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Slate, now 20 years old, reflects on the value of taking the long view and not chasing digital media trends
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Jan. 11, 2016, 10:53 a.m.
Business Models
LINK: medium.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   January 11, 2016

The New Republic “needs a new vision that only a new owner can bring,” Chris Hughes, the 32-year-old Facebook co-founder who acquired the 102-year-old magazine in 2012, wrote in a memo (posted to Medium) on Monday.

“I will be the first to admit that when I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate…” Hughes wrote. “The unanswered question for The New Republic remains: can it find a sustainable business model that will power its journalism in the decades to come?”

It’s not the first time Hughes has used the silver-bullet metaphor. “I wish I had a magic silver bullet that no one else in the media world has thought of,” he told WWD in 2012 shortly after acquiring the magazine. “We don’t. It’s going to be a long game.”

He cited sites like BuzzFeed, ProPublica, and Vox as “bright spots,” and added, “This next chapter could take many forms. Perhaps it should be run as part of a larger digital media company, as a center-left institute of ideas, or by another passionate individual willing to invest in its future. There are many possibilities.”

In December 2014, Hughes announced that he was restructuring The New Republic as “a vertically integrated media company.” That led to a big round of staff resignations: Editor Franklin Foer, literary editor Leon Wieseltier, and nearly 30 other employees chose to leave. Hughes also moved the magazine’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to New York and cut the number of print issues published each year in half, from 20 to 10.

The magazine’s current masthead lists 54 employees including Hughes.

The New Republic received 2.3 million unique visitors in November, less than half the traffic it got before the resignations, according to comScore via The Wall Street Journal.

An unidentified source told the Journal that Hughes is already in preliminary talks and has “come to believe that a non-profit structure may ultimately be the best solution for the magazine.” Back in 2013, Hughes said, “I think it’s our challenge to ourselves, and to the world, to prove we can find a profitable model.”

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