An open letter to Eric Weider, CEO Weider History Group

Dear Mr. Weider:

If you have had time to read the Letters section of the current issue of Military History magazine, you'll have had a preview of what this letter is about.

Your key editorial team, Stephen Petranek, David Grogan, and Roger Vance, have set a diretion that is bearing its first fruits in Military History. The readers are not happy. Complaints spoken about your magazines have been filling my ears for months and these match closely the comments in the letters section.

Now we have the resignation of Chris Lewis from Civil War Times Illustrated explicitly on grounds of differences with new editorial directions (presumably set by your team of Petranek, Grogan, and Vance).

Military history and Civil War history offer a limited potential audience of different views and backgrounds. You cannot adopt a polemical tone in your articles - Democrat versus Republican, Congress versus the Presidency - without reducing that audience. The tone your men have set for Military History will collapse the circulation and ad rolls of CWTI and America's Civil War in no time if adopted there.

I don't write you out of concern for your company's profitability, obviously, but because there is a great need for good military and Civil War history periodicals and you are in a position to deliver on that. The direction to follow should be towards a more concentrated editorial focus on military history and articles researched and written really well.

Relying on freelancers for articles has long put your magazines at a quality disadvantage; it is better to hire a small but reliable staff who can produce to a standard you set and deliver that consistently. Booking articles from name authors to supplement freelance work is also very dangerous, for unless those authors are closely supervised, they will hand you their bottom drawer leftovers (see especially Geoff Norman's piece on "surrender monkeys" in the current Military History and William Marvel's article on "McClellan apologists" in the current America's Civil War).

My point is that given the way your military magazines have been organized and run up until now, they start with a bias against success in lacking sufficient controls over quality and tone. This is not your problem especially, it's endemic. But this is the point at which any reforms should start. Let quality be the differentiator. Instead, your editorial board is tampering with the one factor for success that has remained under control - focus.

You current issue of Military History is a case study in loss of focus: six feature articles, two of them entirely political or legal, one of them pictorial with no military content. These are supplemented with shorter pieces, one of them a Q&A with the incoming director of a presidential library. Curiously there were two news items about a politician and a celebrity retracting statements made about Nazis, as if Nazis = military history. Yet, the number of true military history related news items coming over the wires in a month would easily swamp your news section.

In addition to the loss of focus, there is throughout the current issue of Military History a leavening of cheap shots and political posturing within articles and shorter items, as if it were important that we readers understand exactly where and how passionately your authors stand on contemporary events. There is no way such comments could survive editing without approval. The reader is entitled to wonder therefore where the editors' real interests lie; whether they are using this audience as a steppingstone; whether the editors here are generic magazine professionals passing through.

If the editors are not "one of us" then we readers will be on our way. In other words, we want magazines to love and you are giving us magazines that make us wonder if the editors share our interests at all.

If you absolutely must test the appeal of social history, economic history, and political punditry among a military history readership, first solicit really good articles then run them in an annual supplement or special issue the way the Atlantic runs fiction. You'll get immediate, actionable data, Mr. Weider, hard sales data, with no harm done to the subscriber base.

On this current course, you're killing your magazines incrementally.

With every best wish for the future,
Dimitri Rotov