A little more than a year after attempting a complete overhaul of his magazine that included the resignation of its beloved editor followed by a mass staff exodus, Chris Hughes has given up on the New Republic. The Facebook co-founder announced on Monday that he would be selling the magazine about 13 months after the attempted shake-up and less than four years after purchasing the publishing institution with the expectation of making it profitable within a “couple years.”
“I bought this company nearly four years ago to ensure its survival and give it the financial runway to experiment with new business models in a time of immense change in media,” he said. “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic.”
It wasn't clear how much money Hughes had lost on his publishing mogul stint, but the previous owner Martin Peretz had reportedly been losing $3 million per year at one time. During his time at TNR, Hughes attempted to take on a heavy role in the journalistic aspects of his publication, jointly conducting an interview with President Barack Obama early in his tenure alongside editor Franklin Foer.
At least three-dozen editorial staff members and contributing editors resigned from the magazine en masse in December 2014 after Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier resigned over the direction Hughes wanted to take the publication. That overhaul included cutting the magazine's publishing frequency from 20 issues a year to 10, moving its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to New York, and rebranding the publication that once famously billed itself as “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One” to a digital media company.
The changes didn’t take—or they weren’t given long enough to take—as the Wall Street Journal reported that the magazine’s Web traffic actually plummeted by 50 percent after the overhaul and exodus, and its November 2015 traffic was down 38 percent from its numbers in the last full month of the old regime.
Announcing the move on Medium, Hughes took credit for shifting the publication in a direction he says he believes it needed to go in order to survive in a publishing market that still is struggling to adjust to the digital age. "Over the past few years we have made good progress in reinvigorating this institution. Our readership has grown younger and more diverse, largely as a result of our digital strategy,” he said. “We have made it possible for The New Republic to survive and begin to flourish in its second century.”
Hughes cited Vox, Vice, the Texas Tribune, BuzzFeed, ProPublica, and Mic as digital publications that offered "bright signs” for the publishing industry as a whole, as well as the New York Times and the Atlantic as more traditional institutions that he hoped to see TNR emulate under new leadership. Discussing the conflict with Foer and his former staff of a little more than a year ago, Hughes portrayed it as necessary and said the “disagreement didn’t help our ability to make The New Republic viable today, but it also did not spell our demise.”
The Journal reported that a source familiar with the matter said that Hughes was in preliminary talks with possible buyers that included larger media companies, digital startups, and philanthropic groups, and that he “had come to believe that a non-profit structure may ultimately be the best solution for the magazine.”