are developing the first of a series of Public Seminar Newsletters, enabling us to more directly reach out to our friends and colleagues. And all the editors are playing key roles in the creation of Public Seminar podcasts and Public Seminar Books.
The day to day still involves the publishing of posts (now instead of three or four a week, three are scheduled each day), but in a concerted way we are now developing sustained series on major topics (“Verticals”) led by our senior editors, with the support of the editors: Art and Design, Capitalism, Democracy, Fascism: Old and New, Past Present, Power and Crisis, Psyche, Race/isms, The Radical Imagination, and Sex/Gender.
These verticals now are the backbone of Public Seminar. With their very considerable expertise, Chiara Bottici, Judith Butler, Vince Carducci, Juliette Cezzar, Cynthia Greenlee, Jeffrey C. Isaac, Julia Ott, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Isaac Ariail Reed, Jeremy Safran, Rachel Sherman, Michael Weinman and Deva Woodly are engaged, providing intellectual and creative leadership. Others will be joining us in the near future. The vertical format is now being simplified.
We have published hundreds of posts this year addressing the very perplexing problems of the day. I am particularly proud of how we have responded to the escalating challenges of this very difficult year. We have managed to lend insightful critical perspective to the challenges of understanding and responding to Donald Trump and Trumpism. We have engaged in comparative analysis of the threats of neo-Fascism and authoritarianism, and debated the theoretical and political problems of illiberal democracy. Our coverage of the issues of race and racism have included extensive consideration of #BlackLivesMatter, as well as a sustained response to the tragic August events in Charlottesville, Virginia. We have also in the most recent weeks began publishing a series of posts critically responding to #MeToo movement. These pieces reflect the two sides of our stated mission, both responding to the pressing issues of the day, and to enduring problems of the human condition.
Many of the pieces on Charlottesville came from authors working and studying in that city. The quality of these contributions has inspired us to move forward in a new publishing direction. Public Seminar Books. Expect to see the first volume in January, #Charlottesville: Before and Beyond. There are other books on our drawing boards, including a series of chapters from Alex Alienikoff on the international refugee regime and a collection of Jeffrey C. Isaac’s writings, tentatively entitled Against Trumpism: Notes From Year 1. We also are now discussing the possibility of publishing a book on sexual harassment. We seek to develop innovative ways to publish these books, working with design and publishing professionals with deep experience, but who are also committed to address the problems of university book publishing today.
Public Seminar is now percolating with energy. Up to this year, we primarily drew upon the intellectual energy and legacy of my home division at The New School, The New School for Social Research, working to extend the public legacy of the University in Exile, our founding name in 1933. Now we are drawing upon more of the university’s resources. In the past and in the future, our practice is based at The New School, while our community of contributors includes our colleagues far beyond our university and around the globe.
In the coming year, we will redesign the site so that all our work is more clearly and attractively presented. We will reconceive what publishing information and analysis is in the 21st century: book publishing, essays and posts, but much more than that. We want to break through the divides in intellectual, creative and public life. And to do this, we will be working with a broad range of colleagues in the humanities, the social sciences, design and the arts. We started working on this in 2017 and hope that in 2018 this work will be further developed, showing exciting results.
This past year has been extraordinary: a tough year for the world at large and for me as a citizen, no doubt, but a pretty good one as I take on the official position of Publisher. Unlike A.G. Sulzberger, I didn’t aspire to such a status. It was Claire’s idea, as we have tried to distinguish what she and I do for Public Seminar, and name ourselves appropriately. My first response was to wonder if now, after all these years, I have to start going to work in a tie. In fact, my idea of what a publisher should look like comes from A.G.’s grandfather. Many years ago, I met him on the Sulzberger estate. The occasion was my wife’s Uncle Sidney’s wedding.
I was there because my father in law was not up to do the driving, so essentially I went as his chauffeur. A lower middle class kid, I was far from my natural environment. I met some of the journalist giants of those times. I remember quite warmly talking to Tom Wicker and Harrison Salisbury. “Punch” Sulzberger was friendly, elegant and charming, with aristocratic bearing. He talked to me in an informed way about Poland (Naomi and I had just returned from there). It was the time of Watergate. Obviously being Publisher of Public Seminar is not the same thing as being publisher of The New York Times.
Yet, I am still thrilled to be working with the Public Seminar crew, now as Publisher. On behalf of us all, I wish you a Happy New Year!
Jeffrey Goldfarb, the Michael E. Gellert Professor of Sociology at The New School for Social Research, is the Publisher and founder of Public Seminar.