December 5, 2014

The New Republic morphs from magazine to vertically integrated digital media company, and loses editors in the process


The New Republic is undergoing a major shift, as top editors leave and the venerable publication is reenvisioned as “as a vertically integrated digital media company.” Editor Franklin Foer, who returned to the publication 1n 2012, and literary editor (since 1983) Leon Wieseltier have resigned over conflicts with publisher and owner Chris Hughes (a co-founder of Facebook) and chief executive Guy Vidra.

Foer emailed magazine staffers on Thursday to break the news, explicity blaming divergent visions for the magazine.

I’ve always had a hard time imagining leaving here. That moment, however, has arrived. Chris and Guy have significant plans for this place. And their plans and my own vision for TNR meaningfully diverge. I’ve decided this is the right time for me to finish a book that is several years overdue and to work on a few other projects. I will miss everyone here immensely.

In his own memo to staff, printed in full at Poynter, Vidra (hired away from Yahoo News by Hughes) introduces the new editor-in-chief, Gabriel Synder. Snyder has worked at Gawker and Atlantic Wire and, most recently, Bloomberg.

As we move forward under Gabriel’s leadership, we are re-imagining The New Republic as a vertically integrated digital media company. Gabriel is ideally suited to bridge traditional journalism and digital media. He is committed – as am I – to The New Republic’s mission of impact, influence and persuasion, but understands that fulfilling that mission in today’s media landscape requires new forms. He truly reflects the “straddle generation” of journalists and editors who remain deeply rooted in the qualities of traditional journalism – having worked with brands such as the New York Observer and The Atlantic – but also understands what it takes to create content that will travel across all platforms. We believe he is the right person to help us to maintain the core DNA of The New Republic, while propelling us forward to the 21st century.

Vidra also announced major changes, in the form of a reduced print schedule and likely layoffs.

As we restructure The New Republic, we will be making significant investments in creating a more effective and efficient newsroom as well as improved products across all platforms. This will require a recalibration of our resources in order to deliver the best product possible. In order to do so, we’ve made the decision to reduce the frequency of our print publication from 20 to 10 issues a year and will be making improvements to the magazine itself.

Given the frequency reduction, we will also be making some changes to staff structure. This is not a decision we make lightly, but we believe this restructuring is critical to the long-term success of the company. We will be holding an all-hands meeting tomorrow to help answer any questions or concerns you may have.

The reception to the news has been a sort of mourning for the magazine’s influence (and for the end of an era that Wieseltier’s exit signifies), and anger at the new management.



At New York‘s Daily Intelligencer, Jonathan Chait was quick with “A Eulogy for The New Republic,” writing that “Frank Foer isn’t leaving TNR because he wasn’t a good enough editor. He’s leaving because Chris Hughes is not a good enough owner.”

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. 

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.

There is, of course, a backlash to the backlash, as not everyone has such fond memories of the publication. Gawker, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ twitter feed are good places to start to understand why.

(In other news, Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy also shut down. A rough day for print magazines.)

Update: There were apparently mass resignations at the magazine as of this morning.

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.