TNR Needs Women

Owner Chris Hughes pledges gender quotas

Photo via Flickr user Super Furry Librarian
February 28, 2014

The owner, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the New Republic issued a statement this week pledging to rectify the lack of sexual-identity diversity among its editorial contributors.

Chris Hughes, the inventor of Facebook's "poke" button who bought the nearly a century old liberal magazine in 2012, vowed to bridge the publication’s gender gap and bring aboard a more sexually diverse bench of writers to the magazine’s literary pages.

Hughes’ statement was a response to the 2013 VIDA Count, which tracks the number of non-male writers at prominent publications. In addition to women writers, the count strives to include "transgender men, transgender women, intersexed individuals, and/or people who self-identify as androgynous, genderqueer, or gender neutral."

Hughes' pledge to increase gender diversity follows on the heels of a public dispute between TNR senior editor John Judis and literary editor Leon Wieseltier, who has long presided over the magazine’s scholarly back of the book.

TNR found itself at the bottom of VIDA’s list, prompting the advocacy group to launch a scathing critique.

"New Republic has managed its worst year yet since we began counting! Perhaps they are striving to up the ante for the shock value vote. I say, passé," wrote VIDA’s Amy King. "They continue playing the same old hand, this year at a slower speed. Perhaps they think they’re sticking it to us when readers throw our pies in their faces?"

Hughes agreed. "Our print contributor breakdown looks more like what you would expect from 1964 than 2014, and it must change," he said in the statement posted to VIDA’s Facebook page. "We will hold ourselves to a much higher standard in 2014."

Hughes, whose husband is a Democratic candidate for Congress in New York, said he is fully on board with VIDA’s call to reorganize TNR’s pages along the lines of proportional representation.

"We have aspired to reach parity in the breakdown of women and men on staff, where we have made significant strides and nearly 50% of our full-time employees are women," he said.

"Unfortunately that progress wasn't reflected in our bylines."

Hughes committed to "do better" in the coming years and "hold ourselves publicly accountable in progress toward our goal."

Asked for further comment on the matter, a TNR spokeswoman directed a Free Beacon reporter to Hughes’s Facebook statement and a tweet by VIDA.

Hughes' gender-equity crusade may affect Wieseltier’s control over his section, which features female contributors such as Harvard professor Helen Vendler and literary critic Ruth Franklin.

TNR, which had been making headway in the gender diversity department, has backslid under Hughes’s tenure.

American University Professor Gemma Puglisi, an assistant professor of communication, said accountability starts at the top.

"It has to do with owner and management. They need a wake up call," said Puglisi, who noted that she was already plowing her way to the top the broadcast news industry when the Free Beacon reporter conducting the interview was "in diapers."

A lack of diversity in the newsroom can impact a publication’s bottom line, Puglisi said, recommending TNR take account of who its readership is.

"Who are some of these young women who may be interested in the New Republic," Puglisi said. "Don’t just go to the same audience you’ve had."

TNR is part of a larger trend in the media business, which is "going backwards a little bit" when it comes to gender diversity, she said.

It could not be learned where the Washington Free Beacon ranks on the VIDA count.