December 5, 2014 Last Updated 5:29 pm

The week ends badly for a couple of big name, legacy magazines

The New Republic sees much of its editorial staff resign, while Rolling Stone is forced to walk back a high profile story on rape at a University of Virginia fraternity

This was not a good week for The New Republic and Rolling Stone as one magazine saw much of its editorial staff walk, while the other had to walk back a major story.
Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree this morning as word came out that editor Franklin Foer had been dumped, as well as literary editor Leon Wieseltier – resulting in a wave of resignations.

TNR-cover-100Owner Chris Hughes, who is always identified as “30 and a co-founder of Facebook” – as if both were somehow all one needs to know about him – has made it clear that he wanted major changes. Hughes brought in former Yahoo News executive Guy Vidra, who has zero magazine experience, but the kind of digital experience Hughes found attractive. Vidra spent two years at as general manager of Yahoo! News, and his LinkedIn profiles states he earned a Master of Arts from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University. In the end, though, it was a lack of diplomacy that undid TNR. (Management decided to bring in former Atlantic Wire editor Gabriel Snyder, without first telling Foer he was being replaced. Not good.)

Some media observers decried “the destruction” of the 100-year old magazine. But its latest publisher’s statement showed that at 41,429 the magazine is being read by fewer readers than Transmission & Distribution World or Employer Benefit Advisor magazines (gotta love B2B magazines!).

Yes, circulation had fallen, but even a decade ago TNR’s circulation barely rose above 60K. Hughes had to know this when he bought the magazine. With its 20 issue frequency, and its hefty editorial staff (for a magazine of that size), it would be hard to see the acquisition of TNR as anything other than a vanity buy.


The Huffington Post does not specialize in subtle headlining

Hughes said he wanted the magazine to become a “vertically integrated digital media company” – a term I hate as much as “digital first” because it means absolutely nothing until you spell out the details. One of those details was moving to Manhattan, certainly not something one does if costs are a concern.

One wonders if Vidra and Hughes watched the recent episodes of The Newsroom and identified with the new owner, while the TNR’s saw the same episodes and said “OMG, that’s Vidra and Hughes!” This wasn’t going to end well.

But the whole thing is a clusterfuck because now the magazine will need to put out issues over the course of the next few weeks and one suspects that will look much like those self-published magazines one sees inside the Apple Newsstand these days.

I suspect Hughes doesn’t care, he will hardly lose sleep over losing a staff that did not respect him or his appointed representative. Sadly, the editorial staff that resigned will wake up Monday and feel good about their stand, but ultimately bad that it will not change much. Freedom of the press means the person who owns the press has the freedom to do as they please, the rest of us are along for the ride.

RS-rapecampusFor a week or so Rolling Stone had a huge story going: “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely described a gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Few doubt that such behavior exists today, but the story brought the issue front and center to the public’s attention, and described a specific incident involving “Jackie”.

But then the critics pounced, and some journalists reflexively came to the defense of the story.

But to the horror of the story’s defenders, and even more, the editors of Rolling Stone, things went south fast.

Early this afternoon the magazine posted <strong>A Note to Our Readers explaining problems with the story.

“Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her,” Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, wrote.

Where the story went wrong was that the writer confirmed the story with friends of the victim, but failed to directly question those that might have been held responsible. That would have been awkward, but absolutely necessary.

This story, that will appear in the January issue of Esquire, is a better way to end the week.

Scott Raab interviews outgoing Colorado Senator Mark Udall about currently classified CIA Torture Report, and his desire to make it public.

“There are some that would like this report never to see the light of day. There are some that are running out the clock,” Udall said in the interview.

“The people who conducted these activities in the name of the CIA, in the name of the American people, have a right to be processed. They don’t have a right to [pause] push under the rug what happened.”

Sadly, Udall was not so brave during his campaign, losing to a candidate that, I fear, Colorado may be embarrassed by in the six years to come.

“It stings and I feel liberated,” Udall says of his defeat. We’ll see if anything actually comes of it.

Meanwhile, Esquire has a good story for its January issue, and as it is an interview, it is doubtful there will be issues with it unless someone is pretty bad at transcribing.

  • Frederick Marcus 3 years ago

    Why is the focus on the (in this case freelance) reporter when, editors, legal and probably in this case, management signed off on the publishing of a false story?