Nathan J. Robinson
2021 10 01
Dear members of the Current Affairs reader community,
Today Current Affairs is resuming publication after a month-long hiatus. We are releasing new episodes on our podcastâs Patreon feed (first up: longtime CA writer and editor-at-large Yasmin Nair talks about her article âWhere The Gay Things Areâ and the present and future of Current Affairs). We are accepting new submissions and will shortly resume posting articles online. We are, unfortunately, somewhat delayed on our print edition, and instead of publishing a September-October edition, we will be skipping straight to the November-December edition. All subscribers will have their subscriptions extended so that they still receive the same number of issues. We ask that readers bear with us, replies to emails are taking somewhat longer than usual. (Our New Orleans office had to be evacuated for several weeks because of Hurricane Ida, which has set us back especially on replying to physical mail.) All renewal/address change/cancellation/resending requests are being processed. Current Affairs is moving forward and we will continue to bring you a magazine of superb quality, full of trenchant analysis and colorful charm.
I want to briefly explain what happened, what weâre doing going forward, and what you can expect from us now. There has been a lot of speculation about the recent internal conflict at Current Affairs and it is important to get some basic facts clear, so that readers can feel assured that Current Affairs is an organization that is worthy of its support. For some time, Current Affairs had been mired in internal dysfunction and tension, of the kind experienced by many young organizations without clear structure. In early August, in what I admit was a moment of frustration, I asked several staff members to resign or take different positions within the organization. The staff members declined to resign (I lack the power to fire anyone, which requires a process), and indicated that to consider resigning, they would like to receive a larger severance package than the two monthsâ salary I had originally offered them. I supported this request, and asked the Current Affairs governing board to approve as large of a severance package as the company could afford. The board ascertained whether the staff members would like to make an arrangement to stay at Current Affairs or leave with severance. All indicated they would prefer to leave. The board then approved a severance arrangement that would pay all departing employees and contractors the equivalent of their salaries from early August, when work stopped, through the end of the year (nearly 5 months worth). The total severance paid to the three departing staff and three part-time contractors was more than $74,000. (Nobody was asked to sign any kind of non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreement in return for receiving their sum.) This is not a small amount for a magazine like ours, and creates a significant fiscal challenge for the magazine going forward. But it is important for Current Affairs to be an organization that does right by those it has wronged, and my attempt at internally reorganizing our magazine was a failure that left people within the organization feeling justifiably angry.Â
I do not want to enter into excessive details of the conflict that led me to take the actions I did, except to note that it was a combination of dissatisfaction with the performance of the organization, a sense that several people were not right for their roles, and a dispute over control of the editorial direction of the magazine (specifically the relative decision-making power of business/admin staff versus editorial staff). It did not have to do with working conditions, labor rights, or unionization. I would never oppose an attempt to unionize Current Affairs (there had not been one), and we have a record I am proud of when it comes to working conditions: all full-time staff including myself are paid the same (currently $45k/annually), a request for time off has never been declined, and people set their own hours. Staff are not paid enough, and they work too hard, but nobody is profiting off this project. We are a small organization that depends entirely on subscription revenue and small donations to survive. We have tried our best to make sure that, given our limited resources, people are paid as much as possible and given as much time off as they need.
Readers have a right to expect that, as a leftist magazine, Current Affairs will act in conformance with its values and treat workers well. I want to guarantee readers that we will always be endeavoring to improve on this. We will continue to do the following:
- Equal pay for all
- Guaranteed health benefits and generous leave policies
- No termination without a fair process and severance payments
We will also be doing the following:
- We will be converting to 501c3 status, to ensure that profit-seeking will never be part of our organization
- We are consulting with labor organizers and other leftist institutions to ascertain and implement best practices
- Actively encouraging staff to consider unionizing
We will ensure that Current Affairs is always a good place to work, one where people are well-treated and paid as much as possible. I cannot undo the poor judgments I made but I can ensure that Current Affairs henceforth acts consistently with the principles readers rightly expect us to uphold.
I made some terrible mistakes in running Current Affairs. What I can promise readers is that these mistakes did not come out of a capitalistic desire to enrich myself, but inexperience and ineptitude. I will do better going forward. I regret that I damaged relationships with wonderful and talented members of the Current Affairs staff. I hope that those who are departing go on to bigger and better things. Their contributions over the years have made this magazine superb.
Our publication is small, and keeping a leftist media organization afloat is no easy task. We have been fortunate over the years to have a community of wonderful supportive readers and podcast listeners who have allowed us to be entirely reader-supported. This means that we have no corporate owners, no advertisers, no investors. We do not seek (and do not make) a profit. We survive entirely because of your subscriptions and donations. To continue our work, we will need readers to continue to have faith in us, so that we have the resources to put out a great magazine. The money we take in does not line the pockets of owners, but goes toward paying for the writing, editing, artwork, and production. We hope you will consider supporting us as we continue onward.
Thank you for bearing with us. I am confident that we will continue to bring you a publication that you can be proud to read and support. I believe that our magazine has important work to do in the world, and while I cannot promise that I will make no future mistakes in running Current Affairs, I can assure you that I take seriously the challenge of building an independent media organization that operates ethically and models what an alternative to corporate media should look like.
Nathan J. Robinson
Editor in Chief