James Weinstein, founder and publisher of the independent progressive publication In These Times magazine, got his start editing the scholarly journal Studies on the Left in the early 1960s. The author and historian later moved to San Francisco, where he published the journal Socialist Revolution, later renamed Socialist Review.
Weinstein moved to Chicago in the mid-1970s and with other journalists launched In These Times in 1976 to report on movements on the American Left. As expressed in his editorials, Weinstein rejected sectarian politics and advocated that progressive groups work for economic justice, corporate accountability and human rights within the Democratic party. Over the past 47 years, In These Times has operated on revenue received from reader subscriptions and contributions from progressive activists across the U.S. The magazine’s list of founding sponsors included Julian Bond, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg and Michael Harrington.
In These Times, which remains a home for practical, broad-based progressive politics, just hired a new executive director, Alex Han, a veteran union organizer who served as the Midwest political director with Bernie Sander’s 2020 presidential campaign. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Han about the vision he brings to In These Times and the current and future opportunities and challenges he sees for U.S. progressive media outlets.
ALEX HAN: I think one of the challenges we really have in the labor movement, in movements for social and economic justice is a problem of not having a progressive media that’s big enough to really be able to communicate to people what’s happening on the ground. I spent a lot of time in Chicago mostly, but in different places around the country as well to sell what I think of this movement politics. Really thinking about how labor unions, community organizations, social movements can work together to develop politics that actually advances those fights for justice.
SCOTT HARRIS: Alex, I wanted you to maybe just talk a little bit about the challenges and opportunities you see not only for In These Times, but progressive media in general. Given that, I think it’s only fair to say there is a crisis in U.S. journalism today with hundreds of local and some national news outlets having gone out of business. There are extreme challenges with the old advertising revenue model — doesn’t work much anymore in the age of the Internet and you have all these hedge funds buying big newspapers and then looting them, basically.
A lot of challenges out there, but I’m sure you see some opportunities as well when our our politics is so chaotic at this moment with a Republican Party that has been taken over in large part by fascist thinking.
ALEX HAN: We have every couple of years corporate media tries to reinvent itself. They pivot to video. They focus on audio. There’s, you know, rounds of layoffs and consolidations, really every three to five years. And we’ve seen that really shrink. Things that used to be really public kind of town hall. I don’t want to be kind of think of any real golden age of American media.
We’re just in a different place and position. But right now, corporate media is in a really weak position. And I think that we have to think about it on the left, on the progressive left, as a real opportunity not to create media that can simply sharpen our points of view, but to have media and progressive media that can actually start to take the place of that corporate mainstream media.
I think that means thinking really creatively about new ways of communicating, thinking about kind of social media, the different ways that people are accessing news and information and really taking advantage of a hole that’s being left there by corporate media. We can see the right taking advantage of these opportunities. We have a different project than the right-wing does.
We’re actually trying to create something and create democracy. So it’s a little bit more challenging as our politics gets kind of stranger and stranger. We continue to see, you know, majorities of people supporting the kind of issue agenda supporting universal health care, supporting housing rights, supporting worker rights and union at a higher rate than they have in decades.
And so I think it’s incumbent on us to figure out how do we fill some of that hole that’s been left by corporate media consolidation.
SCOTT HARRIS: Alex, I wondered if you thought labor big labor unions with some funding available should play a more important role in progressive media and really amplifying workers points of view on a whole host of issues that are not represented today by and large, in our corporate media?
ALEX HAN: Yeah, I do think there’s a rich history in the labor movement of supporting independent media that advances worker issues. So I think that there’s a role for labor to play. I think it’s also important to remember that even with the uptick of labor organizing over the last few years, unions are still continuing to be challenged in how they grow.
And unions still today represent something like 11 percent of the American workforce. I actually think that we can see some real possibilities in the way over the last few years. Political fundraising, in a lot of ways, political spending has evened out more broadly between Democrat and Republican candidates. We’ve seen campaigns like Bernie Sanders’ two campaigns, for instance, that have raised enormous amounts of resources, really dependent on very small donations from a giant amount of people.
I’m not saying that that is something that’s directly replicable. But I do think that we can think of models of funding media that’s going to be independent. We’ll never be in a position — you know, the right-wing has it easy if you have 10 billionaires and their primary goal is to expand that their own wealth and protect their own wealth.
That’s a much simpler project than the task of millions of people trying to build a real representative democracy. But we have to figure out how we engage those millions of people in supporting media in the ways that they can.
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