Today brings the sad news that almost the entire existing staff of The New Republic was either forced out, or made to quit in protest. The new regime, including ex-Facebook executive Chris Hughes, have been talking up “reimagining” the property (as that is what it is now, not a magazine) into some zombified Buzzfeed-wannabe. Hughes and his chief flunky Guy Vidra are using all the usual tech-wank buzzwords like “brand” and “disrupt” and “vertical integration.” Whatever they are blathering about, one thing is clear: Their product will be TNR in name only. The institution of Teddy Roosevelt, Martin Peretz and Michael Kelly is as dead as Caesar.
This article from the Daily Beast claims Vidra could not read past the first 500 words of an article, which tells you all you need to know about what he and his boss have planned for the reanimated corpse of TNR they are about to set loose.
There are really very few magazines (oh, sorry — “content providers”) left that provide the meaty, thought-provoking reports as well as editorializing that solidify them as leaders of a particular political leaning. These rareified institutions have the history, the manpower and the names to project an agenda that not even Buzzfeed can really match. The far left has The Nation; the right has National Review. And the center-left had TNR. These are the institutions that the mainstream media recruits directly from; these magazines employ the writers that Capitol Hill staffers read every day. “Cultural cachet” is what I am trying to get at, a concept that Silicon Valley finds as alien as the concept of tipping their waiter.
Other magazines like Mother Jones or Washington Monthly or Weekly Standard try hard, but just don’t have the resources or clout to compete at the recently decedent TNR’s level, or to leave that kind of footprint in the minds of journalists both young and old. The best online equivalent to TNR has to be Slate, but even Slate is more into clickbait and its signature contrary-just-to-be-contrarian approach as opposed to old-school, longform journalism. And the latter-day websites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy are more into the business of curating than original reporting or editorializing. The fact that the new TNR is going to be more of a “curator” (another odious buzzword) than creator shows just how fallen it is.
More on this from Josh Marshall and TNR alum Jon Chait. I’ll just add that when I was in journalism school, there was no general interest magazine — none — more revered than TNR. Sure, the sports guys had SI and the fashionistas had Vogue, but nothing commanded the respect across all disciplines — and political beliefs — that TNR did in J-school. It was the New York Times of magazines. It was a Platonic ideal of jouranlism that treasured independent thinking and writing more than venal interests like page hits. And for it to be corrupted and brought low like this by some tech douche wanting to “break shit”… well, the best analogy I can think of would be if Jeff Bezos decided to turn the Washington Post into the Daily Mail…