New Republic put up for sale by Chris Hughes

chris hughes
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is selling The New Republic, the magazine he bought four years ago, triggering a mass exodus of staff.

Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who bought "The New Republic" in 2012 and precipitated the greatest staff exodus in the magazine's history, announced Monday that he would be selling the company.

Hughes, 32, said it was "time for new leadership and vision."

"I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today's quickly evolving climate," Hughes wrote in an email to staff.

"After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic," he wrote. "Although I do not have the silver bullet, a new owner should have the vision and commitment to carry on the traditions that make this place unique and give it a new mandate for a new century."

Hughes failed attempt to usher The New Republic into the digital age is especially notable given how hard he had advocated for turning the magazine into a "digital media company," despite the protests of his editorial staff. In the last year, traffic to the site has declined by nearly 40 percent, according to comScore.

But more than anything, Hughes will be remembered for the damage he did to a magazine long cherished by progressives and, at one point, so influential among politicians that it had branded itself as "the in-flight magazine of Air Force One."

Hughes, who amassed a fortune at Facebook (he was roommates with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard), had become deeply involved in progressive causes during his 20s. He played a lead role in Barack Obama's online strategy in 2008, and went on to advocate for marriage equality along with his now-husband Sean Eldridge.

In 2012, Hughes bought The New Republic for an undisclosed sum -- on Monday, sources with knowledge of the deal put the figure at $2.1 million -- and began hyping the magazine as "The New Yorker of Washington, D.C." Despite reinstating editor-in-chief Franklin Foer and making a few notable hires, Hughes failed to turn The New Republic into a robust online magazine.

By 2014, Hughes had grown impatient with the pace of the magazine -- and what he saw as nostalgia for the days of print -- and was eager to turn The New Republic into what he described as a "vertically integrated digital media company." In September, he stepped down as editor-in-chief and appointed Guy Vidra, formerly general manager of Yahoo News, to take his place.

Vidra's disregard for the magazine's traditions and his penchant for Silicon Valley-speak immediately rubbed editorial staff the wrong way. In December of that year, Foer discovered that Hughes and Vidra had secretly hired a replacement editor without his knowledge and were planning to move the magazine's headquarters to New York.

Foer resigned. Leon Wieseltier, the veteran literary editor who had chafed at Hughes' efforts to rebrand the magazine, followed suit. Days later, the majority of The New Republic's masthead resigned en masse. In the days that followed, Hughes would receive widespread condemnation from politicians and journalists in Washington, many of whom pledged to cancel their subscriptions to the magazine.

Despite the humiliation brought on by this move, Hughes defended his efforts.

"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," Hughes wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post following the staff exodus. "I came to protect the future of the New Republic by creating a sustainable business so that our journalism, values and voice — the things that make us singular — could survive."

If The New Republic survives, it will not do so under Hughes. For months, Hughes has been involved in what a source with knowledge of the talks described as "initial quiet conversations with potential buyers."

"The conversations taking place have been with political activists, big media companies, content startups," the source said, and Hughes has yet to determine a buyer.

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