The Essence of Being a Publisher

Meryl Streep’s performance as Katherine Graham in “The Post” is so exceptional because she brings to the screen the anxiety, thrill and stress that comes with holding the title of publisher. It was especially fitting to see such a portrayal as I’m still processing the loss of a publisher I knew and admired so much.

Diane Straus was the publisher of Washington Monthly; she recently passed away from cancer at the relatively young age of 66. I never had a boring conversation with Diane; every discussion was full of her vision and energy.

The Monthly is a unique publication with a strong perspective on the issues of the day. Subscribers bring a critical mind to each article they read and Diane more than kept up with them. The Monthly is known for its annual college guide and ranking, which examines institutions on what they are doing for the country and is an alternative to what others in the space already offer.

Diane found innovative ways to harness the power of nonprofit foundations to support the guide and other journalism projects, such as coverage of mental health issues. This is coverage mainstream journalism and even blogs aren’t covering.

Yet even as Diane searched for new support from foundations, she always held to the belief that writing a check didn’t constitute control of the reporting.

In some ways, Diane walked a more difficult line than traditional publishers. It’s somewhat easy to tell a corrupt advertiser that his money won’t buy good coverage. It’s harder to say to a program officer at a foundation whose mission you personally support that the journalism needs to guide the coverage. This is the fine line that Diane walked with grace and ease.

There were many other parts of Diane’s life that I only learned about in her obituary. When you see “The Post,” keep good publishers like Diane in mind. You will never read their bylines. You will probably never know their names. But they are essential to the search for truth that is more important than ever.