As dozens of New Republic staffers and contributors resigned last week, departing senior editor Julia Ioffe predicted that those who run the magazine would suggest “that I and the rest of my colleagues who quit today were dinosaurs, who think that the Internet is scary and that BuzzFeed is a slur.” “Don’t believe them,” she added, noting that her colleagues were fine with digital innovation and expanding the magazine’s web presence. Sure enough, on Sunday night the Washington Post published an op-ed in which Chris Hughes, the 31-year-old Facebook co-founder who bought the magazine two years ago, claims that the departing staffers see the split as “a clash of cultures: Silicon Valley versus tradition, and everyone must choose a side.” He, on the other hand, believes this “dangerously oversimplifies” the debate many publications are having about the future of journalism.
Hughes starts out by praising those who just quit, saying, “They were colleagues whom I personally liked and respected, so I was sad to see them go and regret much of how it happened.” He goes on to criticize the journalists for jumping ship rather than sticking around to fight as he and new CEO Guy Vidra turn The New Republic into a “vertically integrated digital media company,” whatever that is. He writes:
If you really care about an institution and want to make it strong for the ages, you don’t walk out. You roll up your sleeves, you redouble your commitment to those ideals in a changing world, and you fight. This 100-year-old story is worth fighting for.
He also takes issue with a statement provided to the Huffington Post last week by a group of former New Republic writers (including New York’s Jonathan Chait). They wrote, in part:
The New Republic cannot be merely a “brand.” It has never been and cannot be a “media company” that markets “content.” Its essays, criticism, reportage, and poetry are not “product.” It is not, or not primarily, a business. It is a voice, even a cause. It has lasted through numerous transformations of the “media landscape”—transformations that, far from rendering its work obsolete, have made that work ever more valuable.
The New Republic is a kind of public trust. That is something all its previous owners and publishers understood and respected. The legacy has now been trashed, the trust violated.
Hughes says what they’re describing is a “charity,” and while that may work for some media outfits, “At the New Republic, I believe we owe it to ourselves and to this institution to aim to become a sustainable business and not position ourselves to rely on the largesse of an unpredictable few.” He continues:
The New Republic’s future will be in both digital and print, and it will mean aspiring to be a strong and sustainable institution that constantly challenges itself to adapt. Former editors and writers who claim in an open letter that the New Republic should not be a business would prefer an institution that looks backward more often than forward and does not challenge itself to experiment with new business models and new ways to tell important stories. Unless we experiment now, today’s young people will not even recognize the New Republic’s name nor care about its voice when they arrive in the halls of power tomorrow.
Hughes concludes that it’s too soon to write The New Republic’s eulogy. “The New Republic is much larger than myself or any single individual. Despite what has been suggested, the vast majority of our staff remain,” he writes. “They are eager and excited to build a sustainable and strong New Republic that can endure.”
Unsurprisingly, that last point is already in dispute. Former contributing editor Ryan Lizza reports via Twitter: