Facebook Co-Founder and Obama 2008 Social Media Guru Chris Hughes Buys The New Republic


At the ripe old age of 28, Chris Hughes will now be the editor in chief and publisher of the 98-year-old liberal opinion magazine. From The Washington Post:

A 2006 graduate of Harvard University, Hughes was among the group of college classmates who started Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, Hughes's roommate, in 2003. Forbes has estimated Hughes's net worth at $700 million, but that was before Facebook filed this year to offer its first shares to the public.

Hughes left Facebook in 2007 to serve as social-media director for Obama's campaign, organizing an effort that raised record amounts of money. […]

Hughes will have a big challenge in turning around a biweekly publication that has had three owners in the past five years and has been losing readers for more than a decade. The magazine reportedly has a circulation of 50,000.

From The New York Times:

His focus, he said in an interview in advance of the announcement, will be on distributing the magazine's long-form journalism through tablet computers like the iPad. Though he does not intend to end the printed publication, "five to 10 years from now, if not sooner, the vast majority of The New Republic readers are likely to be reading it on a tablet," he said. […]

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. […]

Asked how he would turn a profit for the money-losing magazine, Mr. Hughes said, "Profit per se is not my motive. The reason I'm getting involved here is that I believe in the type of vigorous contextual journalism that we — we in general as a society — need."

He added that he hoped the magazine could be profitable. "But I'm investing and taking control of The New Republic because of my belief in its mission, not to make it the next Facebook," he said.

Political magazines, which as a rule do not cover expenses through subscriptions and advertising, have two basic ownership models: Get an ideologically and/or culturally sympatico rich person (or "vanity mogul," in Jack Shafer's memorable phrasing) to subsidize the losses, or just organize as a nonprofit (Reason chose the latter road decades ago).

There are plusses and minuses to both–as Shafer points out, "Hughes should be able to sustain the magazine's annual losses — which Anne Peretz, the ex-wife of former owner Martin Peretz put at $3 million a year — for a couple of hundred years after his death"–but one aspect I certainly enjoy about the Reason way is that it is literally impossible for a single person (let alone a single person with deep political connections to the sitting U.S. president) to impose his or her will on the editorial decisions of a normally configured nonprofit publication. The basic editorial thrust is therefore much more resilient and consistent in the long term, much less subject to the temporal whims and temper tantrums of a lone deep-pocketed journalistic novice.

More Jack Shafer on the legacy of the man who steered the ship of TNR to the lowlier state it has found itself recently:

Martin Peretz came closer to becoming a pariah than a player in the four decades he controlled the magazine. [..]

Perhaps [Hughes will] be a terrific editor-in-chief, hiring talented journalists as he makes good on his promise to enlarge its staff while soaking up the magazine's deficit. Or maybe he'll be an editor-in-chief like Martin Peretz was, hiring talented journalists as he enlarges its staff and covered its deficits, but insisting that the editors publish his loopy columns.

But vanity moguls who say their primary focus isn't profits still tend to lose interest in their publications in direct proportion to the amount of money they lose. Pariah Peretz was unique in his perseverance. But then again, it was his wife's fortune that stoked the magazine's furnace for so many years.

From Hughes' inaugural column:

The New Republic 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 who search for fresh ideas and a deeper understanding of the challenges our world faces.

TNR founder Herbert Croly was one of the most influential progenitors of political Progressivism in these United States. Read this classic and prescient 1997 column by beloved former Reason editor Virginia Postrel about Croly's modern legacy.