Facebook Co-Founder To TNR Staff: If You Care, ‘You Don’t Walk Out’

CLINT SPAULDING/PatrickMcMullan.

On the heels of a tumultuous week that saw dozens of his staff members resign in protest, Chris Hughes defended his vision for The New Republic on Sunday.

In an editorial published by the Washington Post, Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who purchased TNR in 2012, expressed regret over the wave of resignations but argued that he is dedicated to salvaging the century-old magazine.

“I didn’t buy the New Republic to be the conservator of a small print magazine whose long-term influence and survival were at risk,” Hughes wrote. “I came to protect the future of the New Republic by creating a sustainable business so that our journalism, values and voice — the things that make us singular — could survive.”

Last week’s exodus at TNR was prompted by the ousting of editor-in-chief Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier. Their departures coincided with the announcement by TNR CEO Guy Vidra that the magazine will scale back its print schedule from 20 issues per year to 10 issues and relocate its Washington, D.C. headquarters to New York City. Foer will be replaced by Gabriel Snyder, a digital media maven who’s previously worked at Gawker and, most recently, Bloomberg.

Hughes wrote that the resigning TNR staffers considered the dispute to be “a clash of cultures: Silicon Valley versus tradition, and everyone must choose a side.”

In fact, two outgoing senior editors insisted that was not the case. Jason Zengerle, a 14-year veteran at TNR who resigned on Friday, told the Huffington Post that the disagreements weren’t an example of “old media versus new media.”

And Julia Ioffe, who had been with TNR since 2012 before resigning on Friday, preemptively rebutted that framing of the debate in a post on Facebook.

“The narrative you’re going to see Chris and Guy put out there is 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,” Ioffe wrote. “Don’t believe them. The staff at TNR has always been faithful to the magazine’s founding mission to experiment, and nowhere have I been so encouraged to do so. There was no opposition in the editorial ranks to expanding TNR’s web presence, to innovating digitally. Many were even board for going monthly. We’re not afraid of change. We have always embraced it.”

Hughes contended that “the dichotomy between techy buzzwords and tradition is a false choice.”

“Journalists across the industry are using new techniques to tell vital stories and make passionate arguments,” he wrote. “Innovation is happening in traditional newsrooms like the New York Times and The Post and at start-ups such as Vox and Politico. The New Republic should and will be mentioned in the same breath.”

He gave assurances that TNR’s “future will be in both digital and print,” but he acknowledged that changes are essential to securing the magazine’s future.

“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 wrote.

He added, “If we wanted to chase traffic with listicles and slide shows, we would have. Instead, I have spent the last two and a half years supporting an institution whose mission I believe in and investing millions of dollars into its singular journalism so that it can continue to be influential and important.”

Hughes closed with a jab at the departing staffers.

“If you really care about an institution and want to make it strong for the ages, you don’t walk out,” he wrote. “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.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Kludt is a reporter for Talking Points Memo based in New York City, covering media and national affairs. Originally from South Dakota, Tom joined TPM as an intern in late-2011 and became a staff member during the 2012 election. He can be reached at tom@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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