The Chris Hughes era of The New Republic (TNR) seems to fulfill every old-school journalist’s greatest fear: A tech-focused millennial swoops in to “save” a struggling, small-circulation, niche magazine, attempting to “reinvent” the name for a 21st century audience.
Hughes’ attempt to convert this very traditional magazine into a digital-heavy publication, however, has proven detrimental to the TNR name.
This is not to say that Hughes had bad intentions; his vision of bringing TNR into the digital media realm could have actually made great strides for the magazine. Though,”could have” is the key phrase here. Based on my reading of articles in Vox and the New Yorker, his methodology of bringing in new talent seems completely and utterly detrimental to the company. He snuck around behind the backs of people who had no reason to distrust him—people who he had personally brought in to revive the brand. Because of this, Hughes created more enemies for himself than I’m sure he ever expected to accumulate in his entire lifetime. By misleading Frank Foer about searching for his replacement, Hughes painted his self portrait as a sleazy dictator. He tarnished his credibility in the eyes of the people from whom he needed the most trust.
Ryan Lizza’s portrayal of Hughes’ takeover is an incredibly insightful narrative of how the entire ordeal occurred. It’s very intelligently written in a long-form, very New Yorker style, magazine piece. Because he once worked for the publication, he was able to put together a very detailed, inside account narrated by many past and current members of the TNR staff. We’ve come a long way since Woodward and Bernstein were able to follow the money upon Deep Throat’s discretion, and anonymous sources in this day and age are typically considered taboo.
Lizza, however, very appropriately used a variety of anonymous sources in his piece. He gives enough of a description for each that the reader can understand each viewpoint and opinion without needing to give an actual name. Because there were so many people negatively affected by this situation, it makes perfect sense as to why they’d want to keep their names out of the piece and stay off the record. Lizza does a great job hinting as to why they’re still important to the heart of the story, even though they aren’t credited outright.
A very different approach was taken by Matt Yglesias of Vox. Still very informed, it has the tone of an outsider to the publication. He broke the content down into digestible pieces, and the story was not quote-heavy. I particularly liked his use of the term “TNRmageddon,” because Hughes quite literally brought the end of the “TNR world.”
The Hughes takeover of The New Republic was a very messy, ugly combination of the old and new journalism realms. In an age that seems to be zooming towards digital head-on, this case study sheds light on the fact that old-school journalism tactics still have power in the field. This is an extreme example of traditionalists butting heads in a major way with digital-oriented journalists that aren’t exactly keen on preserving the way things have been done in the past.