Gabriel Snyder joined The New Republic last December in the midst of a firestorm, replacing long-time editor Franklin Foer’s whose ouster touched off a domino effect of departures by dozens of staffers. But the former Atlantic Wire and Gawker editor remains resolute as he filled his masthead with new hires and oversaw the February switch to monthly print publication after eight years as a biweekly.
“We’ve really been focused on doing the work with the team that we have,” Snyder told TheWrap in a wide-ranging interview about the magazine’s new redesigned print edition, which saw it lose the “The” in its name and create a less cluttered look.
He also goes into detail about the ongoing makeover of the century-old publication as it steps up its digital presence under owner and Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes.
What’s been the biggest change at TNR the last few months?
The biggest one was that we’ve had a frequency change; we’ve gone from a biweekly to a monthly. And we needed to rethink the magazine to be better suited to that kind of publication.
You came in while a mass staff exodus was underway. Any regrets concerning how that went down?
We’ve really been focused on doing the work with the team that we have. We’ve brought on over a dozen new people since I joined and it’s a really talented bunch who’s been doing great work. The rest of it is more for people like you to mull over.
Your new hires come from TV news and other digital sites. Is the thought process to get people already adept at short-form, traffic-driving content?
The big change going on at TNR and other organizations is media organizations need to be adept at doing many things well; new formats and styles that exist and new ones coming down the pike we haven’t even heard of yet. One of the guiding principles I’ve had in hiring people is looking for people who have a multitude of talents [Snyder offered the example of former MSNBC producer Jamil Smith, now a senior editor]. It helps a lot to have someone who can bring experience of what it takes to produce a TV show like he did at MSNBC. As we do new things, it’s good to have people with a broad swath of talents.
As your website changes, how does TNR balance click-bait journalism with long-form, 2,000-word pieces.
We’re really happy with this redesign, we’re committed to continuing to produce a print edition. This redesign was really aimed at creating a more reader friendly issue, something that brought in room for the layout to breathe. We picked pieces that are very readable. It’s really the first step of a lot of different efforts. TNR.com will be redesigned later this year.
It’s really important to recognize that things are different. A daily blog post or some sort of breathy bit of commentary is not a long-form investigation. It doesn’t mean you can’t do both, but I think you always need to know which you’re doing [he cites the current print cover story about Christian militias battling ISIS as an example of the latter]. We wanted to give it a presentation online that matched the level of effort that went into it. We want to make sure the people understand that distinction in the way we present it.
Our premise is know what you’re doing while you’re doing it; the real danger of blurring lines is when magazines try to create web content that’s print magazine stories done quickly. That really doesn’t serve anyone.
But with such an ingrained reputation at TNR, can you really do both?
I don’t really think it’s a tug of war. I don’t believe in people who solely follow American politics by reading monthly magazines. In between these great issues arriving in people’s homes, there’s all sorts of other discussions happening online, on websites and social media. I think it’s a real mistake to assume that newer and quicker formats must also be devoid of ideas.
It’s not just my idea, it’s really the founding idea of TNR [he quotes the first line of founding editor Herbert Croly’s original statement of purpose]. He was looking at the creation of a national medium that was taking shape in the early 20th century, of allowing people to transmit ideas to this large national audience, but on the other hand was giving birth to what we now call yellow journalism or tabloid journalism. His experiment was TNR can be both: it can both speak to a larger audience and maintain the rigor and intellectualism that he valued. While the new forms of media are very different and on larger scale than the magazines and newspapers of the early 20th century, it’s the same tension.
What do you think of your competition in new media now aligning with legacy media, such as BuzzFeed/Vox with NBCUniversal? Does TNR have visions of doing the same?
These are things we discuss, but it’s fairly down the line. Right now we have a pretty profound transformation of this organization from being a print-centered publication to one that is oriented more to digital media. That’s probably going to occupy most of our short-term future, but I don’t think there’s lack of ambition to experiment with some new formats down the line.
For the record: An editor on this story misidentified one of Jamil Smith’s former jobs in a previous version of this post. TheWrap regrets the errror.