Spin Cycle

03.09.12

Ex-Obama Aide Buys The New Republic

Can a Facebook pioneer save the venerable magazine?

The good news for The New Republic is that its new owner is a Web wizard.

Chris Hughes, who became publisher and editor-in-chief with an announcement on Friday, is a co-founder of Facebook.

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SeongJoon Cho, Bloomberg / Getty Images

The not-so-good news is that Hughes worked for the Obama campaign. Does that mean the venerated liberal magazine will turn into a pro-Obama vehicle?

In its heyday, The New Republic was a left-leaning magazine that challenged some of the tenets of Democratic liberalism and included more conservative voices. (Indeed, our own Andrew Sullivan edited the magazine during the ’90s.) It faced a problem under owner Marty Peretz during the 2000 campaign, because Peretz was so close to Al Gore. But Peretz has been at odds with the Democratic establishment on some issues, especially in foreign policy.

I wanted to ask Hughes about his experience helping to run online organizing for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and how that might inform his magazine stewardship. But he hasn't been available to the press after having given pre-cooked interviews to the New York Times and NPR.

Imagine the reaction if a Bush campaign official had bought National Review. But the press doesn’t make much of a fuss when former Clintonites or Obamans take journalistic jobs.

Richard Just remains the editor, and told the Times that Hughes “has assured me that I’m going to continue to run the editorial side of the magazine.” But when Peretz held the editor-in-chief title, he regularly meddled with editorial policy and wrote regularly as well.

Now a biweekly with a circulation of 50,000, the New Republic could use an infusion of cash. The 28-year-old Hughes, who was a Harvard roommate of Mark Zuckerberg, is making the right noises about expanding the magazine’s reporting and analysis. And who better to come up with a viable digital strategy for a somewhat traditional website than a man who helped launch Facebook?

“Five to 10 years from now, if not sooner,” Hughes told the Times, “the vast majority of The New Republic's readers are likely to be reading it on a tablet.”

The opportunity is there for Hughes to revive The New Republic. But media watchers will be waiting to see how the magazine covers all things Obama.