After spending $20 million trying to make the venerable New Republic a multi-platform media brand, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes says he's selling the political and cultural magazine that once stood with the Atlantic, Harpers, the Nation and the New Yorker as a pillar of American liberalism.
Hughes sparked a staff walkout 13 months ago when he announced plans to transform the 102-year-old publication into an online operation. In announcing the brand's sale, Hughes, who purchased the magazine in 2012, signaled the difficulties of surviving in the volatile online media marketplace.
The publication, which has survived many near death experiences over the years, once again looks endangered. After former owner Marty Peretz years ago shifted the magazine to a more conservative course, it's had difficulty finding a well-defined audience. The New Republic also bounced back from a scandal involving writer Stephen Glass making up information in articles, the basis of a quite compelling movie, "Shattered Glass."
The Hughes story broke on the same day that another left-wing media icon, the Nation, announced a pay-wall plan for its online site. The Nation joins the New Yorker, the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications shifting from print toward a pay model for online content. Other publications, such as Esquire, the Atlantic, Harper's and New York magazine, soldier on with free online content.
Publications that first made their names in print also face competition from sites that began as online operations and hew to the free-content model, including Salon, Gawker, Slate, and others. Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Yahoo also are stepping up as content providers, with apps and mobile devices taking the lead over laptop and desktop computers. Along with print media, TV, movies and music also continue to be transformed by the ever volatile digital world.
Although Hughes drew criticism from media observers, including the eternally sour grapes Peretz and other disgruntled old New Republic hands, the New Republic's online site isn't that bad. It's spotty, with less depth than other sites, but still offers a couple of interesting articles on any given day, better than much of the stuff on Salon or Slate, both in serious need of revamping.
Perhaps with the right owner, the New Republic can once again revive itself. Most likely, it will fade away without much of a ripple.