Monday, December 15, 2014

A Money-Losing Venture Only Matters In The Real World

Last week the literary world was buzzing with New Republic news, a swirl of bad feelings and angst and outrage. And all that for a journal that was losing money, but had the sort of editorial content that the staffers liked.

In part, the issue revolved around politics, and not of the office variety. The news journal is based in Washington DC and the current administration is a liberal one. The people who worked for the rag were also liberal in their views, and those views were being expressed when the New Republic was owned by a bunch of rich men who didn't mind pouring money into a losing venture. Until, of course, they did mind.

The journal was sold to Chris Hughes, a man steeped in social media. That's not New Republic, and once Mr. Hughes began running his piece of the old media, the staff grew increasingly disgruntled. They were as hide-bound as the most staunch Republican conservative, unwilling to change, seeing Mr. Hughes as a danger to their way of doing things.

Because Mr. Hughes bought it, he could do what he liked with it, and he liked to shift operations to New York City where the publishing industry lives. The staffers were alarmed. Politics happens in DC, and the journal is all about politics. How could they keep doing what they were doing if they were to be doing it far from the source?

Even more upsetting was the talk of turning the journal into a digital-media operation. Much of that talk came from the new CEO, who was formerly with Yahoo News.

Chris Hughes made his money in Facebook. Facebook makes money in the real world, while New Republic was losing money. The staff thought he was buying a trinket and would continue to pump in the cash to keep things as they were, a money-losing venture. They were wrong. So they quit.

Everyone who could, those who did not need the income, left the magazine rather than go along with Mr. Hughes' plan to remake the old brand. The journal was all about political thought, had been for the past one hundred years, and they would not be part of any attempt to alter the status quo. The concept of "journalism" was replaced by "content" that was marketable. It became all about turning a profit rather than turning a phrase.

Without the old guard, can the New Republic survive? Can a century-old name be made relevant to the Millennial generation who might be thinking that the journal is something their parents or, worse yet, their grandparents are fond of reading?

Clearly something had to change because in the real world, a publication has to at least break even to remain alive. Owners with deep pockets are few and far between, and such an owner with a passion for liberal politics would be the most rare of all.

This being the real world, the New Republic was dying, and drastic change may just be the final nail in its non-digital coffin.

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