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New 'New Republic': A 'Vertically Integrated Digital Media Company'


Whatever you do this holiday season, you will not spend your down time flipping through the December issue of The New Republic. That issue of the magazine was canceled after many key staff members resigned late last week. Chris Hughes, the publisher, brought in a new CEO and then a new editor, raising questions about the magazine's new direction. Many of the older staff members did not like it. And let's face it - this is the point where many people listening wonder what's the big deal? The New Republic was not the biggest magazine in America, but it had an influence beyond its circulation. We're going to talk about this with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why has there been such a really emotional reaction from certain journalists and politicians about this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, The New Republic is a century old. It just celebrated its century mark at a huge party this fall with Bill Clinton with a book that was a collection of excerpts from the magazine over the years and the decades. That was essentially a muscular argument for the magazine as an important pillar of liberal thought and of culture, as well, but also of argumentation. You know, in recent years, you can think of journalists such as Michael Kinsley, Hanna Rosin, Ryan Lizza, all of which emerged from The New Republic. But back in the day, you know George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and many, many other very prominent names in politics and culture appeared in its pages, as well. People saw something very different being proposed for the magazine here.

INSKEEP: So magazine of ideas - the question was would it remain that kind of magazine of ideas as they make it more of a digital company? Now, we talked with Chris Hughes, the owner, on the program on the very morning he announced his purchase of The New Republic a couple of years ago - just a guy who made a lot of money at Facebook and spoke of investing some of that money in journalism.


CHRIS HUGHES: Despite all changes in technology over the past few years, people still want in-depth, rigorous reporting. And The New Republic has been a place where that has happened. And under my leadership and the leadership of folks there, we'll double down on that.

INSKEEP: He's been really interesting to listen to. He was talking of people wanting to read long articles on in-depth subjects on their phones. That's what he said a couple years ago. What's he saying now?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's not really clear what he exactly has in mind here. It's what he just wrote in The Washington Post in his defense after the outcry. He wrote, quote, "I didn't buy The New Republic to be the conservator of a small print magazine whose long-term influence and survival were at risk. I came to protect the future of The New Republic by creating a sustainable business." He's a guy who, you know, was an investor in the social media and viral site Upworthy. He helped do social media for Pres. Obama in '08 in that first run. He's a guy who one would hope would bring digital media savvy and insight. And at the same time, this idea the vertically integrated digital media company has not been articulated. And it's not been articulated to its readers and to those it influences in Washington and elsewhere who have come to rely on it for a somewhat heterodox but, you know, intriguing account of what's happening in the world of politics and culture.

INSKEEP: I wonder if you're hitting on part of the problem here. Nobody really knows what the man intends to do here, precisely, even if you read that article in The Washington Post. He argues that he's still going to be in the business of really strong journalism. You just don't quite understand yet what it is. What's supposed to replace the old New Republic?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and I think there's been almost no more neatly encapsulized account of the clash between legacy media values and fears and what's seen as Silicon Valley confidence - even arrogance- that it can resolve everything through technological know-how and that the content itself - the mission - doesn't matter as much. He is making the case - and Guy Vidra, the new CEO - are making the case that, no, The New Republic has to be blown up, essentially, to be reinvented. The new editor, Gabriel Snyder, comes from Bloomberg, formally The Atlantic, and people say he deserves a chance, too.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, David, thanks very much.


INSKEEP: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reporting this morning on the changes at The New Republic. There will not be a December issue of that magazine after many staff members resigned last week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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