News & Politics

New Republic Staffers Quit Over Magazine’s Reorganization Plan

They don't want to be part of ownership's "straddle generation."

Frustrated with a reorganization plan that led to the oustings of top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier, 28 New Republic editors and writers are also quitting, according to a group memo issued Friday morning.

The mass resignation includes many of the magazine’s current staffers, who want no part of plans to turn the venerable journal into a New York-oriented digital media company.

Foer and Wieseltier announced their resignations Thursday as the New Republic’s owner, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, and chief executive officer, Guy Vidra, unveiled plans to transform the 100-year-old magazine into a “vertically integrated digital media company.” The overhaul includes reducing the New Republic’s annual physical output from 20 issues to ten. Perhaps most significantly, the moves will shift the company’s base of operations from Washington to New York.

That last detail lands with an especially ironic sting. Hughes, now 31 and worth an estimated $850 million, said when he purchased the New Republic that he wanted to transform the then-flagging magazine into the “New Yorker of Washington.”

Staffers leaving with Foer and other magazine alumni gathered at Foer’s house last night to sit shiva for their version of New Republic. It is unlikely any of them will be there when Vidra holds an “all-hands” meeting this morning.

Vidra also announced that Bloomberg Media digital director Gabriel Snyder, formerly of Atlantic Media and Gawker, will take over as editor-in-chief. In his memo, Vidra calls Snyder as an exemplar of something he calls the “straddle generation,” a heretofore unknown term that Vidra uses to describe journalists who can “create content that will travel across all platforms.”

The New Republic celebrated its 100th anniversary last month with a DC gala where Hughes, Vidra, Foer, and Wieseltier toasted the magazine’s durability into the digital age. Behind the scenes though, it appears the company was already in flux, with the company denying rumors that Foer, who edited the New Republic from 2006 to 2010 and returned when Hughes purchased it, as on the way out. Just as startling is the loss of Wieseltier, the magazine’s literary editor since 1983 and a survivor of previous shakeups made by Hughes and other owners.

Several New Republic alumni fired off blog posts expressing their disgust at the impending changes, including New York’s Jonathan Chait and Andrew Sullivan, who edited the magazine from 1991 to 1996. Sullivan, writing on his Dish website, says he is “heart-broken” over the coming changes, which he describes as “corporate manslaughter.”

Not all of the reaction is so funereal, though. Gawker, Snyder’s former stomping ground, and Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein both raced to the defense of the new New Republic.

“Much of the intense media backlash to the move is less about what the New Republic is becoming—no one yet knows where Snyder will take it—and more about loyalty to Foer,” Klein writes. (But don’t take this to mean that vertically integrated digital media companies aren’t capable of exuding the same nostalgia they come to dismiss; Klein’s piece quickly turns into a eulogy for his former employer, the American Prospect.)

The New Republic’s departing staffers say they’re not leaving because they are averse to the digital realm, but because they see Hughes and Vidra, who reportedly said he found articles running longer than 500 words, as dismantling the magazine’s brand of longform journalism both in print and online.

“The narrative you’re going to see Chris and Guy put out there is that I and the rest of my colleagues who quit today were dinosaurs, who think that the Internet is scary and that Buzzfeed is a slur,” former senior editor Julia Ioffe writes on Facebook. “Don’t believe them. The staff at TNR has always been faithful to the magazine’s founding mission to experiment, and nowhere have I been so encouraged to do so. There was no opposition in the editorial ranks to expanding TNR’s web presence, to innovating digitally. Many were even board for going monthly. We’re not afraid of change. We have always embraced it”

Signs of a staff revolt started brewing almost immediately yesterday after news of all the impending changes broke. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, a former New Republic staff writer who is still credited as a contributing editor, asked to be removed from the masthead.

Lizza, Chait, and several other former contributing editors who no longer actively write for the magazine, circulated a letter Friday morning asking Hughes to take their names down. As of this writing, their names are still there, along with the folks who are following Foer and Wieseltier out.

The magazine’s next issue is scheduled to close next Wednesday night, but there may not be anyone left to send pages to the printer.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.