When James Weinstein moved to Chicago in 1976, he set out to create a fiercely independent journal that would inform, educate and critically analyze an emerging popular movement on the American left. It was a time, he wrote, when “Americans were beginning to lose faith, not just in a particular politician or administration, but in the existing system.”
Jimmy believed that any political movement – of the left, right or center – must have its own press to inform, critique and give it direction. He modeled In These Times on the Appeal to Reason, a socialist weekly that reached more than 750,000 subscribers at its peak around 1912. The new paper resembled the Appeal – in its Midwestern sensibilities and populist tone, in its orientation toward the labor movement and electoral politics, in its commitment to avoid sectarianism and foster open debate.
In These Times was founded at a moment of great optimism for the left – and the new staff reasoned the newspaper would prosper alongside a growing movement. In reality, of course, they were standing on a precipice. As the left foundered and the “New Right” flourished, In These Times often struggled to stay afloat. Thankfully, Jimmy remained a “pathological optimist” (especially when it came to budget projections).
I arrived at the magazine straight out of college two decades after its launch. Jimmy would regularly perch himself in my office or buy me lunch at the Red Apple, the all-you-can-eat Polish restaurant up the street, dispensing nuggets of wisdom and sage advice: what I should be reading, where I should be eating, why we needed to do another story on the Pope. He urged me to revisit the early issues of the newspaper. Eventually, I read them all.
When I asked him to share what he’d learned for a book on the first 25 years of the magazine, he quipped: “Not much.” But then he reconsidered: “As small as In These Times is in the world of American media,” he wrote, “it has played a vital role in keeping honest journalism alive and giving talented progressive journalists a place to do what they want to do most – to write about important things without ideological restrictions.”
In These Times persevered because it always committed its limited resources to honest (but never objective) journalism that challenged the conventional wisdom and refused to follow any party’s line. Being a bit of a pathological optimist myself, I hope In These Times will carry on Jimmy’s vision for a magazine – and a movement – dedicated to “liberty and justice for all.”
But it won’t be the same without him.