Washington City Paper Editor Mike Schaffer leaves for The New Republic

Washington City Paper’s editor, Mike Schaffer, and its real-estate columnist, Lydia DePillis, are headed to The New Republic. Managing Editor Mike Madden will be the alt-weekly’s new editor; Arts Editor Jonathan Fischer will move into Madden’s old role.

Schaffer will be editorial director for The New Republic, which was sold to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in March. Hughes named Franklin Foer editor in May, and he’s reportedly told people he wants to turn the venerable political magazine into “The New Yorker of D.C.” The New Republic hired novelist Walter Kirn as a national correspondent earlier this month.

Michael Calderone reported Thursday that Greg Veis, an editor at The New York Times Magazine, will be executive editor at The New Republic.

Schaffer’s brief at his new employer will be to ramp up its digital offerings. “I’ll be part of the edit team and overseeing the various existing and to-be-developed digital endeavors that we’re looking to dream up for the rebooted TNR,” he writes in an email. He became the alt-weekly’s editor in 2010, after its previous editor, Erik Wemple, left the paper to edit TBD.com.

DePillis will cover tech at The New Republic after a two-month sojourn in India.

City Paper announced in March it was looking for new ownership and that all staffers would take a 5 percent pay cut. Schaffer says that wasn’t a factor in the decision.

I don’t feel like I’m fleeing anything. Even after the pay cut, I’ve felt committed to WCP–I viewed them as part of the temporary pain associated with trying to market the paper for sale, an effort I was working on. So this has been possibly the most difficult decision of my life: I love City Paper, always wanted to be its editor, and have a fair amount of faith in its future. But I was blown away by the picture of ambition and growth that Frank and Chris laid out for TNR. I think its going to be one of the most exciting places to be in journalism in the next few years, and I’m pumped to be part of it.

In an email to staff, Schaffer says the decision was “wrenching”:

I told Amy late last week that, quite suddenly and much to my surprise, I found myself being wooed for a job opportunity that I had to consider. This week I told her that I’d be taking the job and leaving City Paper to help newly returned editor Frank Foer reboot The New Republic.

This has probably been the most wrenching decision of my life. The fact is, I love being editor of City Paper like I’ve loved no other job: This paper, and the awesome colleagues I get to work with here, are a civic treasure; getting the freedom to dream up ways to snag the paper the attention and influence it deserves has been the most thrilling challenge of my career. But at the same time, I’ve been in journalism for 17 years, and most of them have been dominated by talk about reduction and cutbacks. The opportunity to be involved with something where new ownership is devoting significant resources to journalism and to changing a magazine’s place in the media landscape was too good to pass up.

I know the timing of this move is sucky. On a personal level, we’re about to have another baby. More importantly, on an institutional level, the City Paper sale made my choice more vexing, not less: I really believe the odds are that the institution that emerges from the sale will be more robust in both finances and journalism than the status quo. There’s obviously a bunch of ifs between here and there–and in the sleepless past 10 days of my life, I’ve run through every last one of ‘em. (Seriously: I think Madden, my wife, and my parents have all been ready to toss me off the roof as I’ve gone through a Hamlet routine these last few days.)

Being editor of City Paper was a job I always wanted. I’m proud of a lot of the work we’ve done here. As an editor, its a peculiar kind of pride, because it mostly involves the work of others–you: I’m proud we have shown the vibrancy of City Paper’s longform tradition via great stories like Suderman’s Marion Barry profile, Lydia’s piece pondering why the architecture is so mediocre in our rich new D.C., Baca’s bike meditation, and Fischer’s ride on the bruise cruise–a journey that made him and Darrow City Paper’s first foreign correspondents. I think the redesign Jandos masterminded, and the smart, fun look he and Brooke build every week, have rendered the paper vastly more accessible than before and helped nudge our identity towards that of a thoughtful magazine about Washington. Covering a roiling city, I think we really helped define the 2010 mayoral election with a pair of definitive candidate profiles and the stellar opinion poll dreamed up by Mike Madden; as the troubled new regime came in, Suderman wrote some of the first stories about politicians’ car troubles and the questions about political moneyman Jeff Thompson. Online, we’ve watched Housing Complex win an AAN award and become a must-read about the shape of D.C. (I suspect Jessica’s rebooted food blog will be a contender for the same title next year); we finally got Darrow the slideshow ability to showcase his amazing work; we produced awesome phony advertisements and a video involving lab coats; and Ally and Will have helped our old agate listings live in searchable web form. And in the face of some pretty grim budget cuts late last year, you all helped figure out innovative magazine-style packages like the Questions issue. Also, when Dan Snyder tried to bully us, we didn’t flinch, and I can honestly say that Amy Austin was an even tougher tough guy than I was in that fight, because she knew what values were at stake.

So now I’m joining the vaunted City Paper alumni association for a second time. But please don’t feel like I’m fleeing anything. I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months trying to lure new buyers to Champlain Street, and some of them are still in the mix. What I’ve told them is that someone who comes in here and invests in the business will be able to do good for Washington, have fun for themselves–and make some money, too. If you meet anyone who’s in the mood to do that, tell ‘em to call me, and I’ll help explain how.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of you for being such fun, hard working, devoted citizens of City Paper. And I especially want to shout out two people: Amy, who hired me and stood by me without flinching whenever matters of journalistic principle were at stake. And Mike Madden, my editing partner, guru, and dear friend, with whom I’ve spent so many hours trying to dream up ways to make City Paper kick even more ass. I know the dreaming, and the ass-kicking, will continue.

Reached by phone, Madden says, “The work that Schaffer and I were doing for the last few years is kind of in line with what I want to keep going.” That includes trying “to help explain what is going on here in town both to the people who are new and the people who’ve been here for a while.” He says he intends to fill the arts editor position as well as DePillis’ post.

(I used to be managing editor at City Paper, I worked with Wemple at TBD.com, and I hired DePillis and Fischer.)

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    AlanSuderman‏@AlanSuderman‏@AlanSuderman
    Good riddance to lowlife smut peddler @michaelschaffer. Long live @mikemadden, the north star of quality journalism.