What We Read, Why, And How

Chris Hughes, the thirty-one-year-old owner of The New Republic. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN WIGGS/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY

Chris Hughes, the thirty-one-year-old owner of The New Republic. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN WIGGS/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY

We care about books, and libraries, and languages, and long form journalism among other reasons to get perspective, to become informed beyond our local experience. When a century-old vital institution from any of these realms perishes, it is worth taking note, and mourning as George Packer does in a short punch of a post:

…As for the mass self-purge of editors and writers at The New Republic, it might be taken as part of the ongoing demise of old journalistic institutions in the face of new realities of technology and business. Or it might just be the story of one incompetent media mogul. Two years ago, with a lucky Facebook-based fortune and earnest talk about great journalism, Chris Hughes seduced a lot of hardened veterans of the New York-Washington news world who were desperate for a vision of the future.

If his original intention, when he bought The New Republic, was to turn it into a “vertically integrated digital-media company,” as his new chief executive put it at a disastrous recent staff meeting, Hughes should have started such a company from scratch and called it, say, V.I.D.M.C., rather than ruining what has been, in different periods during the past century, though not for some time, one of the country’s great magazines. (At least Pierre Omidyar, whose money came from eBay, has had the decency to stumble with a venture of his own making—First Look Media.) Perhaps those newly unemployed editors and writers—some of whom left excellent jobs to work for Hughes, and will go on to do excellent work for other magazines, though at the moment it’s hard to think of which ones—should form their own startup. Then they could buy back the naming rights for a dollar in exchange for ending Hughes’s public humiliation, and call it “The New Republic.” The only question is who would give them the capital…

…Nonetheless, he seems to have killed off The New Republic, and just after its hundredth birthday. It’s hard to think of an analogous case. Some media owners strip their acquisitions for the cash (Sam Zell); some fail to turn them around (Sidney Harman); some unload them when times get harder (the Bancrofts, the Grahams). This might be the first case of an inadvertent killing, a death by character flaw, as if Hughes didn’t quite care enough to do everything needed to keep his new child alive. Right now, Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, who has given his new acquisition, the Washington Post, cash to grow and otherwise kept out of the way, looks like a journalist’s dream.

It’s true that journalism is in crisis, but the crisis has nothing to do with the work journalists actually do. Digital startups aren’t creating whole new forms—they’re trying to find a new way to pay for the old, normal work that journalists have always done, and learning how difficult it is…

Read the whole post here.

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