Why did the New Republic restart fail?
Here are some thoughts off the top of my head.
It may be hard to see, but we're in the middle of a huge transition in how we do journalism, and the editorial people at the New Republic, and probably even Hughes himself, aren't aware of it. Yet it impacts everything about what it means to be in the news business today.
I describe the change as Sources Go Direct.
What it means is that now the newsmakers and the people who want news are directly connected.
The newsmakers don't need the intermediaries to reach the people who they influence.
I've understood this longer than most because the press stopped believing that my software had a market right around the time I discovered the web. So with nothing to lose, I decided to try to talk directly to the people I cared about, at first via email, and then through the web, and it worked!
And why wouldn't it. The problem for each of us individually was that owning a news publishing system was prohibitively expensive. In the early 90s I was selling automation software for corporate publishers. But with the web, something fundamental had changed. The cost of production and distribution was so low that now anyone could do it. That function of the news industry was economically obsolete at that point, by the mid 90s.
These transitions take a while to work their way through an economy and society. But nowadays no one can argue that newsmakers use Twitter to speak to their audience, and that includes the press. If you have something to say, you don't call the editor at the local paper, you go to Twitter and shout it to the world. It happens instantly, without filters (another important reason to go direct).
There was an opportunity before Twitter to be the hosting environment for newsmakers. And because Twitter has been slow to adapt to that role, almost doesn't seem to understand that they own something valuable, the opportunity isn't fully closed off.
Had Hughes, instead of trying to make it work with the existing editorial model, decided instead to be a platform for progressive thought, open to a much larger group of people, I suspect it would have worked. But he hadn't factored that into his thinking.
I know it has been tried, Huffington Post allows a large number of people to post, myself included. But it wasn't managed well, imho. Forbes seems to operate the same way, again -- I don't find myself happy to find out that a link ends at Forbes. I usually hit the Back button right away. Medium is doing a much better job, and has gained a lot of traction.
Imho there need to be lots of Mediums. Each with a separate, identifiable position. The idea of a Medium-in-a-box makes a lot of sense.