Seems Chris Hughes broke his toy to the point where Frank Foer is out as editor at The New Republic and everyone else is jumping ship in protest. People are resigning by Twitter. It’s freaking AWESOME.
I expect the circumstances surrounding TNR’s transformation will be framed as a matter of modernity versus tradition. There is certainly an element of this. At the magazine’s 100th anniversary gala two weeks ago, where Hughes, Foer, Wieseltier, and Hughes’s new CEO, Guy Vidra, all spoke, the speeches took a sharply, awkwardly divergent tone. Foer and Weiseltier gave soaring paeans to the magazine’s immense role in shaping American liberal thought. Hughes and Vidra used words like brand and boasted about page views, giving no sense of appreciation at all for the magazine’s place in American life. In a comic moment, Vidra mispronounced Foer’s name. I happened to run into Wieseltier a few days after the gala, and when he asked me what I thought, I told him he and Foer won the debate.
But the conflict between Hughes and most of the staff of The New Republic is not about technology. Foer and the staff, with the exception of Wieseltier, are comfortable with modernity. They are joyous bloggers, and willingly submitted to the introduction of cringe-worthy Upworthy headlines to their stories and other compromises one must make with commercial needs.
The problem, rather, is that Hughes and Vidra are afflicted with the belief that they can copy the formula that transformed the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed into economic successes, which is probably wrong, and that this formula can be applied to The New Republic, which is certainly wrong.
Several weeks ago, Vidra communicated the new vision to the staff in what I am told was an uncomfortable stream of business clichés ungrounded in any apparent strategy other than saying things like “let’s break shit” and “we’re a tech company now.” His memo to the staff predictably uses terms like “straddle generation” and “brand.” It promises to make TNR “a vertically integrated digital media company,” possibly unaware that “vertically integrated” is an actual business concept, not a term for a media company that integrates verticals.
Hughes and Vidra have provided no reason at all for anybody to believe they have a plausible plan to modernize The New Republic. If they did, Frank Foer would still be editor. My only hope now is that one day this vital American institution can be rebuilt.
Me? The number of damns I give about TNR as a going concern at this point equals approximately the number of black voices writing for the magazine, which is to say zero, but YMMV. The thing survived two world wars, the Great Depression, Watergate, the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, New Coke, and 74,927 episodes of Law and Order, but couldn’t handle one Silicon Valley douchebag with a giant checkbook in possession of all the common sense of a chunk of asphalt. I guess it’s a little sad to see something like that implode but….
Also, anybody else notice that Techbros Turning Journalism Outlets Into Huge Piles Of Shit(tm) seems to be a recurring theme of 2014? There’s an awful lot of that going around.