TNR doesn’t want to be BuzzFeed. But maybe Vox

December 8, 2014
Category: Uncategorized

The first thing I asked New Republic CEO Guy Vidra to do was to explain his vision for the company in plain English. “It is unfortunate that our vision for the company has not been articulated clearly enough, and I take full responsibility,” he said.

He also says it “is just not right” that he was looking to boot New Republic Editor Franklin Foer from the moment he started at the company. Foer lost his job last week in a messy coup followed by many staffers resigning from the company.

His plan? “We need to succeed in digital,” Vidra said. “What that means in reality is to take technology, to take experimentation in digital, and to leverage all of that in the service of great journalism.”

That could take the form of expanded presentations of longform stories, for instance. “This publication has primarily focused on print,” he said, emphasizing that the printed magazine is “not going away.”

But he foresees digital- and print-focused editorial people collaborating with one another as well as with engineers and people in other departments when figuring out how they want to tell stories. Richer presentations borne of such confabbing “are things that this institution has not experimented with.”

Some of what he wants “has not been figured out yet,” Vidra allows.

In a meeting on Friday Vidra told staffers The New Republic would not become BuzzFeed. He expanded on those remarks: “What BuzzFeed has accomplished is incredibly impressive, and I think it’s important that we as folks who work in the media industry look at why they’ve been successful and try to understand it.”

BuzzFeed is “doing real work,” he said. “That’s absolutely laudable and they should be proud. I think there’s incredible work that they’ve done. We are different.”

Vox is a company Vidra very much admires. I mentioned that it, like BuzzFeed, has a robust product department. The New Republic will work a lot on product, too, he said.

Vidra and New Republic owner Chris Hughes eventually took questions from employees in a meeting Friday, after initially saying they wouldn’t. Most questions were about strategy and people “seeking to understand more about where we were going and to have more clarity.”

The staffers who remain at the publication are “eager to embrace” his vision, he said, and as that “very difficult and sad day” ended, “I think there was a lot of enthusiasm in the room for where we are going.” (One employee still there told me “people definitely felt better about things” after the talk.)

The publication’s D.C. office will not become a backwater, he said: “It has always been critical and it will continue to be critical. Politics, policy: These are the things that are at the heart of the brand.”

I asked him what he’d learned from his time at The New Republic so far. He said he didn’t articulate his vision well when he started at the company, either — he told employees “‘let’s break shit’ and ‘we’re a tech company now,’” Jonathan Chait reports.

“I think that the primary thing is that that I made some assumptions that people would know why I came to The New Republic and would understand that I have a deep passion and respect for the institution, the work, the people,” he said.

He chalks up his buzz-speak to “enthusiasm” and said, “I said some things that were, unfortunately, misinterpreted. I wish I could change that because there is nothing I want more than to continue the tradition of the things that make this place special and find a larger audience for it, increase its influence and take it into the next century.”

New editor Gabriel Snyder is a proven commodity, he said, “and I have every confidence that we will grow and we will be absolutely successful.”


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