A 100 year-old, money-losing publication is bought by a Silicon Valley billionaire (Chris Hughes, whose main achievement may have been his stint as Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate).
The zillionaire wants to transform the magazine into a “vertically integrated digital media company,” yet — aside from a lot of Silicon Valley disrupto-jargon — doesn’t seem to know how to do that.
Astonishingly (in an age notable for its massive oversupply of writers), 2/3 of the magazine’s editorial staff ultimately resign in a huff, and the new owner even has an angry, self-righteous video “moment” after the editorial staff tells him to stuff it.
In a New Yorker article, Ryan Lizza narrates the unfolding disaster, including this description of the first meeting between the staff and Guy Vidra (Hughes’ change agent), which reads like a scene from The Office:
He offered a series of statements intended to describe a transformation that could make the magazine profitable, but it came across to the editors as a jumble of clichés and tech jargon. “We’re going to be a hundred-year-old startup,” he said. The magazine needed “to align ourselves from the metabolism perspective” and create “magical experiences for both the content and the product design” and be “fearless in innovation and experimentation” and “change some of the DNA of the organization.” He said that he wanted to institute “a process for annual reviews” and effect a “cultural change where we need to just embrace innovation, experimentation, and cross-functional collaboration,” and said that the editors, writers, and business side would need to “speak to each other much more effectively and efficiently in our gatherings” in order “to take us to the next stage.”
Vidra didn’t mention the magazine’s journalism. “Never did he once allude to the history of the magazine,” a former staffer said. “It was just terrifying rhetoric about change without any substance to back it up.”
At least two of the Silicon Valley’s tech wunderkinder are learning that aggregating the content of others while shearing away some of the value may be a profitable technology achievement, but getting people to pay for your content is another ballgame.
The New Republic is on hiatus until February. When it emerges again, will it be a vertically integrated media company? Or simply a zillionaire’s toy?
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.