Friday, March 9, 2012

The New Republic gets a new majority shareholder in Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes

For the past decade The New Republic has seen its share of controversies – from support for the Iraq War to its over-the-top support of Israel – now the magazine which was founded in 1914 has a new publisher and editor-in-chief in Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The 28 year-old Hughes is hardly qualified to hold those titles except for the fact that he is filthy rich. But those titles are not exactly working titles so much as what the person who is is bringing in the money is called at the magazine. Hughes won't be editing stories, I would guess, so much as setting the direction for the magazine. Because of this, staffers appear to be genuinely excited by the prospects.

"In the next era of The New Republic," Hughes wrote last night on the magazine's website, "we will aggressively adapt to the newest information technologies without sacrificing our commitment to serious journalism. We will look to tell the most important stories in politics and the arts and provide the type of rigorous analysis that The New Republic has been known for. We will ask pressing questions of our leaders, share groundbreaking new ideas, and shed new light on the state of politics and culture."

"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," Hughes concluded.

According to the New York Times report on the Hughes investment in TNR, Hughes is a big believer in the future of tablet editions, telling the NYT that “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.”

The introduction of Hughes means that this is the end of the Martin Peretz era at the usually liberal magazine. Although the magazine has long been seen as a player in progressive politics, the magazine's stance on the Iraq War, and its support for hard-right Israeli politics, alienated many readers. As a result, TNR's circulation is only around 50,000, about a third the size of The Nation.

In fact, while The Nation was able to boost its circulation by being a foil to the White House under George Bush, TNR was often seen as supportive of important Bush administration policies, and therefore not an alternative voice. As a result, The Nation's circulation rose to 187,000 in 2006 at the height of anti-war sentiment.

TNR, on the other hand, which had a circulation of 101,651 at the end of the Clinton administration, has seen its readership drop 47 percent during the last decade.

It will be interesting to see if the magazine's tablet strategy does, indeed, change.

Currently, print subscribers are forced to pay again in order to access issues using the iPad app. As a result, reviews inside the App Store are at the two extremes: five-star reviews come from readers happy to toss their print editions away and only read the tablet version, while one-star reviews lament the requirement that as print subscribers they are forced to pay again.