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The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine critical of Trump, to shutter after 23 years

The Weekly Standard, the magazine that espouses traditional conservatism and which has remained deeply criti...

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 8:27 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 8:27 PM

The Weekly Standard, the magazine that espouses traditional conservatism and which has remained deeply critical of President Donald Trump, will shutter after 23 years, its owner Clarity Media Group announced Friday morning. The magazine will publish its final issue on December 17.

The announcement came after the magazine's editor-in-chief, Stephen Hayes, met privately with Ryan McKibben, the chief executive and chairman of Clarity Media Group, a media holding company owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz.

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"For more than twenty years The Weekly Standard has provided a valued and important perspective on political, literary and cultural issues of the day," McKibben said in a press release. "The magazine has been home to some of the industry's most dedicated and talented staff and I thank them for their hard work and contributions, not just to the publication, but the field of journalism."

Employees were told at an all staff meeting, which CNN obtained an audio recording of, that they would be paid through the end of the year, and that afterward they would receive severance which would range in scale depending on factors like seniority. To receive severance, however, employees would need to sign a strict non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement.

"I know it's an emotional day, but I want to tell you don't get on social media and attack anybody because it will put your severance in jeopardy," McKibben told employees in the meeting.

Employees were also told to clear out their desks by the end of the day. People familiar with the matter said that the email addresses of employees were already in the process of being shut off.

When employees raised questions during Friday's meeting, McKibben told them, "I'm not going to take questions. This isn't a press conference."

The closing of the magazine represents a broader shift in conservative media. Outlets on the right that are critical of Trump have lost influence or changed their tone, while media organizations on the right supportive of the President have flourished.

McKibben, in his statement, blamed The Weekly Standard's demise on the challenges within the journalism industry, not the magazine's politics. He said the magazine had over the past several years seen "double-digit declines in its subscriber base" and that "after careful consideration" it "became clear that this was the step we needed to take."

In a statement posted to Twitter, Hayes said he was "profoundly disappointed in the decision to close The Weekly Standard," writing that its "unapologetically conservative" voice was "needed now more than at anytime in our previous 23 years."

Earlier, in a note sent to staff Friday morning, Hayes referenced the difficulty conservative news organizations critical of Trump have had in recent years.

"This is a volatile time in American journalism and politics," Hayes wrote. "Many media outlets have responded to the challenges of the moment by prioritizing affirmation over information, giving into the pull of polarization and the lure of clickbait."

Hayes said it was a "profound honor" to work with The Weekly Standard's staff, and added, "I'm proud that we've remained both conservative and independent, providing substantive reporting and analysis based on facts, logic and reason."

Bill Kristol, a co-founder of the magazine who continued to serve as an editor-at-large, expressed in a tweet his gratitude toward readers and admiration for his colleagues.

For months, The Weekly Standard's leadership had butted heads with MediaDC, the publisher of the magazine which is owned by Clarity Media Group. The two parties had previously agreed to allow Hayes to search for a new owner, people familiar with the matter told CNN earlier this month. Hayes conducted a search, according to those people, but MediaDC recently informed The Weekly Standard that it was no longer interested in selling.

Meanwhile, MediaDC poured resources into expanding the magazine belonging to one of its other properties, The Washington Examiner. The publisher announced last week that The Washington Examiner magazine would grow into a weekly publication. The Washington Examiner is less critical of Trump than The Weekly Standard.

Staffers at The Weekly Standard have suspected MediaDC declined to sell the magazine because the company wanted to retain access to its subscribers and use them to help launch The Washington Examiner magazine. McKibben told staffers in Friday's meeting that such speculation was incorrect, but that the publisher's legal obligation to subscribers would be fulfilled by the new Washington Examiner magazine.

The Weekly Standard was founded in 1995 by Kristol, Fred Barnes, and John Podhoretz. It was initially published by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation before being sold to Clarity Media Group in 2009. During the presidency of George W. Bush, it was widely considered to be aligned with the administration and with neoconservatism broadly.

Under Hayes' leadership, The Weekly Standard has remained steadfast in its criticism of Trump. Trump's supporters have lashed out at The Weekly Standard and its influence in Republican circles has dwindled.

But while The Weekly Standard's influence in Republican politics has declined, its web traffic has increased, people familiar with the data said.

The magazine has also earned praise for some of its recent work. In November, for instance, the magazine published audio of Republican Congressman Steve King telling attendees at a campaign event in Iowa that "there's plenty of dirt" coming from Mexico, apparently referring to Mexicans themselves.

A spokesperson for Clarity Media Group told CNN that "at this time" the magazine's archives will remain online.

"Clarity will determine the long-term future of the website as they work through additional details of the closure," the spokesperson said.

During Friday's meeting, however, McKibben said that "at some point" the website is "going to come down."

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