The New New Republic Shapes Up

Most people interested in the world of political media that haven’t been living under a rock for the past month have likely heard – and have likely had something to say – about the crisis at The New Republic. (If you have been living under a rock, Ryan Lizza’s story on the whole mess is probably the only thing that you need to read, although The Awl‘s Choire Sicha impishly put together a fairly comprehensive list of “hot takes” about it all a while back. Of them, Coates’ is, unsurprisingly, the most worthwhile.)

Today, incoming editor Gabriel Snyder, formerly of The Atlantic Wire and Gawker, put out a letter broadly addressing the situation and the magazine’s complicated legacy.

The New Republic has always been both in love and at war with its prior self. The magazine’s early decades were marked by abrupt ownership changes, unceremonious dismissals of editors, shifting policy positions, and uprooted headquarters, all accompanied by masthead upheavals.

In 1974, Martin Peretz, a 35-year-old social studies lecturer at Harvard College, bought The New Republic. He pledged to leave things as they were and to keep then-editor Gilbert Harrison “for a minimum of three years,” as Harrison told the Times. Sooner than that, however, Peretz installed himself as editor, resignations followed, and much of the staff was replaced by his former students. They would go on to dominate the masthead for the rest of the century.

A decade into Peretz’s tenure, Michael Straight, the owner-editor after World War II and son of the magazine’s first financial backer, wrote a letter to The New York Review of Books announcing “the spirit which Croly created and which Gilbert Harrison maintained in recent years was shattered.” Peretz, who stood accused of endorsing Israel’s 1985 bombing of Beirut, rightly ridiculed this appeal to constancy. “What spirit of The New Republic exactly would they be violating?” he replied to the letters page. “The magazine has had a long and complicated history.” Last year Peretz was the one complaining, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the current owner, Chris Hughes, is “not from the world of Herbert Croly.” A survey of the many deaths and rebirths of The New Republic shows, if anything, that its most important survival skill has been to attract new champions from beyond its inner sanctum.

The most relevant paragraph for those of us with a more than passing interest in the magazine’s racial history – and those of us who want to make a living in this business – was this one:

As we revive one proud legacy of The New Republicthe launching of new voices and expertsthose new voices and experts will be diverse in race, gender, and background. As we build our editorial staff, we will reach out to talented journalists who might have previously felt unwelcome at The New Republic. If this publication is to be influential, and not merely survive, it can no longer afford to represent the views of one privileged class, nor appeal solely to a small demographic of political elites.

Interestingly, it was announced today that one of the “new voices” that’s set to grace the magazine’s pages in the near future will be Jeet Heer, a Canadian journalist who was one of many to examine exactly why non-white and non-male journalists were “unwelcome” for so long in the immediate aftermath of the staff departures:

Heet has some additional thoughts on The New Republic and gender on his blog Sans Everything.

Other “new voices” announced today: New York Magazine‘s Ann Friedman, freelance writer Batya Ungar-Sargon, poet and writer Cathy Park Hong, Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Inga Saffron, The Hairpin contributing editor Jazmine Hughes, Jeffery Ball, scholar-in-residence at Stanford University’s Center for Energy Policy and Finance, freelance writer Thomas Rogers, Mental Floss contributing editor Jen Doll, and novelist William Giraldi. It’s not entirely clear what exactly “new” means in this context given that pieces from most of these writers has been published by TNR over the past few months. Still, it’s definitely a diverse and promising slate.


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