Facebook Co-Founder and New Republic Publisher Chris Hughes: Why Print is the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Business
Last month I had the chance to attend the Adobe Digital Symposium in New York. Much of sessions focused on how brand marketers are harnessing the power of tablet and mobile publishing tools. However, as part of the day's events, Chris Hughes, publisher and editor-in-chief of The New Republic joined head of Adobe's digital publishing Nick Bogaty for a Q&A session. If you're not familiar with Hughes in his publishing role, he's also known as one of the founders of Facebook and the online organizer of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, heavily powered by a savvy social media strategy.
Hughes brings an interesting perspective to the publishing game because he is a young technology innovator applying his mind to a very traditional magazine institution. One of the main points Chris made during the Q&A is that long-from journalism still plays a powerful role in the lives and careers of an influential, albeit limited, population. His goal is clearly to serve the interests of hearty journalism and progressive thinking by integrating modern digital and social tactics with rich editorial content.
Hughes believes that there's a major misconception that social media is only good for creating buzz. It's often maligned for its perceived hollowness. Partisanship aside, the 2008 Obama campaign demonstrated how social media can be used to get people to do things. "The Obama campaign wasn't meant to create buzz, but to use those tools that are used for buzz to create action," said Hughes.
The notion that "people chat here and take action there is too simplistic," said Hughes. The criticism that liking something on Facebook won't change the world is wrong. It's like raising your hand, saying that you care about this, and want updates and information. It's up to organizers to then create action, said Hughes.
So why does a 30-year-old entrepreneur purchase a stake in an aging magazine with a strong print footprint? "I care about institutions, particularly institutions that line up with my beliefs," said Hughes. While he loves a clever graph or infographic, he believes incredibly well researched, well written narrative journalism has the ability to shape the hearts and minds of a core of thought leaders and influencers.
From an editorial standpoint, TNR aims to cover the important political, cultural, and social trends of the day -- taking things like big data and putting them under the microscope. With this in mind, TNR attracts a premier readership: elites and influential people skewing older (low- to mid-50s) with very high incomes and advanced degrees. It counts among its readers Sheryl Sandberg, the head of Guggenheim, and Obama.
Lean Back Experience & Impact
Given that we're seeing web-first companies coming out with print publications, it prompts the question of what role print plays today. Hughes believes the TNR print publication remains important. "We still have a print publication that comes out 20 times a year and is really the 'crown jewel' of the business."
Interestingly, Hughes noted that he sees the print and the tablet magazine as providing similar "lean back" experiences. It's a less-distracted, more focused and sustained reading experience. This is a sentiment I've heard quite a bit lately, particularly in my reporting on the launch of Politico magazine.
Hughes thinks "highly educated, influential people" still enjoy reading in print and TNR will continue to create print as long as the economics still work.
Bogaty asked Hughes how publishers handle the massive flow of content, the atomizing of content, and the lack of completion that digital disruption has imbued, pointing out that the impact of covers and the cover story is something that has been difficult to emulate in digital.
Our culture still sees the appearance of a magazine cover in the world as an event unto itself. Hughes says that TNR uses a unique image each day on its homepage, but this certainly has less impact in the zeitgeist than a magazine cover, admitting "it's a hard nut to crack." In general, his web designers strive to use the same logic when creating a great web piece as they do when producing a great cover story.
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.