TNR Illustrates The Dangers Of Being A Hood Ornament

TNR Illustrates The Dangers Of Being A Hood Ornament

Lefty media is throwing shade at Chris Hughes, the owner of The New Republic, for the surprising departures of editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier. Ten contributing editors have resigned, only some via Twitter. Foer and Wieseltier are departing because of their incompatibility with Hughes’ vision of TNR as a “digital media company” rather than a magazine, as they told the NYT recently, in discussions about the magazine’s 100th anniversary:

Mr. Hughes (who gave up the editor in chief title but remains publisher) and Mr. Vidra dismissed speculation that they wanted to take the magazine in a more lowbrow, BuzzFeed-like direction. But they did say there was room to increase the digital audience to as much as “tens of millions” of unique monthly visitors by focusing on a broader range of topics and on new forms of digital storytelling that “travel well” on the web.

Jon Chait writes a pained eulogy here. Only Gawker likes the move – a former Gawker editor being the new lead at TNR, of course, is incidental. And about the publication’s new leadership:

Vidra’s vision for TNR was radically different than that of Foer and Wieseltier. In meetings with staff, he spoke of the magazine as though it were a Silicon Valley startup, sources said. He talked about “disruption” and said he wanted to “break shit.” He referred to himself as a “wartime CEO.” At one point, he proposed giving every employee shares in the company, suggesting that he had plans to make it public.

Sources said that Vidra also showed little regard for Foer or his writers. In a meeting held in November, he made it clear to staff that he found the magazine boring and had stopped reading longform articles. Three weeks later, at the magazine’s 100-year anniversary gala — a star-studded, black-tie affair featuring speeches from former President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Vidra mispronounced Foer’s name while introducing him to the audience. (He pronounced “Foer” as “Foyer.”)

This is the danger, of course, of being at a publication which is little more than a rich person’s hood ornament: you are subject to their whims and tendencies, and oftentimes those whims can be notoriously finicky among millionaires who did not earn their money through entrepreneurial endeavor, but because they inherited it, or because they happened to be Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate. Wealthy people who did not earn their wealth are sometimes secretly worried that other people don’t respect their capability to be accomplished, largely because they haven’t accomplished anything. This leads you to chase affirmation in all sorts of odd, costly, and mismanaged ways, such as spending millions on consultants to run your husband, Sean Eldridge, for a congressional seat only to lose by 30 points. Here is a typical ad from the race.

Within the media experience, it’s always nice to have money. Being lean and frisky is all well and good, but who doesn’t want some rich backer to make everything easier, to fund the acquisition of big name talents, and eliminate the need to chase investors or respond to the whims of the marketplace? (Finally, we can get into video!) But inevitably they get the idea that they’re not a philanthropist backing an endeavor out of interest in the impact it will make on the country or the world, but that they’re someone with ideas too, good ideas, not dumb like people say. They take a few meetings and decide that they want to do something completely different with their toy, and before you know it you’re telling Leon Wieseltier that if he’s going to write about Walt Whitman again, he needs to use more cat gifs. And that’s no way to publish.

Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist. Sign up for a free trial of his daily newsletter, The Transom.
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