Back in 2012, Hughes purchased a majority stake in The New Republic with lofty goals of shepherding it into the digital age while still maintaining its D.C. political cred, but the partnership proved to be a rocky one.
After the CEO Hughes hired replaced editor-in-chief Franklin Foer, a dozen of the magazine’s staffers quit, and there were major questions about whether TNR could find a successful business model in the age of new media and digital journalism.
Hughes’ tenure at TNR was going down in flames around the same time as husband Sean Eldridge’s failed bid for Congress, so it’s been a rough couple of years for the gay power couple who were once fawningly trumpeted as the Great Gay Hope for gays in media and politics.
In a staff memo, Hughes pretty much throws in the towel on his New Republic experiment:
“After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic. Although I do not have the silver bullet, a new owner should have the vision and commitment to carry on the traditions that make this place unique and give it a new mandate for a new century.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Hughes is in the process of lining up potential buyers from various fields, including other media companies and digital startups. However, the next owner faces an uphill battle.
Traffic to the site is down double digits in recent years, and although the print magazine was cut from 20 issues a year to 10, publishing is an added expense that digital native brands and competitors like Gawker and Vox don’t have.
And there is also the challenge in updating an institution like TNR and introducing it to a digital generation that, outside of writers and editors, has little interest in the history of the magazine as a cultural institution. In the words of Vox, the magazine that once touted itself as the “in-flight reading on Air Force One” has probably been replaced by an Ipad.
Hughes still has millions (and millions) to fall back on, so his next move will attract attention no matter what. Let’s just hope the next step is more forward thinking than to try to rescue what is quickly becoming a relic of the past.