New Republic Exodus: Dozens Of Editors Resign Over Management Changes

12/05/2014 10:34 am ET | Updated Dec 05, 2014
Teresa Kroeger via Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Dozens of staff members and contributing editors at The New Republic resigned en masse Friday morning, less than 24 hours after top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier quit over a dispute with management over the magazine's direction.

New Republic owner Chris Hughes and newly installed CEO Guy Vidra announced Thursday they were repositioning the 100-year-old magazine to become a "vertically integrated digital media company." They hired Gabriel Snyder, who previously ran Gawker and The Wire, and was most recently at Bloomberg Media, to be its new editor-in-chief.

There has been tension at the magazine since Vidra's arrival over differing visions for the publication. Staffers saw management as overly focused on Web traffic at the expense of its legacy of narrative journalism and criticism.

The New Republic now seems unlikely to continue that legacy in any recognizable sense, since the majority of its longtime writers and editors have left, taking the magazine's institutional memory with them.

Friday's departures include: Jonathan Cohn (Senior Editor), Henri Cole (Poetry Editor), Isaac Chotiner (Senior Editor), David Hajdu (Music Critic), Jennifer Homans (Dance Critic), Sarah Williams Goldhagen (Architecture Critic), Julia Ioffe (Senior Editor), John Judis (Senior Editor), Hillary Kelly (Digital Media Editor), Adam Kirsch (Senior Editor), Alec MacGillis (Senior Editor), Evgeny Morozov* (Senior Editor), Rachel Morris (Executive Editor), Jed Perl (Art Critic), Jeffrey Rosen (Legal Affairs Editor), Noam Scheiber (Senior Editor), Judith Shulevitz (Senior Editor), Greg Veis (Executive Editor) and Jason Zengerle (Senior Editor).

And many of the magazine's contributing editors, some for whom the position is largely honorary, have resigned, too: Anne Applebaum, David A. Bell, Christopher Benfey, Paul Berman, Jonathan Chait, William Deresiewicz, Justin Driver, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, T.A. Frank, Ruth Franklin, Nathan Glazer, Jack Goldsmith, Anthony Grafton, David Grann, David Greenberg, Robert Kagan, Lawrence Kaplan, Michael Kazin, Enrique Krauze, Damon Linker, Ryan Lizza, John McWhorter, Abbas Milani, Steven Pinker, David Rieff, Sacha Z. Scoblic, Timothy Snyder, Ronald Steel, Cass Sunstein, Alan Taylor, Helen Vendler, Michael Walzer, Geoffrey Wheatcroft and Sean Wilentz.

"I am saddened by the loss of such great talent, many of whom have played an important role in making The New Republic so successful in the past," Hughes said in a statement. "It has been a privilege to work with them, and I wish them only the best. This is a time of transition, but I am excited to work with our team -- both new and old alike -- as we pave a new way forward. The singular importance of The New Republic as an institution can and will be preserved, because it’s bigger than any one of us."

Staffers viewed Vidra, a former Yahoo executive, as uninterested in the legacy of the magazine that he was talking about disrupting. And they recalled Hughes, who made hundreds of millions of dollars as a Facebook co-founder, suggesting in a late October meeting that the magazine be more like a tech start-up than a journalistic outlet like The New Yorker.

The competing visions were apparent on stage a few weeks later at the magazine’s centennial gala. Foer and Wieseltier spoke of the magazine’s traditions and the journalists who steered it through the past century, while Hughes and Vidra emphasized the need to experiment with the publication and increase page views.

Senior editor Jason Zengerle, who spent 14 years at the magazine in two separate stints and resigned Friday, told The Huffington Post that the dispute wasn't a case of "old media versus new media.”

“We all recognized things needed to change, but not at the expense of destroying what was working so well,” Zengerle said. He added that staffers were happy to write more for the Web, “but not if you were going to turn the print magazine into a vestigial limb.”

Julia Ioffe, a senior editor who joined the magazine after Hughes’ purchase in 2012 and who also resigned on Friday, pushed back in a Facebook post against the suggestion that staffers were unwilling to contribute 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. 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 [on] board for going monthly. We're not afraid of change. We have always embraced it.

David Hajdu, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and the magazine’s staff music critic for 12 years, said in an email to The Huffington Post that he doesn’t begrudge Hughes’ ambition and thinks "the mission to pioneer new approaches to journalism for the era of device delivery is not only legitimate, it's IMPORTANT.”

“The problem here, and it's an act of cultural violence, is in killing The New Republic so that a new, different kind of digital venture can live,” he continued. “Hughes could have and should have started a new digital company, if that's what he wanted to do, and he could have called it anything -- Chrisfeed, whatever. The ‘brand’ of the New Republic will be no help.”

Several former New Republic editors and writers wrote in a statement provided to The Huffington Post that the magazine they worked for is a "public trust" whose "legacy has now been trashed, the trust violated."

As former editors and writers for The New Republic, we write to express our dismay and sorrow at its destruction in all but name.

From its founding in 1914, The New Republic has been the flagship and forum of American liberalism. Its reporting and commentary on politics, society, and arts and letters have nurtured a broad liberal spirit in our national life.

The magazine’s present owner and managers claim they are giving it new relevance while remaining true to its century-old mission. Instead, they seem determined to strip it of the intellectual, literary, and political commitments that have been its essence and meaning. Their pronouncements suggest that they hold those commitments in contempt.

The New Republic cannot be merely a “brand.” It has never been and cannot be a “media company” that markets “content.” Its essays, criticism, reportage, and poetry are not “product.” It is not, or not primarily, a business. It is a voice, even a cause. It has lasted through numerous transformations of the “media landscape”—transformations that, far from rendering its work obsolete, have made that work ever more valuable.

The New Republic is a kind of public trust. That is something all its previous owners and publishers understood and respected. The legacy has now been trashed, the trust violated.

It is a sad irony that at this perilous moment, with a reactionary variant of conservatism in the ascendancy, liberalism’s central journal should be scuttled with flagrant and frivolous abandon. The promise of American life has been dealt a lamentable blow.

Peter Beinart (Editor)
Sidney Blumenthal (Senior editor)
Jonathan Chait (Senior editor)
David Grann (Senior editor)
David Greenberg (Acting editor)
Hendrik Hertzberg (Editor)
Ann Hulbert (Senior editor)
Robert Kuttner (Economics editor)
Robert B. Reich (Contributing editor)
Katherine Marsh (Managing editor)
Jeffrey Rosen (Legal editor)
Peter Scoblic (Executive editor)
Evan Smith (Deputy editor)
Joan Stapleton Tooley (Publisher)
Paul Starr (Contributing editor)
Ronald Steel (Contributing editor)
Andrew Sullivan (Editor)
Margaret Talbot (Deputy editor)
Dorothy Wickenden (Executive editor)
Sean Wilentz (Contributing editor)

*Morozov didn't resign, but said Friday on Twitter that he should be removed from the masthead because he stopped writing for the magazine months ago.

This story has been updated throughout.

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