When The New York Times and Ravi Somaiya fired the first shot at The New Republic on Dec. 4, I figured the paper couldn’t resist a “hell hath no fury like an editor wronged” story, and life would move on.
But the stories kept coming and coming.
Seven articles on the turmoil at a niche publication with a readership of 42,000 (not a typo). If a mutiny took place at Modern Drunkard Magazine, which has a circulation of 55,000, it’s a non story. I thought the NYT was striving to be a national paper with mass appeal. Why devote so much energy to a story that only resonates with intelligentsia and high-brow journalists?
Before going further, as regular readers know I’m a fan of the NYT. A post scheduled for next week calls it the best daily newspaper in the country.
That’s what made the inordinate coverage on a C story stand out. Plus, the reporting strays from the NYT’s standards of fairness.
Not wanting to step on Margaret Sullivan’s toes at the NYT, I’ve anointed myself “PRombudsman” to take a closer look at the issue.
In short, The New Republic never had a chance. In the initial NYT salvo, we learn in the second graph about Guy Vidra’s behavior in a staff meeting:
“using a profanity, that he planned to break stuff — a Silicon Valley phrase that implies disruptive innovation. He petted his laptop and told those gathered how important computers were to him.”
I didn’t realize that cussing in business only happens in Silicon Valley. Apparently the NYT liked this choice anecdote because it’s repeated four days later in “Revolt at the New New Republic.”
On the positive side, Somaiya should be commended for showing constraint and not mentioning that Vidra’s laptop “cooed” after the petting.
The Day 2 story, “New Republic Staff Rebels with Mass Resignations” (hardcopy) leads with:
“About a dozen staff members of The New Republic, and an even greater number of contributing editors, resigned Friday morning, angered by an abrupt change of editors and what they saw as a series of management missteps.”
“Contributing editors” is just a fancy phrase for freelancers and contractors. This type of talent is often transient with companies doing this to retain flexibility. They don’t belong in the same bucket as employees.
Here’s the reality. Twelve people out of a 54-person staff resigned. That’s not even a quarter of the company. I’m sorry, but such numbers do not constitute “mass resignations.”
It drives me nuts that the Dec. 6 “After Exodus” story — nothing like some “understated” biblical drama to spice up a headline — calls out “more than 50 editors and contributing editors have followed Mr. Foer and Mr. Wieseltier in resigning.” Twelve employees left the company.
Ravi Somaiya who handled the bulk of the reporting commented that “Covering the media can be a surreal job.”
I think Master Somaiya would be well-served to take a break from the media and study Business 101. Staff members disagree with management all the time. If the disagreement combusts, they leave and find new jobs. Such volatility is particularly pronounced in small companies.
So why did The New York Times pile on The New Republic with the vigor of 12-year-olds playing “Red Rover Red Rover”?
My guess —
The disgruntled staffers at The New Republic disdained the Silicon Valleyites. They chirped to their buddies at the NY Times, and when the publication’s editor and literary editor officially resigned, it was game on.
Again, I could have lived with one story or even two.
But 5,301 words on the topic strikes me as excessive.
Note I: Reid Hoffman (not related) wrote one of the more cogent pieces on the upheaval at The New Republic, “When Disruption Hits the Fan.”
Note II: If you’re interested in reading the chronology, it’s captured below:
Dec. 4 Shake-Up at the New Republic