The Atlantic has an honest summary of the deal:
Chris Hughes, the fortunate Harvard roommate of Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, is the new owner, publisher, and editor-in-chief of The New Republic. The progressive Washington-based political magazine has been a media diet staple of well-read D.C. types for almost a century, but in the now clichéd tale of “old paper media meets new digital age” is has struggled to stay afloat in recent years. Former owner/editor Marty Peretz sold the magazine in 2007, only to buy it back two years later, but then began searching for another new benefactor last year. Michael Calderone first reported Hughes’ interest back in January, but the sale did not become official until last night. No terms were announced.
Hughes — who left Facebook in 2007 to coordinate online efforts for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign — said this “next era” of The New Republic will continue to focus on in-depth articles and analysis, while adapting to new technology.
The magazine “has been and will remain a journal of progressive values, but it will above all aim to appeal to independent thinkers on the left and the right,” Hughes added.
In 2009, former editor Martin Peretz and an investor group led by former Lazard banker Laurence Grafstein bought The New Republic from Canadian media company Canwest.
Taking the helm of the publication is the latest in a long list of jobs for Hughes. After Obama’s campaign ended, he moved onto an investing position with General Catalyst Partners. In 2010, he founded charity-focused site Jumo. Last year, Jumo merged with socially minded publishing company GOOD.
NY Times on the Editorial shift:
Mr. Hughes, 28, will become publisher and the editor in chief of the magazine, and Richard Just will remain the editor. Martin Peretz, who was editor in chief from 1975 until 2010, when his title was changed to editor in chief emeritus, will become a member of the magazine’s advisory board.
The terms of the sale were not disclosed. Mr. Hughes said he was motivated by an interest in “the future of high-quality long-form journalism” and by an instinct that such journalism was a natural fit for tablets. He said he would “expand the amount of rigorous reporting and solid analysis” that the magazine produces.
For Mr. Just, that means an opportunity to hire more writers and editors — an important step for a publication with a total head count of 29. “It’s been a long time. It’s been years” since total head count increased, he said.
The influence of The New Republic has often outstripped its small staff and its small circulation (around 50,000). Founded in 1914 by the political journalist Walter Lippmann, it has long been a part of the liberal movement, counting presidents as readers, including John F. Kennedy, and luminaries as writers, including George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth.
Under Mr. Peretz’s editorship and ownership, the magazine has passionately supported Israel and drawn criticism at times for its pro-war stances. The magazine’s editorials supported the Iraq War in 2003 and later expressed deep regret for doing so.
In recent years, The New Republic has reduced its publication schedule to biweekly from weekly and redesigned its once-staid pages in an effort to modernize its look. It has also sought to find a successful digital strategy, including charging readers to access some parts of its Web site and by introducing an iPad app.
Long form content and tablet device distribution are the future Hughes sees for the magazine:
In a letter to readers of the New Republic, the 28-year-old Hughes says that chasing Web traffic is a mistake and implies that he really believes there is still a hunger for long-form content.
“It seems that today too many media institutions chase superficial metrics of online virality at the expense of investing in rigorous reporting and analysis of the most important stories of our time,” he writes. “When few people are investing in media institutions with such bold aims as ‘enlightenment to the problems of the nation,’ I believe we must.”
In a media blitz Friday (a story in the New York Times, an interview on NPR) Hughes also added to another journalistic dream — that as soon as a critical mass of people have a tablet in front of them, there will suddenly be demand for 3,000-word and even 5,000-word stories again.
Hughes tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep, “What’s really interesting is the introduction of the tablet — not just the iPad, but the Nook and the Kindle. While they aren’t going to solve all of our problem, I do think they make it easier for people to pause, linger, read and really process very important ideas.”
Going back to Dashiell Bennett’s article in the Atlantic: a very important point is noted:
For TNR’s sake, Hughes possesses the most important quality of a modern-magazine owner in that he doesn’t need the enterprise to make any money in order for him to eat. The publication has cut back both advertising pages and publication dates in the last several years, (the long-time weekly is now printed biweekly) and struggled to find its footing with a semi-paid online model. In a letter published on the magazine’s website this morning, Hughes reiterated his commitment to the TNR‘s mission, which 98 years after its founding remains an “experiment” in thoughtful, yet entertaining long form journalism. Fortunately, Hughes — who is worth $700 million according to Forbes —can afford to tinker in the lab for awhile.
Reuters observes the history of other millionaire publication ventures:
Of course, vanity press moguls rarely commit to their publications for life, and few sustain the relationship after death. Learning nothing from the vanity moguls who have gone before them, they recycle all of their errors. As their publisher’s promises to cut deficits and turn a small profit go unmet; as the editor he inherited from the previous regime turns out to be a dolt; as the staff gets caught giggling about the stupid things the vanity mogul said in story meetings; as the mag ends up making the vanity mogul enemies instead of the new, powerful friends he wished for, he begins to understand that publishing isn’t the creative paradise he sought.
Despite the heartache of owning marginal publications, millionaire after billionaire has lined up in the last generation to buy in or launch a publication of his own. The vanity moguls’ contemporary ranks include Mortimer Zuckerman (the Atlantic, Fast Company, the Daily News), Richard Mellon Scaife (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), Harvey Weinstein (Talk), Martin Peretz (New Republic), Arthur L. Carter (The Nation, New York Observer), Jared Kushner (New York Observer), John Warnock and William Hambrecht (Salon), convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon (Washington Times, Insight, World & I, UPI), Sidney Harman (Newsweek), David Bradley (National Journal, the Atlantic), Warren Hellman (Bay Citizen), and Bill Gates (Slate). But they’ve been with us since the 1890s, when William Randolph Hearst used his family fortune to spread his newspaper ego across the nation.
The rich often buy vanity publications when they learn quickly that having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily make them “players.” They want that sort of influence and are crestfallen by the fact that the only reliable way to get people to do as you say — or even nod in agreement — is to put them on the payroll. Purchasing a publication, even a down-on-its-heels magazine like the New Republic, conveys some of that status, providing entree into certain salons and cabals of influence. (Although it still publishes many worthy articles, I rarely hear it cited as often as its competitors — the Atlantic, Mother Jones, the Weekly Standard — but that’s just anecdotal evidence.)