Nearly four years after acquiring The New Republic for an undisclosed sum, Facebook billionaire Chris Hughes is putting the liberal magazine (and alma mater of Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Chait, Leon Wieseltier, and Marty Peretz, among others) on the market. According to a memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Hughes apparently got tired of trying to transform a century-old print periodical into a successful online publication, a hopeful project that wound up costing him “over $20 million”:
“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 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,” he said.
Hughes, who purchased a majority stake in the magazine in March 2012, managed to alienate much of his staff, including a lengthy roster of unpaid contributing editors, when, in late 2014, he installed a Yahoo! tech executive named Guy Vidra as C.E.O. and replaced editor-in-chief Franklin Foer with Gabriel Snyder, a former editor of Gawker and The Atlantic Wire. The subsequent staff exodus managed to be both highly dramatic and, to outsiders, deeply confusing, given that the magazine’s pattern of hostility toward non-white races had never managed to trigger any kind of similar falling out.
No potential buyers have been announced. But Hughes’ cold feet bring to mind a poem written by longtime New Republic contributor Cynthia Ozick shortly after the 2014 meltdown, a copy of which Ryan Lizza obtained and reproduced in The New Yorker:
After Wieseltier resigned, she e-mailed him a poem, inspired by Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” that former staffers circulated:
The Siliconian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in wireless gold,
Crying Media Company Vertically Integrated!
As all before them they willfully extirpated:
The Back of the Book and the Front and the Middle,
Until all that was left was digital piddle,
And Thought and Word lay dead and cold.
You may freely speculate about the meaning of this poem, and The New Republic’s future, below.