Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Is Buying 'The New Republic'

Mar 9, 2012
Originally published on March 12, 2012 11:09 am

Social media meets old media:

Saying that he's convinced "the demand for long-form, quality journalism is strong in our country," Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that he's buying The New Republic.

That's a magazine, as Steve says, which is four times older than its new owner. Hughes is 28.

"People still want independent, rigorous reporting and The New Republic has been a place where that happens," Hughes tells Steve during a conversation that's to be broadcast on Friday's Morning Edition.

Hughes, who directed online organizing for the Obama campaign in 2008, adds that there's no shortage of short-form journalism these days (such as blogs). "The shortage is understanding the big problems of our day," he believes. "Where do you go for context on the problems our nation faces?"

And he sees a growing ability to connect long-form journalism to digital users, thanks to tablets that allow users to "pause, linger, read and process very important ideas."

He sees The New Republic as a place "of liberal values. And by that I mean values that embrace the core American ideals of freedom, equality and an American responsibility to make the world a better place."

There's no word yet on the price Hughes is paying for The New Republic. He does think it "can be profitable," though it's "not going to be the next Facebook-" — which earned him the money to make a deal such as this.

We'll add the as-broadcast version of their discussion to the top of this post later today.

Update at 6:45 a.m. ET. The New York Times also spoke with Hughes. Its Media Decoder blog writes that:

Hughes "will become publisher and the editor in chief of the magazine, and Richard Just will remain the editor. Martin Peretz, who was editor in chief from 1975 until 2010, when his title was changed to editor in chief emeritus, will become a member of the magazine's advisory board. ...

"Under Mr. Peretz's editorship and ownership, the magazine has passionately supported Israel and drawn criticism at times for its pro-war stances. The magazine's editorials supported the Iraq War in 2003 and later expressed deep regret for doing so."

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It wasn't so many years ago that Chris Hughes, a student at Harvard, co-founded an Internet startup, Facebook. Later he coordinated online efforts for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008.

And now he's becoming a magazine publisher. Hughes has purchased The New Republic, we can tell you this morning. The liberal magazine was founded almost a century ago, around the start of the First World War. It has featured writers such as George Orwell and John Maynard Keynes. Like many print publications, The New Republic has more recently fallen on hard times.

Now, at the age of 28, Chris Hughes has taken on the job of reviving it. What is it that would make you want to buy a magazine that's almost four times older than you are?

CHRIS HUGHES: It's pretty simple. I believe that the demand for long-form quality journalism is strong in our country and I think that despite all of the changes in technology over the past few years, people still want in-depth, rigorous reporting, and The New Republic has been a place where that's happened. And under my leadership and the leadership of folks there, we'll double down on that.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that a little bit. When you say people want long-form, quality journalism, I'd certainly like to think it's true, but magazines have really suffered - a lot of magazines have really suffered in the last several years especially.

HUGHES: Yeah, there's no question that there's been a technological disruption, if you will, and it's changed the way that people consume their news. But at this point I think the shortage is not actually with these places where you can get tidbits of news. The shortage is understanding the big problems of our day. Where do we go for context on the problems that our nation faces?

I mean, you can take something like Syria, for example. There's a headline about it every day. There's a snip-it. Often times I think people read a few paragraphs, but where do you really dig in and ask yourself the question, what should the United States policy towards Syria be? What would an intervention look like? The sources of that kind of journalism, I feel like, are in demand more than ever.

INSKEEP: What kind of publisher do you envision being? Are you going to be the kind who, like, is walking around on the newsroom floor and giving advice and instructions to people, or keep your hands off?

HUGHES: I expect to be involved in shaping the editorial tone of the magazine and also the business side. The thing that I think is most interesting and has really provided a new opportunity for this type of long-form serious journalism is the introduction of the tablet, and by tablet I mean not just the iPad but the Kindle, the Nook, all the Android devices. I mean the numbers of these things that are being sold are really staggering. And I think that while they're not a panacea, they're not going to solve all of our problems, I do think that they make it easier for people to pause, linger, read, and really process very important ideas and things that may take a little bit longer than a couple clicks and a browser would allow.

INSKEEP: You're saying that on tablets, on iPads and the like, that it's a little bit easier to stay focussed?

HUGHES: I think so. I think most people - I think it's hard to read a 3,000 word piece or a 5,000 word piece even on a browser, because you've got email open in another tab, you might have Facebook, you might have other news websites that are calling for your attention. So it's rare that we pause for that long.

INSKEEP: How much have you looked into the history of the New Republic?

HUGHES: A bit. It's an institution that I know well. So you know, the – I think the fact that it was founded nearly 100 years ago at a time that in some ways was very similar to our own from a journalistic prospective makes it a very unique institution and one with a long history of an important role in the national affairs.

INSKEEP: Explain something you just said. You said almost 100 years ago, 1914 - is that right? - was a time very similar to our own in terms of journalism. What do you mean by that?

HUGHES: Well, the editors of the publication in the very first issue make clear that there was a deep skepticism about the demand for serious journalism. They too bemoaned a desire for entertainment in the news or for some of the things that you hear lots of media skeptics today...

INSKEEP: This was a time of expansion of mass circulation newspapers. Pulitzer, William Randoph Hearst, people like that. So they were looking for something a little less sensational, I guess.

HUGHES: Well, I think there's an important difference between the newspaper and a magazine. I view the role of the magazine as providing the deeper reporting and the thoughtful analysis to help you make sense of why that news is important. And I think that the founding editors of the magazine almost 100 years ago felt something similar.

INSKEEP: Chris Hughes is the new owner of The New Republic. Thanks for coming by.

HUGHES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.