Mass Resignations at The New Republic

December 5th, 2014 1:56 PM

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For the New Republic the best of times was a month ago when it basked in the warmth of hearty self-congratulation as it celebrated its 100th anniversary. The worst of times was today when nearly its entire staff quit in a scene of mass resignation.

To read the list of who resigned reminds your humble correspondent of that scene in Gone With The Wind when the Gettysburg casualty list was read out to the citizens of Atlanta without even the comfort of knowing that  Ashley Wilkes survived. In this case The New Republic version of Wilkes (Jonathan Cohn? Franklin Foer?) was also a casualty. So let us read the extensive list of The New Republic fallen as not a  sad Dixie but Taps is played in the background:

Those who resigned are senior editors Jonathan Cohn, Isaac Chotiner, Julia Ioffe, John Judis, Adam Kirsch, Alec MacGillis, Noam Scheiber, Judith Shulevitz and Jason Zengerle; executive editors Rachel Morris and Greg Veis; digital media editor Hillary Kelly (who resigned from her honeymoon in Africa); legal affairs editor Jeffrey Rosen; and poetry editor Henri Cole and dance editor Jennifer Homans. Contributing editors Anne Applebaum, Paul Berman, Christopher Benfey, Jonathan Chait, William Deresiewicz, Justin Driver, TA Frank, Ruth Franklin, Jack Goldsmith, Anthony Grafton, David Grann, David Greenberg, Robert Kagan, Enrique Krauze, Damon Linker, Ryan Lizza, John McWhorter, Sacha Z. Scoblic, Cass Sunstein, Alan Taylor, Helen Vendler and Sean Wilentz.

Oh wait! The top editor, Franklin Foer is not on that list! Well, that's the good news. The bad news is that he's not on that list of folks who quit today because he split yesterday according to Politico:

The mass departure came one day after a shakeup that saw the resignation of top editor Franklin Foer and veteran literary editor Leon Wieseltier, both of whom resigned due to differences of vision with Hughes, a 31-year-old Facebook co-founder who bought the magazine in 2012. Foer announced his resignation on Thursday after discovering that Hughes had already hired his replacement, Gabriel Snyder, a Bloomberg Media editor who formerly ran The Atlantic Wire blog.

And for those of you who think I went too far in suggesting Taps be played while reading the mass resignation list, there is this quote:

Late Thursday night, several of the top editors gathered at Foer's house in Washington to hold what was described by one source as a funeral for the magazine. Wieseltier, who served for 31 years as the magazine's literary editor, entered the room and introduced himself as "the former" literary editor of The New Republic.

So who is responsible for the "funeral" of The New Republic? Jonathan Chait, a contributing editor who also announced his resignation today, places the blame squarely on the shoulders of its owner in this moving Eulogy for The New Republic:

Frank Foer isn’t leaving TNR because he wasn’t a good enough editor. He’s leaving because Chris Hughes is not a good enough owner.

...I expect the circumstances surrounding TNR’s transformation will be framed as a matter of modernity versus tradition. There is certainly an element of this. At the magazine’s 100th anniversary gala two weeks ago, where Hughes, Foer, Wieseltier, and Hughes’s new CEO, Guy Vidra, all spoke, the speeches took a sharply, awkwardly divergent tone. Foer and Weiseltier gave soaring paeans to the magazine’s immense role in shaping American liberal thought. Hughes and Vidra used words like brand and boasted about page views, giving no sense of appreciation at all for the magazine’s place in American life.

...But the conflict between Hughes and most of the staff of The New Republic is not about technology. Foer and the staff, with the exception of Wieseltier, are comfortable with modernity. They are joyous bloggers, and willingly submitted to the introduction of cringe-worthy Upworthy headlines to their stories and other compromises one must make with commercial needs.

The problem, rather, is that Hughes and Vidra are afflicted with the belief that they can copy the formula that transformed the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed into economic successes, which is probably wrong, and that this formula can be applied to The New Republic, which is certainly wrong.

Several weeks ago, Vidra communicated the new vision to the staff in what I am told was an uncomfortable stream of business clichés ungrounded in any apparent strategy other than saying things like “let’s break shit” and “we’re a tech company now.” His memo to the staff predictably uses terms like “straddle generation” and “brand.” It promises to make TNR “a vertically integrated digital media company,” possibly unaware that “vertically integrated” is an actual business concept, not a term for a media company that integrates verticals.

Hughes and Vidra have provided no reason at all for anybody to believe they have a plausible plan to modernize The New Republic. If they did, Frank Foer would still be editor. My only hope now is that one day this vital American institution can be rebuilt.

But only if they can successfully brand their integrated verticals for the straddle generation. However, not to worry. I know of the perfect editor for The New New Republic of the Brave New Digital Age although he will probably rename it as "Flancrest Enterprises."