Recently, I’ve seen several magazines from GQ to Billboard give their websites a facelift. But, few magazines take the plunge and conduct a complete, full-scale redesign of their brand. The “R” word tends to be viewed as an obscenity in the mag world because it’s an admission of fault that only a radical change can fix. For The New Republic (TNR), its fault is that it fell behind with the times and lost touch with its audience — a cardinal sin in media. In a surprising turn of events, the magazine has decided to start fresh and connect with a new, younger audience.
Its first order of business was new ownership. In March 2012, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes bought a majority stake in the company, becoming the mag’s EIC effective immediately. His background in social media, his age (29), and eagerness to acquire a dying company only meant one thing: the digital reinvention of TNR.
Now, almost a year later the new TNR has made its debut and the risk paid off. Here are just a few reasons why it works:
I just wanted to take a moment to honor Martin Luther King Jr. today and talk briefly about his influence on my life and, particularly, on my career as a journalist. For most, MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech is the pinnacle of his influence on not just the United States of America, but also the world. It’s his mark on history, one of the most widely read and watched texts of all time.
As a child, I remember my small, predominately-Caucasian Catholic elementary school setting aside time both on MLK Day and during Black History Month to educate us on his life and memory. Foregoing the predictable, we sat down and read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in its entirety, taking turns each paragraph. As I read these words today, that same feeling I felt as a child revisits me. There’s a passage from that letter that has not only become one of my favorite quotes, but also my personal mantra as a journalist.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.”
One of the biggest sports stories of 2012 surrounded the Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o, a linebacker at the University of Notre Dame. The story began on September 11, 2012, when Te’o’s grandmother passed away. A mere six hours after one tragedy another occurred: Te’o’s girlfriend Lennay Kekua lost her battle with leukemia. Te’o continued playing, leading his team to an undefeated season and a trip to the BCS title game. It was the stuff of fairytales, the kind of story that comes once in the career of most sports writers.
It attracted greats like Pete Thamel who wrote “The Full Manti,” a celebratory piece on Te’o’s achievements in the midst of such personal turmoil, for Sports Illustrated. It garnered attention from ESPN, CBS Sports, the Associated Press, and the list goes on and on. It was a love story, one that captivated a nation that so longs for a little romantic respite from the chaos of daily life.
Yesterday, The Atlantic came under immense scrutiny for publishing a story on the Church of Scientology’s alleged growth spurt in 2012. At first glance, it’s a headline that doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. Look closer, and right above that unsuspicious headline is an eyesore in the form of a bright yellow box containing the words “Sponsored Content.” And therein lies the shock and dismay. How could a magazine as esteemed as The Atlantic publish an advertisement masquerading as journalism?
When I first caught wind of the controversy on Twitter, I was a bit taken aback. I won’t pretend like The Atlantic isn’t my favorite U.S. news magazine and a publication I aspire to see my byline in some day. I wear my bias on my sleeve. It felt like a personal slap in the face because as strong as The Atlantic’s Op-Eds are, its reporting outweighs the calculated thoughts of such legends as Ta-Nehisi Coates. The idea that The Atlantic would publish a story so poorly written on one of the most controversial religious organizations in the world stung. But, the fact that it was paid for by that same church left a bruise turning a darker shade of purple by the minute.
And, yet, I don’t fault the editorial staff for this blunder. Like that old saying about not mixing business and pleasure or church and state, that same rule applies for the editorial and ad staff of a magazine. Each staff’s decisions are its own and should have no influence in either direction. When the writers of The Atlantic saw this story, I have no doubt they felt the sting from that same slap because they know public perception means everything. And nothing is more important to the state of journalism than the perception that our work is fair.
For those who have ever visited my site and those who are doing so for the first time today, this is its official relaunch! I made a quiet promise to myself that in 2013 I would make more of an effort to self-promote online. Some of you may know I’m very active on social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr, but not so much on my actual site. Not a very efficient marketing strategy, right? Well, I thought there’s no better way to reestablish my online presence than with a little makeover. So, I turned an insomnia-riddled night into one dedicated to the redesign of my site.
Thus, you are looking at the new and improved virtual me. It starts first and foremost with the blog component of my site. Up until now, I’ve shied away from actual blogging. You see, I casually blog on Tumblr — exposing my musings on music and film for the world to see — but I’ve never been one for more substantial, long form blogging (if that’s even a thing). As a writer I’m always wary of overkill. Where do I draw the line between my journalism, my creative writing, and my personal thoughts? I never want to drown my readers in too much ink. So, my site previously had little more than a brief introduction on my landing page. All that changes today.
This is a post originally published on the Newhouse Insider, a site the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications put together for prospective students. I was asked to describe the six weeks I spent over the summer in Syracuse as a part of the Newhouse grad program’s intro semester. It’s essentially a precursor to the regular academic year to jumpstart you on what will be expected of you for the remainder of the program. It’s fast-paced, intense, and truly tests your limits. Hence, the nickname “Boot Camp.” Hit the jump for my thoughts on Boot Camp.