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 was Facebook's first spokesperson when it was still run by four guys in a dorm room, left the company in 2007 to become director of online organizing for Barack Obama's first presidential campaign. He later founded a non-profit social network for charity work that was later absorbed by Good magazine.
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.
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. When few people are investing in media institutions with such bold aims as “enlightenment to the problems of the nation,” I believe we must.
Current editor Richard Just will remain in charge of the day-to-day editorial operations and editor-in-chief emeritus Peretz will stay on the Advisory Board.