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RIP The New Republic

It's like buying Carnegie Hall and turning it into Dave & Buster's
RIP <i>The New Republic</i>

That’s really all there is to say about the news that Frank Foer and Leon Wieseltier — Leon Freaking Wieseltier, a name that’s synonymous with The New Republic itself — have been cashiered (or cashiered themselves) by Chris Hughes, the Facebook dude who bought the magazine. Of course there’s a lot more to say about it, but it’s hard to imagine an epitaph quite like that tweet from former TNR staffer Weisberg.

Oh, wait, here’s a great one:

(And now for some unkind gloating: Frank Foer greeted the debut of TAC with a TNR essay calling “Buchanan’s Surefire Flop”. Well, we’re still here; where he? This is a good time to remind fans of The American Conservative to remember us in your end-of-year giving. Two generous donors have agreed to match all the gifts TAC receives through December 31, up to $20,000 — so your tax-exempt donation goes twice as far. Donate here, or be responsible for the first Larison Listicle, if it comes to that.)

TNR is moving to New York City, and will concentrate on being clickbaity, following the strategy of Hughes, who is thirty years old, and the ex-Yahoo! manager he hired to run the venerable magazine, which is now going to focus on being a “digital media company.” Okay, but the magazine’s digital media company’s journalistic credibility is collapsing in real time. Look:

Yair Rosenberg, quoting an unnamed source inside the magazine, reports that nearly the entire staff of senior editors and contributing editors is gearing up to quit. 

This makes me think of the freakout among the media and cultural elite when Tina Brown took over the New Yorker back in 1992. At the magazine, 24 writers resigned or retired.  And you know what? Tina Brown, for all her many faults, revived the magazine, and made it breathe again.

Somehow, this does not feel like a Tina Brown moment for TNR.

I share the shock and frustration of many Washington and New York writers and editors over the death of TNR, but let’s remember that TNR’s kind of journalism doesn’t pay for itself. Magazines like TNR — and TAC — survive thanks to the generosity of donors, or the deep pockets of very rich owners. What’s distressing is that the rich kid who bought one of the most respected titles in American political and cultural journalism has used his millions to destroy it. It’s like buying Carnegie Hall and turning it into a Dave & Buster’s. The digital economy needs to produce a better quality of ultrawealthy philanthropist.

UPDATE: Read every word of Jonathan Chait’s eulogy for TNR. Excerpt:

I expect the circumstances surrounding TNR’s transformation will be framed as a matter of modernity versus tradition. There is certainly an element of this. At the magazine’s 100th anniversary gala two weeks ago, where Hughes, Foer, Wieseltier, and Hughes’s new CEO, Guy Vidra, all spoke, the speeches took a sharply, awkwardly divergent tone. Foer and Weiseltier gave soaring paeans to the magazine’s immense role in shaping American liberal thought. Hughes and Vidra used words like brand and boasted about page views, giving no sense of appreciation at all for the magazine’s place in American life. In a comic moment, Vidra mispronounced Foer’s name. I happened to run into Wieseltier a few days after the gala, and when he asked me what I thought, I told him he and Foer won the debate.

But the conflict between Hughes and most of the staff of The New Republic is not about technology. Foer and the staff, with the exception of Wieseltier, are comfortable with modernity. They are joyous bloggers, and willingly submitted to the introduction of cringe-worthy Upworthy headlines to their stories and other compromises one must make with commercial needs.

The problem, rather, is that Hughes and Vidra are afflicted with the belief that they can copy the formula that transformed the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed into economic successes, which is probably wrong, and that this formula can be applied to The New Republic, which is certainly wrong.

 UPDATE.2: Alan Jacobs has a strong remembrance. Excerpts:

If you hear anyone say, “Good grief, The New Republic isn’t dead, it’s just moving to New York and transitioning from being a magazine to being a ‘vertically integrated digital media company’ — you can safely ignore that person.The New Republic is dead and Chris Hughes killed it. You can rejoice in that fact, lament it, feel nothing; but it remains a fact.

… But those long essay-reviews that Wieseltier ran remained a model for much of my own periodical writing. Even when they were wrong, or widely considered wrong, they were confident, expansive, audacious in the scope of their claims: think of Wieseltier’s own infamous hatchet-job on Cornel West, or Martha Nussbaum’s incisive (I say) demolition of Judith Butler, or Ruth Franklin’s nuanced and complex reading of Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones.

I first came to Washington in the fall of 1988, as an intern with a political consultancy. That’s when I discovered TNR, which was then in its Michael Kinsley heyday. It was a glorious magazine, I thought, and I devoured each issue. I’m not sure when I lost touch with it; probably when I left DC in 1995 and moved to Florida to write about movies. In 1999, when I was living in New York and had begun to write about politics more often, I went back to it every now and then, but it just wasn’t the same.

I’m honestly not sure if the magazine that died today is the same magazine whose demise I mourn, because I haven’t read it other than the occasional web piece for years now. I do wonder, though, what responsibility I and people like me have for the collapse of magazines like TNR. If enough people had subscribed to it, perhaps it wouldn’t have fallen into the hands of the rich young boob who destroyed it. It’s too late now, but there are plenty more of us not-for-profit opinion magazines out there who would very much appreciate your subscription — or your tax-deductible donation.

I am especially appreciative of the TAC donors in my readership who aren’t conservatives, but who give because they want to preserve our voice on the Right, and in the public square. I need to pay this forward by finding a left-of-center magazine whose voice I appreciate, even if I disagree with its editorial line, and buy a subscription. And I need to re-up my lapsed subscriptions to magazines on the Right. I have so little time to read now that they sometimes pile up, which leads to my forgetting to renew them. But supporting little magazines is important for reasons beyond the information you find in their pages or pixels. The world without The New Republic shows why.



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