A Few Quick Thoughts on the New Republic

PM UPDATE:  I've postponed my planned 2nd blog for the day, and instead updated this one to reflect changing facts: 

It appears as though 30 contributors to The New Republic resigned this morning. I think this Mashable piece offers a balanced and reasoned take on the mass exodus. Overall, the mass resignations do not change my feelings about the situation. I've yet to hear anything that management has planned that automatically means weakening the journalistic foundations of TNR. Good journalism and analysis can co-exist with a profitable digital platform.

That's not to say that Chris Hughes and Guy Vidra are good people for whom to work, or that they won't run TNR into the ground. But if the objection from those who resigned is to going digital, and perhaps increasing the amount of click bait on the website, they are misguided about the future of journalism in the twenty-first century. A viable business model is the key to supporting great journalism, and the two are not mutually exclusive. 

My Original Post:

This won't be a full post, as I have another one planned for this afternoon. I also hesitate to write much given that I have no inside knowledge, nor have I done any reporting to figure out what is going on at The New Republic. There may well be much about the vision held by the leadership (especially owner Chris Hughes) that is not yet public and which I would find highly objectionable. 

Nonetheless, given what we know now (and my knowledge stems from tweets, this New York Times piece, and this Politico piece), I find some of the angst confusing. I lament the loss of two good editors, and I applaud Ryan Lizza, Jonathan Chait, and Robert Kagen for sticking to their guns and resigning if they find the changes at the publication troubling. 

But the substance of the changes, on the surface, doesn't seem like it will greatly reduce the quality of the content. 

Reducing to ten print editions per year and focusing on digital strikes me as almost irrelevant to the quality of the product produced by any publication in 2014. I'm far more troubled by the opinions purportedly held by CEO Guy Vidra regarding long form journalism. 

In today's day and age, platform is irrelevant. I am someone who prefers to read print books to ebooks. Nonetheless, I find digital articles far better than print publications from a convenience standpoint. I also firmly believe that a digital first strategy does not have to mean bad journalism. To the contrary, there is a lot of great journalism being produced by online only publications and plenty of it is long form. 

The key is good long form investigative journalism regardless of the platform. So long as a publication produces that, I see no detriment to society or journalism if a publication changes its business structure, and focuses on being a digital content company. 

In studying the media business, far too much is made about changes in delivery mechanisms. The reality is that old delivery mechanisms may cease to exist or find their purposes changed with time (as has happened for centuries). The key as a society is to ensure that the quality of content remains high, and that we get as much of it as we did through old delivery mechanisms. 

We also live in a society in which consumers can and will pick and choose what media they consume. Thus, I'm not even troubled by the fears voiced in the Politico article that The New Republic might now chase clicks like Buzz Feed

Again, to me, the key question is does TNR continue to produce high quality, long form journalism? If the answer is yes, then mixing in some click bait really shouldn't trouble people. In the days of a print journal, that might have been problematic because fluff would be taking pages from serious journalism. But in a digital world, people will pick and choose what stories they read, and space is fairly infinite. Most people will not read everything on the TNR website, so they can pick and choose as they see fit. 

As such, there is no reason TNR cannot appeal to multiple audiences in different ways. Click bait for readers interested in such fare (which might pay the bills), and serious long form journalism for people who like to read those sorts of pieces. The two can comfortably coexist on one website so long as TNR remains committed to hiring quality journalists and supporting their work. If this commitment wanes, it will be a loss for everyone. If it remains strong, then perhaps we will look back on this moment as the time when TNR's future became assured.