First Mover: Chris Hughes

The Facebook co-founder has big ideas for expanding the appeal of 'The New Republic'


Age 28

New gig Publisher, editor in chief, The New Republic

Old gig Facebook co-founder, Obama campaign strategist, founder of Jumo

After Facebook and Washington, what’s it like to be part of the old-media establishment?

It’s completely different from the startup world. TNR is one of those big institutions, but in some ways, we’re a bit of a startup. We’re trying to build a sustainable business model for the next 10 to 20 years, which is going to be a challenge. But you look at The Atlantic, The Economist—there are traditional print models that are flourishing. I feel like there’s a hunger out there for big-idea journalism. Book sales are at an all-time high. The magazines I’m talking about, all their print numbers are up. Not to overstate it—it’s a small order of people—but I think the conventional wisdom that young people don’t want to read is a little misplaced.

How are you going to make this magazine viable? Do you plan to go broader or keep it as a niche audience magazine, for example?

I think we can do both. The magazine has historically been for an intellectual milieu. I do think we have to expand the coverage. To be a big-idea publication. We took down the paywall because some of the best content we have was hard to get to, and it didn’t make sense as a way to reach subscribers. My goal for the publication is to be the magazine New York and D.C. and L.A. people read on the weekends. It’s sort of for the crème de la crème.

Where do you think print fits in that mix?

It’s key. Obviously, I came from the digital world, but print as a technology is pretty amazing—it’s light, disposable, you can share it easily, it’s colorful. I read more in print than online.

You and your partner, Sean Eldridge, are involved in a number of causes, like same-sex marriage and campaign finance reform. Is the magazine going to reflect your viewpoint?

I’m clearly a passionate person and believe in a lot of things. People know the difference between good journalism and something that’s ideological. So I’m not bringing any particular vision to the magazine other than good journalism.

How annoying is it when people say, “You’re so young”?

It goes with the territory. [pauses] I don’t get carded anymore!

Actually, Mike Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan and Peter Beinart were all 28 when they started as editor of The New Republic, too. Is there a pattern there?

The titles have changed a little. But young, smart people have always been attracted to TNR. TNR is not a sleepy magazine.

You co-founded the world’s biggest social network, but I read somewhere that you think people are too connected.

I think we have to be aware of how we use technology and not letting it control us. I struggle with it. A couple years ago I tried not to use the phone on Sundays. That didn’t last long—a month or two.

Do you agree with people who are calling this campaign the Twitter election?

I think mobile in particular is changing this election. You can go canvassing and use phones to know who to talk to. There are a lot of stories that are made on Facebook or Twitter, but they’re made for a certain set.

If you hadn’t been a college roommate of Mark Zuckerberg, what do you think you’d be doing today?

I wish I knew the answer to that question. I think I would be in the world of journalism or politics.

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