The New Republic's Chris Hughes in 2013: "We are not the next big trend in Silicon Valley."
The New Republic published its first issue one hundred years ago last month -- but it only took 24 hours for the magazine to be completely gutted.
Yesterday, owner Chris Hughes and new CEO Guy Vidra announced a revamp of the New Republic brand, saying the magazine must get with the times and morph into a "digital media company." That meant relocating from Washington, DC to Manhattan, and firing top editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier, who'd been writing for the magazine for about as long as Hughes has been alive.
Now, thirteen editors and another fifteen contributing editors have tendered their resignation -- that includes basically everybody who's anybody on staff, including Jonathan Cohn, Julia Ioffe, and Noam Scheiber.
“People have been crying all afternoon,” Ioffe told the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove.
According to Grove's reporting, things have been tense between Hughes and his staff for months, with the 31-year-old owner coming to view his editorial talent as "spoiled brats." When Guy Vidra, who came over from that bastion of journalism Yahoo News, was added as CEO in October, things reportedly got even worse.
"Vidra spoke in what one witness described as 'Silicon Valley jargon,'" Grove writes, "and, using a tech cliché, declared: 'We’re going to break shit.'" (I can only imagine the looks on these East Coast intellectuals' faces upon having their virgin ears subjected to the scourge of startup-speak. Sorry, but all of us in media have to get used to it). One former staffer said the magazine was turning into "another Buzzfeed."
Hughes, a Facebook cofounder and Obama campaign staffer, always had one foot in Silicon Valley and the other in old world politics. If these reports are to be believed, Silicon Valley won that internal battle.
And yet, just a little over a year ago, Hughes sang a very different tune at our PandoMonthly event in New York, telling Pando's Sarah Lacy, "We are not the next big trend in Silicon Valley," and even explicitly drawing a contrast between the New Republic's business model and Buzzfeed's.
"I don’t think the New Republic is going to be an insanely profitable company," Hughes said. "I do expect us to be a sustainable, if not profitable enterprise. That’s a really big difference in scale I think. You know, you look at a Buzzfeed and the expectations of an investor there are the same as a venture capitalist investor. They’re looking for a major IPO or an acquisition... The New Republic will not be having an IPO any time soon."
Leaving aside a moment the extreme unlikelihood that the New Republic is financially healthy enough to go public, these comments seem to run directly counter to Vidra's assertion to staff that “we’re a tech company now.” So does Hughes' 2013 pledge that, "We need to be a sustainable media company that does quality journalism about politics, culture, and society."
Maybe TNR can still do that. New top editor Gabriel Snyder, while cut from a different cloth than Foer, is a great hire, having cut his teeth at organizations like the Atlantic and Bloomberg, both of which were able to do good journalism and be digitally-forward thinking at the same time. But there's little question that over the past 15 months, Hughes has undergone a significant shift in his approach toward the magazine.
Or: How a Magazine Editor Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Buzzfeed.Watch Chris Hughes' comments in full below: