Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes Defends His Approach At The New Republic

The New Republic, the political magazine that was purchased by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes a couple of years ago, has seen resignations from numerous writers and editors in the past couple of days — from the outside, it looks like another clash between the values of tech entrepreneurs and traditional journalism.

The exodus was spurred by the departure of New Republic editor Franklin Foer and longtime literary editor Leon Wieseltier, but it sounds like tension has been building for a while. For example, The Daily Beast heard about a recent meeting where new CEO Guy Vidra (formerly of Yahoo News) alienated senior staffers by offering nothing but “Silicon Valley jargon.”

Now Hughes has written an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he lays out his perspective. (The Post, incidentally, was also acquired recently by a tech executive.)

Hughes argues that portraying the dispute as a case of “Silicon Valley versus tradition … dangerously oversimplifies a debate many journalistic institutions are having today.” He doesn’t get specific about what happened here, or about his plans for the future, but he does say he wants to create “a sustainable business” that’s not just going “to chase traffic with listicles and slide shows.” Experimentation and change, he writes, are a key part of that process.

(Departing editor Julia Ioffe predicted earlier that Hughes and Verda would paint their detractors as “dinosaurs, who think that the Internet is scary and that Buzzfeed is a slur.” But she said that on the contrary, the staff was “not afraid of change” and has “always embraced it.”)

Fairly or not, the story’s been slotted into the broader narrative about the tech world and journalism, so it’s also interesting how Hughes claims not to fit into the Silicon Valley mold:

I’ve never bought into the Silicon Valley outlook that technological progress is pre-ordained or good for everyone. I don’t share the unbridled, Panglossian optimism and casual disdain for established institutions and tradition of many technologists. New technologies and start-ups excite and animate me, but they don’t always make our lives or institutions better.

I suppose we’ll get a clearer sense of Hughes’ vision for the new New Republic when it publishes its next issue in early 2015.