The New Republic up for sale, as owner Chris Hughes admits he ‘underestimated’ challenge
The Facebook co-founder brought the title in early 2012, but the magazine has struggled to recover after the editor and much of the staff resigned in 2014 and magazine scaled back the number of issues it would publish
The New Republic is up for sale, its owner finally giving up after a very tumultuous tenure as owner. Chris Hughes, a Facebook founder, told staff of the decision in a memo today.
“After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic,” Hughes told staff in a memo today.
The magazine, originally a weekly, was down to ten issues a year after editor Franklin Foer was forced out and much of the staff resigned in December of 2014. Hughes had bought the magazine in 2012, but not much right occurred. (The digital edition has been dead for a while.)
The New Republic was launched as a progressive magazine in 1914, but starting in the late ’70s the magazine seemed to thrill in having young editors – Michael Kinsey was only 28 when brought on in 1979, and the conservative Andrew Sullivan was the age when named editor in 1991.
Today’s announcement is sort of to be expected. The magazine was never a large circulation magazine, but its last publisher’s statement from 2014 showed that the title only had just over 28K paid print subscribers, just over 41K in total circulation.
Here is Hughes’ memo:
To the staff of The New Republic,
I have some difficult news today: I have decided to put The New Republic up for sale. I bought this company nearly four years ago to ensure its survival and give it the financial runway to experiment with new business models in a time of immense change in media. After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic.
Over the past few years we have made good progress in reinvigorating this institution. Our readership has grown younger and more diverse, largely as a result of our digital strategy. Our journalism has been widely recognized as impactful, impassioned, and more relevant to our nation’s challenges than ever. As a business, we have launched a brand marketing studio called Novel, built a flexible and fast mobile website, and developed our own content management system. We have made it possible for The New Republicto survive and begin to flourish in its second century.
Yet I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate. When I bought The New Republic, it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and I believed that an institution as old and important as it should survive and evolve in an era where its values were still relevant and needed. This place stands for some of the best and most important elements of liberalism: a belief in the role of government to correct free markets, in the power of representative democracy to hold the elite accountable, and in America’s responsibility to be a force for good in the world. These values have sustained and animated not just me, but this tireless and dedicated team over the past few years.
My aim is to place The New Republic in the hands of the most promising and dedicated potential steward. – Chris Hughes
The unanswered question for The New Republic remains: can it find a sustainable business model that will power its journalism in the decades to come? There are bright signs on the horizon: Vox, Vice, the Texas Tribune, Buzzfeed, ProPublica, and Mic embody a new generation of promising organizations — some for-profit, others non-profit — that have put serious, high-quality journalism at the core of their identities. The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other traditional outlets seem to have found business models that work for them. I hope that this institution will one day be part of that list. To get there The New Republic needs a new vision that only a new owner can bring.
As many know, in 2014 I broke with legacy editors over fundamental questions of how digitally-oriented and business-focused this place should be. It was clear then, as it is now, that any acrimony was motivated by deep passion and care for an institution that is bigger than any one of us. Our disagreement didn’t help our ability to make The New Republic viable today, but it also did not spell our demise. The journalism and technology that we have produced since has been some of the most forward-thinking, creative work that has been done in the history of the magazine. Our Editor-in-Chief Gabriel Snyder has assembled an incredible team of talented journalists who are some of the best in the business. Even though our search for a workable business model has come up short, we have shown that digital journalism isn’t at odds with quality and depth.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll pursue conversations with those interested in taking on the mantle and supporting the next era of this institution. My aim is to place The New Republic in the hands of the most promising and dedicated potential steward. This next chapter could take many forms. Perhaps it should be run as part of a larger digital media company, as a center-left institute of ideas, or by another passionate individual willing to invest in its future. There are many possibilities. Although I do not have the silver bullet, a new owner should have the vision and commitment to carry on the traditions that make this place unique and give it a new mandate for a new century.
As these conversations unfold, our staff will remain in place and fully supported over the coming weeks. We will hold an all hands meeting for staff at 11am this morning.
It’s time for the next chapter to begin.