The plight of The New Republic is not new. The magazine struggled under its former owner Martin Peretz, and did not show much promise when Chris Hughes took over in 2012. However, the challenges that the magazine now faces are different than those they faced under Peretz. Under Hughes, the biggest struggle was the dissonance between the reporters and the owner and C.E.O. to find common ground and agree on how to best proceed with the future of the magazine.
The conflict can be seen from two perspectives. While Hughes wanted to see the magazine move forward and prosper in the more digital territory, former editor Franklin Foer was more interested in the print version of the magazine and ensuring that the integrity of the magazine was not compromised. While this struggle has more visible outcomes for The New Republic than for other publications, it is a challenge that all publications established before the web became a mainstream medium have faced. How does a publication maintain the same high quality reporting while also adapting to the high demand, minute-to-minute atmosphere that has been created by the innovation of online news?
According to Matthew Yglesias at Vox, the divide between Hughes and Foer could be attributed to a generational difference. In his article, Yglesias calls Hughes a digital native, because he is a Millennial. Foer, on the other hand, is older and began his career before the age of digital media.
Yglesias wrote, “there’s nothing wrong with either of these approaches, but the Hughes-Foer renaissance was fundamentally a mutual exercise in deception and self deception. Hughes brought back Foer in order to gain the prestige and cachet that would come with the acclamation of the TNR alumni network, even though he had no real affection for the kind of journalism Foer values; Foer told Hughes what he wanted to hear in order to get the funding for the magazine of his dreams, even though he had no real affection for the king of digital publication that Hughes wanted.”
From this perspective, it is the fault of both Foer and Hughes that the magazine began to fall apart in 2014 with the resignation of a large portion of their writers and editors.
As many publications are moving completely away from print mediums and into the realm of entirely digital news access, it is going to be increasingly important for both sides of publications to have an open dialogue about what needs to happen to ensure the success of the publication. Owners of publications must understand that their writers know their audiences, and that – while generating revenue and continuing to innovate in a constantly changing industry environment is important – a publication does not have staff or readers if it does not maintain its integrity.
In 2014, Mike Hiltzik from the Los Angeles Times wrote, “it’s hard to tell from Hughes’ essay whether he understands that, as important as digital formatting is to delivering journalism in the modern world, nothing will succeed unless people find value in reading it. New-style online publications like Vox, even Buzzfeed, know that there’s a place for serious journalism online, and it’s about more than presentations with digital bells and whistles.”
As the struggles faced by The New Republic illustrate, the transition to digital formatting – at least in addition to printed mediums – is challenging. However, it is a necessary transition as publications will struggle to survive otherwise. The only way this can be successfully done is if everyone involved has a common interest in both generating revenue and maintaining the integrity of the publication.