New Republic owner Chris Hughes is under attack from the journalism community for killing, executing and – fill in your own deadly verb – the 100-year-old magazine.
In several media pieces, journalists have excoriated Hughes on the heels of close to 50 of the magazine’s staffers resigning last week in protest of the resignations of editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier. They accuse Hughes of trying to turn the venerated journalistic institution into a Buzzfeed.
“Chris laid out a false choice between a profit-making business and complete philanthropy,” Paul Berman, who penned his first piece for the New Republic in 1975, told TheWrap. Berman started as a freelance contributor then became a contributing editor. When Hughes bought the magazine of political commentary in 2012, he was made a senior editor.
In August, Berman was demoted from senior editor to contributing editor.
“He put, in effect, a word limit, on me and other writers, and that affected me, because my contributions in the past had been very long essays for the back of the book [up to 28,000 words in some stories] on stories like the foreign minister of Germany, the Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan; my speciality at the magazine was to produce now and then pieces of extraordinary length on some difficult and complicated topics.”
But Hughes had no interest in this type of journalism, Berman said: “I was informed I was no longer invited to write those pieces; the last one I wrote of substantial length was an essay on the Salman Rushdie affair which I think was 11,000 words and ran toward the beginning of Chris’ tenure.”
“He was not interested in the kinds of pieces I had done in the past — which were very intricate and pieces at great depth,” Berman added. “I think he was looking for popular success; obviously you’re not going to achieve popular success by publishing very long pieces on difficult topics.”
That popular success became difficult to achieve when Hughes’ vision quickly came at odds with many of the journalists at the New Republic, some shown below.
Berman calls bull-pucky on Hughes’ statement that “former editors and writers who claim in an open letter that the New Republic should not be a business.”
“That’s completely false: everybody understands that it’s a business and has to be sustained in some way. Chris laid out a false choice between a profit-making business and complete philanthropy. In fact, there are a whole range of ways the magazine can sustain itself; New York Review has its way, The Nation Magazine has its way, Harper Magazine has its way, and The New Yorker has yet another way. What everyone hopes from Chris was that he was going to use his high-tech skills and vast wealth to find some new fashion of achieving sustainability for The New Republic.”
“But it became clear that his instinct for doing this was a conventional pandering for commercial success, which is not what any of the magazines I just mentioned have done.”
Another former editor, assistant editor James Kirchick told TheWrap Hughes, 28 when he bought the magazine, had to head to the library to figure out what hell it was.
“People who really love the New Republic, know what it’s about, and why it’s special, and value it — we don’t need to go to the fucking New York Public Library to pull the archive off the shelf and educate ourselves about the importance of the magazine. He did. That was very telling to me.”
Kirchick, who started as a researcher for former owner Martin Peretz before Hughes bought the magazine, was abruptly removed from the masthead in 2013 along with fellow contributing editors like Charles Krauthammer, Eli Lake, and Lawrence Kaplan.
“The only ‘tradition’ Chris Hughes seems to care about is that of the Harvard housing lottery, which put him in the position to act out his insecurities by demolishing a once-great magazine,” Kirchick told TheWrap.
Will the magazine survive with him as its owner?
“The name of the New Republic will survive, it’s a good name. But the institution that we’ve all come to know, love, become frustrated by, detest, however you feel about it, has been killed.”
In a Washington Post op-ed written Monday, Hughes defended himself against the chorus of editors who claim he can give a hoot about the magazine’s tradition.
I didn’t buy the New Republic to be the conservator of a small print magazine whose long-term influence and survival were at risk. I came to protect the future of the New Republic by creating a sustainable business so that our journalism, values and voice — the things that make us singular — could survive.
I’ve never bought into the Silicon Valley outlook that technological progress is pre-ordained or good for everyone. I don’t share the unbridled, Panglossian optimism and casual disdain for established institutions and tradition of many technologists. New technologies and start-ups excite and animate me, but they don’t always make our lives or institutions better. That’s one of the many reasons why I bought the New Republic — to preserve and invest in an important institution in a time of great technological change. Its voice and values have been important for a century, and technology should be used not to transform it but to develop and amplify its influence.
The same day, former New Republic editor and current Washington Post opinion columnist Dana Milbank responded: “The New Republic is dead, thanks to its owner, Chris Hughes”
At a 40th-birthday party in July for Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic, the magazine’s young owner, Chris Hughes, got all choked up as he pledged to the roomful of writers at Foer’s country home in Pennsylvania that the two would be “intellectual partners for decades.”
But the moist-eyed Hughes would, in the coming months, prove himself to be neither an intellectual nor a partner but a dilettante and a fraud.
When he bought the magazine in 2012 at the age of 28, the Facebook co-founder pledged to “double down” on “in-depth, rigorous reporting,” telling NPR that “the demand for long-form, quality journalism is strong in our country.”
But after just two years, Hughes decided that saving long-form journalism was just too hard. He declared that the 100-year-old journal of opinion would become a technology company, and he brought in a new CEO who literally proposed that writers team up with engineers to make “widgets” for TNR’s Web site.
“All the claims are completely false,” The New Republic told TheWrap.