Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The New New New New Republic

Pyonter had a nice run down about the new face of the (new) New Republic and some of changes that have gone down since last December when most of employees quit/were laid off after it was bought out by Facebook zillionare Chris Hughes. The fallout from the whole affair showed the political media at it's worst in my opinion. TNR loyalists like Jonathan Chait were morally outraged that such an important media institution was being destroyed (meanwhile local papers seem to be downsized or fold every week), while long time critics like Ta-Nehisi Coates basically did a "ding dong the witch is dead" dance and cited Buzzfeed as a better model for the future.

Media people are weird...

Either way it showed the political media's tendency to always assume whatever is happening in their industry is the most important thing in the world. Personally I never read the old magazine that much, other than Chait that is, and it kind of makes sense that it would have to change. There just isn't much room for a liberal magazine with politics largely devoted to hawkish foreign policy and critiques of traditional liberal policy prescriptions. Maybe that made sense in the 70's and 80's when arguably liberalism and the Democratic Party really did need to make some changes, but by the age of Obama the country was clearly facing problems far removed from the single mothers on welfare and Soviet aggression of old.

What Hughes has come up with though is so far removed from what the New Republic was as to make a claim to any continuum outside of a brand name and a few old hands pretty silly to a non-media person. Don't get me wrong, I like the new New Republic, it has a number of writers I enjoy reading and following on twitter, but the Hughes apple as fallen pretty far from the "in flight magazine of Air Force One" tree. Just take it's new mission statement, “The New Republic is a mission-driven media organization. We promote novel solutions for today’s most critical issues.” Here I thought I was going to read a magazine about politics, but I guess we are more interested in novel solutions to mass species extinction or something instead. Actually that brings up a substantive point, their coverage of climate change is pretty thin gruel so far, so I guess we don't have solutions for all of "today's most critical issues" yet, but hopefully they'll get around to it at some point.

Hughes has pumped a mind boggling amount of money into his new venture and considering the economic state of the news media these days he's really doing the Lord's work. But coming from tech world has resulted in some pretty jarring changes. Basically his higher ups talk in a hip pseudo-modern tech jargon that no one outside of silicone valley understands (for example the new mission statement is "a crystallizing force"), a lot like the Stewart Pearson character from the great British comedy The Thick Of It. Again this couldn't be further removed from the late night dorm room bull sessions or Marty Peretz meltdowns of TNR's past. This of course doesn't make the new style necessarily bad, it's certainly better than "The Great Comma Debate" it's just hard to see what connects the new TNR to the old one other than a brand name.

When it comes to political writing the break is even bigger. Old TNR would hire smart young white guys from the Ivy League to explain what liberals (and some times racial minorities) were doing wrong (too much welfare, not enough Contra aid) the new TNR hires people like Jamil Smith who used to work on Melissa Harris-Perry's TV show to write about what liberals are doing wrong. For example, Martin O'Malley has great policies but is "too imperfect a messenger" so boo to him! In addition he hosts podcasts on the nebulous feminist concept known as "intersectionality" and writes posts saying Black Lives Matter protestors are right to disrupt Bernie Sander's events (old TNR would probably have hated Bernie Sanders too, so hey common ground!) In addition you have folks like Canadian left-wing journalist Jeet Heer who is great on Twitter, or Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig who writes about public policy issues from a Christian feminist standpoint (yeah that's really not what TNR used to be like).

Anyway the new New Republic is a nice site and totally deserves to exist, but it doesn't seem to make much sense to my why its named after a magazine whose record it seems to reject and entire ethos it seems to not so much throw out the window as jettison into the sun.

Which I guess is a long way of saying that media conventions are pretty strange, and I'm sort of glad I don't work in that industry.

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