The top two editors at the New Republic resigned Thursday, presaging a transformation of the century-old liberal politics and culture magazine by its young owner and publisher.
Executive editor Franklin Foer and literary editor Leon Wieseltier quit in an editorial shake-up at the venerable Washington-based title, which has been owned by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, 31, since 2012. The magazine will also halve its frequency to 10 issues per year.
The magazine said that Gabriel Snyder, digital adviser at Bloomberg and a former writer and editor at Gawker and the Atlantic, would replace Foer, who has edited the New Republic since 2012 and was also its editor from 2006 to 2010.
People at the magazine said Hughes has been concerned about the publication’s financial performance and the “metabolism” of its editorial staff, which he has deemed too slow for a digital era. They said, however, that he has not made clear how he intends to change its money-losing print and web operations.
Hughes recently hired Guy Vidra, an executive at Yahoo.com, to serve as chief executive, a move opposed by Foer, according to employees. Vidra alienated some staffers with an aggressive internal presentation in October in which he spoke of his desire to “break s---,” a common Silicon Valley catch-all for rapid change.
At a 100th-anniversary celebration for the magazine two weeks ago in Washington, Hughes further roiled employees by speaking about his desire to transform the magazine, rather than lauding its editorial achievements. During his presentation at the same event, Vidra mispronounced Foer’s name, according to people who were in attendance.
The event’s keynote speaker was former president Bill Clinton, who praised Hughes “for the new energy and innovation you’ve brought to the New Republic,” which was founded by liberal lions such as Walter Lippmann at the start of World War I.
In his speech at the gala, Wieseltier, who has spent more than 30 years as editor of the New Republic’s “back of the book” culture columns, read a poem by Walt Whitman that celebrated the virtues of tradition. Several staffers said they interpreted his selection as a veiled swipe at Hughes’s unannounced plans.
Hughes was the Harvard roommate of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and one of the co-founders of the social-media giant. He left the company with stock holdings that eventually were worth hundreds of millions of dollars and became director of social media for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. Recently, he helped finance an unsuccessful campaign for Congress by his spouse, Sean Eldridge, a New York Democrat.
Hughes bought the magazine, which had a circulation of about 35,000 at the time, from an investor group that included longtime publisher-owner Martin Peretz, marking his first foray into publishing. He and Vidra were unavailable for comment Thursday.
In an e-mail to TNR’s staff Thursday, Foer, 40, wrote that he was odds with Hughes and Vidra over the magazine’s direction. “I’ve had an especially wonderful time these past two and half years. We’ve published essays and journalism that have actually, in moments, changed the world, or at least people’s opinions about the world.
“I’ve always had a hard time imagining leaving here. That moment, however, has arrived. Chris and Guy have significant plans for this place. And their plans and my own vision for TNR meaningfully diverge.”
Vidra, in a message to staffers, said the magazine “will be making significant investments in creating a more effective and efficient newsroom.” The changes, he said, will require “a recalibration of our resources,” including cutting the print magazine’s frequency in half. He also mentioned “some changes to staff structure” — apparently code for layoffs — but did not spell out any specifics.
The magazine leased new office space above the International Spy Museum in downtown Washington last year.
In a column posted Thursday afternoon, Jonathan Chait, a former New Republic staffer who writes for New York magazine, lamented Foer’s departure. “Frank Foer isn’t leaving TNR because he wasn’t a good enough editor,” Chait wrote. “He’s leaving because Chris Hughes is not a good enough owner.”
He added, “The problem . . . is that Hughes and Vidra are afflicted with the belief that they can copy the formula that transformed the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed into economic successes, which is probably wrong, and that this formula can be applied to The New Republic, which is certainly wrong.”