Facebook co-founder to sell off the wreck of The New Republic

posted at 7:41 pm on January 11, 2016 by Ed Morrissey

Nearly four years after he bought it and tried to convert it into his vision of a new-media publication, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has thrown in the towel on The New Republic. A mass walk-out in December 2014 exposed the deep divisions between the former center-left old guard and the progressive direction Hughes wanted to force, as well as the internal dissent over his decision to turn the magazine into an all-digital format. Now Hughes has put the 102-year-old publication back on the block, with its future even more in doubt:

The New Republic, the century-old magazine that was rocked a year ago by the mass exodus of its staff following an effort by its owner to make it more digitally focused, is being put up for sale.

Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who purchased a majority stake in the struggling title in 2012, said in a staff memo Monday that he had underestimated “the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate,” and would seek to find a new owner.

“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,” the memo read. “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.”

The WSJ notes that traffic cratered after the walkout in December 2014, but those metrics probably need a little more context:

Immediately following the tumult, the magazine’s Web traffic declined by more than 50%, according to comScore Inc., and hasn’t risen much in the last year. In November, the site attracted 2.3 million unique visitors, down 38% from the same month a year earlier.

It’s not unusual for web-based publications to see traffic fall off after an election year — especially one in which the target audience suffered a loss like progressives did in the midterms. Comparing one November in an election year — when electoral fever might hit its peak — to a November of an off year can be somewhat misleading.  The falloff here is pretty dramatic, though, much more than one would expect from mere electoral disillusionment. By November, it should have rebounded enough to come within a few percentage points to a mid-summer-of-2014 mean, but the WSJ’s report suggests that it hasn’t even come close.

In his statement to TNR staffers — those who are left, anyway — Hughes wants credit for the effort:

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 Republic to 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.

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.

Well, the financial model may be part of the problem, but a readership crisis isn’t caused by faulty financials. That comes from a lack of credibility. Even for conservatives, TNR used to matter as a measure of the center-left, a pulse-taking of the rational opposition. Hughes turned TNR into a slightly more pretentious Salon without the entertainment value, and in doing so made TNR utterly unimportant. The magazine lost its distinctiveness and simply faded into a larger crowd of paradigmatically undistinguishable voices.

The next owner has to figure out how to salvage TNR from the shoals onto which Hughes has sailed it. Whether that’s possible or not will depend in large part on the new ownership’s recognition of where Hughes went so badly wrong, and whether there is a market any longer for the center-left perspective in an environment where populism has become the driving political force on both sides of the aisle.


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Comments

Salvaging rights?

There must be something at the wreck site worth something.

portlandon on January 11, 2016 at 7:46 PM

Shoulda just put bare-chested twinkbois on the cover — woulda kept TNR going longer.

Jedditelol on January 11, 2016 at 7:48 PM

TNR, RIP.

vnvet on January 11, 2016 at 7:49 PM

[From Chris Hughes’ statement:] 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?

One word: MSLSD.

ShainS on January 11, 2016 at 7:49 PM

Salvage it? Nope. Let it sink to the deepest depths of the ocean to be covered in muck and forgotten.

Agent of the Cross on January 11, 2016 at 7:50 PM

The next owner? Who in their right mind would pay for it? Can it be a tax write off for Mr. Hughes.

Cindy Munford on January 11, 2016 at 7:52 PM

And Hughes blew a few million more trying to make hubby a NY Congressman.

Wethal on January 11, 2016 at 7:53 PM

Who?

Magicjava on January 11, 2016 at 7:53 PM

Just let it die.

Johnnyreb on January 11, 2016 at 7:54 PM

Well, the financial model may be part of the problem, but a readership crisis isn’t caused by faulty financials. That comes from a lack of credibility. Even for conservatives, TNR used to matter as a measure of the center-left, a pulse-taking of the rational opposition. Hughes turned TNR into a slightly more pretentious Salon without the entertainment value, and in doing so made TNR utterly unimportant. The magazine lost its distinctiveness and simply faded into a larger crowd of paradigmatically undistinguishable voices.

While a readership crisis isn’t caused by faulty financials, a readership crisis does cause faulty financials.

What TNR experienced isn’t unique in the traditional print media industry – particularly as it tries to adjust / adapt / compete with new media. Look at Newsweek – or any of the major newspapers. Here in the LA area, the LA Times hit it’s peak circulation in the late 1960’s when it’s potential marketplace was more than half the size it is today.

Consumers will not buy / read newspapers, magazines, or websites that provide a crappy product. The product can be crappy not only with the quality of writing, but with the content and – as noted – the lack or a collapse of credibility. How many other entities have regressed or collapsed because of their embracing of the progressive agenda, echo chamber, and their need to spin progressive points of view?

TNR isn’t unique. It’s not a leading indicator or a trailing indicator…just an indicator that the consumer today interested in politics remains interested in credible and honest analysis and reporting done with ethics and integrity.

Athos on January 11, 2016 at 7:54 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

Koch brothers should buy it and turn it into a conservative-libertarian publication.

rbj on January 11, 2016 at 8:02 PM

The next owner? Who in their right mind would pay for it? Can it be a tax write off for Mr. Hughes.

Cindy Munford on January 11, 2016 at 7:52 PM

They found someone dumb enough to buy Newsweek for $1. Sure it was only a buck, but still someone paid for it.

So I guess there’s still some hope.

Gator Country on January 11, 2016 at 8:02 PM

“I’m sorry I failed to recognize the difficulty in educating you Neanderthal old guard employees as to the sparkling crystalline perfection of my vision for TNR.”

Yep. You can tell this guy’s a hardline progressive. He’s got the “it’s not me, it’s you” thing down pat.

orangemtl on January 11, 2016 at 8:03 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

A Powerball ticket would be a better investment.

Wethal on January 11, 2016 at 8:04 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

$3.50

RickB on January 11, 2016 at 8:04 PM

HEY: why not have Hotair buy it? Or NRO?
Just the sadistic joy of turning it into a conservative outlet:
Well, it’s worth the $750.00 that Mr Hughes is presumably asking for it.

orangemtl on January 11, 2016 at 8:05 PM

The next owner? Who in their right mind would pay for it? Can it be a tax write off for Mr. Hughes.

Cindy Munford on January 11, 2016 at 7:52 PM

Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame, purchased the Washington Post. Beyond making the online version available for Amazon Kindle at a significant discount (after 6 mos free), it’s unclear if anything has really changed. WaPoo hasn’t improved its credibility – as neatly demonstrated by Glenn Kessler’s pathetic ‘analysis’ of the ‘did Hillary lie to the families of Benghazi victims’.

Someone might invest a few million into the hope of turning it around since it’s going to be bought on the cheap…or someone in need a of few million tax loss.

If there were a market in this country for a center-left traditional liberal in the mold of a ‘Scoop’ Jackson or Pat Moynihan – there might be a market for TNR. But given how the hard left has hijacked the Democrat Party – and that space is already occupied by the major US newspapers, Salon, Time, MSNBC, CNN, DailyKos, Daily Beast – smart people might just say that it’s time for TNR to become extinct.

Athos on January 11, 2016 at 8:05 PM

They found someone dumb enough to buy Newsweek for $1. Sure it was only a buck, but still someone paid for it.

So I guess there’s still some hope.

Gator Country on January 11, 2016 at 8:02 PM

IIRC, it was for $1 and the buyer had to assume all of the existing debt.

Athos on January 11, 2016 at 8:07 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

$3.50

RickB on January 11, 2016 at 8:04 PM

LOL. I’ve got a Zimbabwe $100 trillion bill burning a hole in my pocket …

ShainS on January 11, 2016 at 8:09 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

4 bucks.

talkingpoints on January 11, 2016 at 8:09 PM

Koch brothers should buy it and turn it into a conservative-libertarian publication.

rbj on January 11, 2016 at 8:02 PM

Ron / Rand Paul can but it to replace Ron’s old newsletter subscription model? How about Lew Rockwell, who wrote a number of those old newsletters? Or maybe Alex Jones for conspiracy theories?

Maybe Mort Zuckerman can buy it and merge with the trainwreck NY Daily News? Or Time Magazine can purchase it. Compared to Time’s usual drivel, it could be the ‘slightly more conservative’ version of Time.

Punch Sulzberger can buy it to expand the NY Times Co reporting efforts to propagandize the hard left. So many lefties think that the NY Times is credible…

Athos on January 11, 2016 at 8:13 PM

Lewd Republic ??? Never heard of

rik on January 11, 2016 at 8:17 PM

It’s not unusual for web-based publications to see traffic fall off after an election year

Anyone care to guess what site Ed’s referring to here?

Lolo on January 11, 2016 at 8:18 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

SOLD

rik on January 11, 2016 at 8:19 PM

Even for conservatives, TNR used to matter as a measure of the center-left, a pulse-taking of the rational opposition.

What a load of carp poo. TNR hasn’t been rational in 110 years, no actually conservative ever thought it was.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:36 PM

Meh. Bloomberg will buy it and stick Marty Peretz back in.

Joseph K on January 11, 2016 at 8:37 PM

Anyone care to guess what site Ed’s referring to here?

Lolo on January 11, 2016 at 8:18 PM

It helps if the writers insult the readership on Twitter.

Joseph K on January 11, 2016 at 8:38 PM

Even for conservatives, TNR used to matter as a measure of the center-left, a pulse-taking of the rational opposition.

What a load of carp poo. TNR hasn’t been rational in 110 years, no actually conservative ever thought it was.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:36 PM

Fred Barnes and Krauthammer brought some sanity.

avi natan on January 11, 2016 at 8:42 PM

Lolo on January 11, 2016 at 8:18 PM

It helps if the writers insult the readership on Twitter.

Joseph K on January 11, 2016 at 8:38 PM

In all fairness to Ed, if you want real journalist cred’s, that is a major requirement. Nobody in the Mainstream Media world ever takes any publication/blog seriously if the writers don’t pontificate that they are smarter and most sophisticated then the rubes who read them.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:43 PM

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:36 PM

Fred Barnes and Krauthammer brought some sanity.

avi natan on January 11, 2016 at 8:42 PM

Being senile old fools in a room fully of Joker level psychopaths does not equal bringing sanity.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:45 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

I was going to offer one dollar. It’s too rich for my blood now.

Fallon on January 11, 2016 at 8:45 PM

I’ll start the bidding with 5 bucks.

HotAirian on January 11, 2016 at 7:59 PM

I was going to offer one dollar. It’s too rich for my blood now.

Fallon on January 11, 2016 at 8:45 PM

Reality is a cruel mistress, nothing tells you how worthless a corporation is more than when even the vultures won’t show up to pick the carcase clean.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:55 PM

Figures. Martin Peretz is smiling, I’m sure.

rickv404 on January 11, 2016 at 9:00 PM

Reality is a cruel mistress, nothing tells you how worthless a corporation is more than when even the vultures won’t show up to pick the carcase clean.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:55 PM

I put a old sony tv in perfect condition complete with remote at the end of my driveway with “free” sign on it. No takers but someone took the batteries out of the remote. Does the New Republic have batteries?

rik on January 11, 2016 at 9:11 PM

You’d think a ‘digital savant’ would know about ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

GarandFan on January 11, 2016 at 9:28 PM

Being senile old fools in a room fully of Joker level psychopaths does not equal bringing sanity.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:45 PM

they weren’t senile old fools then. nor were Kaus or Sullivan.

avi natan on January 11, 2016 at 9:37 PM

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, I suppose.

22044 on January 11, 2016 at 10:06 PM

Even for conservatives, TNR used to matter as a measure of the center-left, a pulse-taking of the rational opposition. Hughes turned TNR into a slightly more pretentious Salon without the entertainment value, and in doing so made TNR utterly unimportant. The magazine lost its distinctiveness and simply faded into a larger crowd of paradigmatically undistinguishable voices.

Ed is right about this. When I was a Democrat, I liked TNR because it was sane and interesting. I now see how it was wrong–despite being sane and interesting. Hughes turned TNR into nonsense. Not that I would ever go back to being a Democrat, but it is still for the best that there be a relatively sane Democrat voice. But I don’t see how the TNR can be remade.

thuja on January 11, 2016 at 10:11 PM

“correcting the free market.” Something tells me that someone is going to get a little free market education real soon.

brindle on January 11, 2016 at 10:14 PM

Mocking the asswipe liberal writers from TNR just got one step easier.

Jaibones on January 11, 2016 at 10:21 PM

The print / digital version of AirAmerica!

Get used to eating a lot of ramen for dinner, TNR staffers. The paychecks are going to start coming in “net 30.”

DarthBrooks on January 11, 2016 at 11:28 PM

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.

Liberal: I do not think that word means what they think it does.
I would appreciate it if anyone could link to any classical liberal thinker / writer supporting any of these propositions.
Progressive — now, that’s a different matter altogether.

Hughes turned TNR into a slightly more pretentious Salon without the entertainment value, and in doing so made TNR utterly unimportant. The magazine lost its distinctiveness and simply faded into a larger crowd of paradigmatically undistinguishable voices.

Many other once “unique” businesses have done the same (Sears springs to mind, when it went too up-scale and pricey for its working-class regulars, but didn’t have the cache’ to draw in elites).

AesopFan on January 11, 2016 at 11:36 PM

Ed is right about this. When I was a Democrat, I liked TNR because it was sane and interesting. I now see how it was wrong–despite being sane and interesting. Hughes turned TNR into nonsense. Not that I would ever go back to being a Democrat, but it is still for the best that there be a relatively sane Democrat voice. But I don’t see how the TNR can be remade.

thuja on January 11, 2016 at 10:11 PM

There is no market for sane voices on the Left, and the GOP’s “sane” voices are trying to take the place of the old center-left, but I guess they couldn’t weather the optics of admitting they agreed with TNR.

I used to read Rolling Stone in the late nineties (someone gave my laundromat a subscription; it’s a strange story) and actually enjoyed some of their more general reporting; then they changed editors and cratered completely.

AesopFan on January 11, 2016 at 11:40 PM

Being senile old fools in a room fully of Joker level psychopaths does not equal bringing sanity.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:45 PM

Now that’s a wicked good bit of phraseology.

AesopFan on January 11, 2016 at 11:41 PM

Trump Koch brothers should buy it and turn it into a conservative-libertarian publication.

rbj on January 11, 2016 at 8:02 PM

Would be much more fun

Sugarbuzz on January 12, 2016 at 7:03 AM

Ways to doom a publication:

1) Riddle it with ads until finding a meaningful article is lost between pages and pages of products you will never buy.
2) Hire writers who will not proofread their work, making a high school essay look more professional.
3) Print meaningless drivel on global-warming, pro-abortion, gun-confiscation articles that appeal to less than 17% of potential readers.

Yeah – small wonder TNR went bust.

Turtle317 on January 12, 2016 at 9:36 AM

Fred Barnes and Krauthammer brought some sanity.

avi natan on January 11, 2016 at 8:42 PM

Being senile old fools in a room fully of Joker level psychopaths does not equal bringing sanity.

oscarwilde on January 11, 2016 at 8:45 PM

Is there anyone you like?

bmmg39 on January 12, 2016 at 9:38 AM

Salvage it? Nope. Let it sink to the deepest depths of the ocean to be covered in muck and forgotten.

Agent of the Cross on January 11, 2016 at 7:50 PM

Nah. Some idiot will drill into the trench and wake Gamera at some point. Required by the plot.

dissent555 on January 12, 2016 at 11:10 AM

HEY: why not have Hotair buy it? Or NRO?
Just the sadistic joy of turning it into a conservative outlet…

orangemtl on January 11, 2016 at 8:05 PM

Oh please! HA is RINO central. Nothing conservative about it. And they play the same LSM tricks here as the rest of the LSM because HA is LSM.

earlgrey on January 12, 2016 at 3:12 PM

TNR, RIP.

vnvet on January 11, 2016 at 7:49 PM

Yeah, rip.

The Schaef on January 12, 2016 at 3:35 PM

Oh please! HA is RINO central. Nothing conservative about it. And they play the same LSM tricks here as the rest of the LSM because HA is LSM.

earlgrey on January 12, 2016 at 3:12 PM

Then why are you here?

Big John on January 13, 2016 at 3:27 PM