It feels like a burden has been lifted from me,” Martin Peretz said on Feb. 27.
For the first time in three decades, Mr. Peretz, 68, no longer owns a stake in The New Republic. He was on the phone from Cambridge, Mass., some two hours after the Canadian media conglomerate CanWest Global Communications announced that it was purchasing Mr. Peretz’s 25 percent share and taking full ownership of the 93-year-old political and cultural magazine.
Mr. Peretz’s long search for backers for his pet magazine had ended, not with a partnership but with a buyout. “In this day and age, you would need every decade, perhaps every half-decade, to try and find someone who wants a trophy,” he said of the hunt for investors. “I didn’t want a trophy.”
Financiers Roger Hertog and Michael Steinhardt had bought a reported two-thirds share of the magazine in late 2001. In January 2006, CanWest joined in with a 30 percent minority stake.
That lumpy four-way partnership lasted a little more than a year. Then, on Feb. 23 of this year, Mr. Hertog and Mr. Steinhardt sold out to CanWest, making the Canadians the majority owner. The same day, the magazine announced that it would be shifting from a weekly schedule to a biweekly one, accompanied by a drastic redesign.
News reports of that sale said that Mr. Peretz, the editor in chief, was keeping his partial-ownership share. Mr. Peretz said that he was still in negotiations at that time.
Mr. Peretz said the CanWest takeover “makes business sense.”
“They have the technology, the business know-how, which going it alone really doesn’t have,” he said.
Indeed, CanWest has publicly said that it expects to make money off the sometimes-influential-but-never-ad-packed magazine.
“We are facing similar challenges through the newspaper business,” a CanWest spokesperson said. “We believe that publications with strong foundations and solid histories can be successful in a new media environment.”
CanWest and Mr. Peretz said that he will keep his position as editor in chief and will contribute to the magazine—through both the print edition and his pugnacious blog, The Spine. Mr. Peretz said there is no specific guarantee in the sale terms as how long he will stay editor-in-chief.
Mr. Peretz’s most recent hire as editor, Franklin Foer, will be working on the revamped magazine. The first issue in the new format is scheduled to go to press on March 9.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to take this institution that I’ve always worshipped, and try to take it very distinctly in a different kind of direction,” Mr. Foer said.
That direction will be a departure from the current Spartan, college-magazine look.
“Drew Friedman has a column in the makeover,” said Mr. Foer. “We’re going to have a lot stand-alone pieces from illustrators, artists. One of my ambitions is to experiment with fine art in the magazine, too.”
“We’re adding new little cuts in the magazine, like those little spoon-size illustrations that The New Yorker has,” Mr. Foer said. “We will have original photography in the first issue.”
Mr. Foer is at the one-year anniversary of taking over the magazine from current editor-at-large Peter Beinart. Mr. Beinart oversaw the last redesign of the magazine, in 2003. That was an update of a major overhaul by design guru Roger Black in 1999, under editor Charles Lane.
For the upcoming redesign, Mr. Foer has been working with the magazine’s art director, Joe Heroun, who works in New York.
“We were able to quickly settle on an aesthetic for the magazine,” said Mr. Foer. “I think a lot of the design elements hearken back to the 1940’s. We were both into the antique New Republic. We wanted a design that paid homage to the old New Republic, but also imported some edgy details.
“If I didn’t just sound too much like a Project Runway cliché,” Mr. Foer added.
Like other editors dealing with the migration to the Web, Mr. Foer said that he began the redesign by asking “What’s worth putting on paper?” and “What are the virtues of paper?”
“I hope that, with our redesign, it’s clear why the articles are appearing on paper and why they are not being written for the Web,” said Mr. Foer.
And the new-old New Republic is not all coming from Truman administration. To go with the slower, fatter paper product, there will also be a Web redesign—including video.
Some familiar elements will remain post-redesign, such as the TRB column—although it will soon be penned by senior editor Jonathan Chait, rather than Mr. Beinart. There will also be an editorial and the Diarist, which takes up the last page.
“I want there always to be a 6,000-word feature every two weeks,” Mr. Foer said.
Mr. Foer said he expects the first redesigned issue to run 68 pages.
Op-Out: Varadarajan Hurdles Journal’s News-Editorial Divide
“Pedro Martinez moved from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Mets,” said Paul Steiger, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. “He’s not going to be loyal to the Boston Red Sox.”
Mr. Steiger was turning to the baseball analogy to explain another feat of switching sides: On March 1, Tunku Varadarajan is due to join The Journal’s newsroom as an assistant managing editor, after more than six years in the paper’s staunchly conservative opinion department.
But Mr. Varadarajan’s transfer is something more improbable than a pitcher changing teams. At the legendarily divided Journal, it’s more as if Major League Baseball were to announce that it was hiring Mike and the Mad Dog as umpires.
“He’s not just a guy who writes about the arts,” one Journal staffer said. “He writes opinionated, right-wing columns …. It’s hard to see how the news pages benefit from someone like that.”
The split between the parts of The Journal is both ideological and operational. Under editorial-page editor Paul Gigot, opinion writers freely dispute the facts reported in the rest of the paper, if so inclined. In return, news staffers disavow the contributions from Mr. Gigot’s side.
So while The New York Times regularly has moved staffers, including executive editor Bill Keller, back and forth between news and opinion, The Journal keeps things divided. News writers can move to editorial—Mr. Gigot himself was once a reporter in the Chicago bureau—but almost no one goes the other way.
“The people that move tend to be the ones that share the extreme right-wing views of the editorial page,” a Journal news staffer said. “Once they move, it’s hard to go back to the news side and claim to be unbiased. You’ve already shown your colors.”
An assortment of current and former Journal staffers, with an institutional memory stretching back half a century, could only come up with the names of two other people who’d moved from opinion to news: Lindley H. Clark Jr. and Claudia Rosett.
Mr. Clark left the editorial page in the early 90’s to write an economics column on the news side. Ms. Rosett left the editorial page of The Journal’s Asian edition to become the Moscow bureau chief, then returned to the editorial side in New York.
Frederick Taylor, The Journal’s managing editor in the 70’s, said he could recall no one from editorial joining the news staff in his entire tenure, starting as a copy editor in 1954.
“There certainly had been a wall,” Mr. Taylor said by phone from Charleston, Ore. “It was a matter of policy and belief.”
Mr. Varadarajan, on vacation in Bellport, N.Y., before beginning his new assignment, wrote via e-mail that he was unworried about crossing the wall. “I expect no difficulties on the News side except those associated with my own learning process,” he wrote.
“If we were talking about somebody who is writing vigorously ideological editorials or columns on the ed page, I would think about it some, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out,” Mr. Steiger said. “People are professional. I have lots of people on the news side who have strongly passionate views, but they keep them under control.”
Mr. Varadarajan’s passions are on the record. By most accounts, staffers don’t see him as one of Mr. Gigot’s “true believers,” and Journal sources said there have been rifts between the two. Still, Mr. Varadarajan is a pungent editorialist—“He’s sort of more Tory than the Tories,” one former Journal staffer said.
Among his opinions: New Yorker editor David Remnick “purveys the standard New York Times, New York liberal or New York bien-pensant consensus on everything.” China-courting Rupert Murdoch is “a master practitioner of the corporate kowtow.” On the Fox News Channel’s Journal Editorial Report, he described James Baker as “Jimmy Baker, a man with not a single idealistic bone in his body,” and Russia as “a nuclear-armed fascistic, unitary, imperial state that’s working to frustrate the U.S. interests everywhere.”
Mr. Varadarajan has also written pieces praising British journalists for being “less constrained by the Objectivity Police than their American counterparts” and arguing, on the subject of Columbia’s journalism school, if a “virus were to kill off all our schools of journalism, would America’s newspapers seize up? Of course not.”
Mr. Varadarajan taught a course on national-affairs reporting at Columbia in 2004 and 2005, along with Nicholas Lemann, the journalism school’s dean. “I taught with him those two years, and I didn’t see him as a rigid ideologue,” Mr. Lemann said.
The reading for the course ranged from policy papers by Richard Perle to the works of Thucydides and Augustine. Mr. Varadarajan “knows all that literature in a way that almost nobody in journalism does,” Mr. Lemann said.
An Oxford University law professor in the late 1980’s, Mr. Varadarajan switched careers in the early 90’s, starting as an editorial writer at The Times of London. He then made an early edit-to-news switch, becoming The Times’ bureau chief in Madrid and New York. He joined The Journal in 2000.
“He’s risen to a very high place on the edit-page side,” Mr. Steiger said. “There’s nowhere for him to go there, at least for a while. Paul Gigot’s a relatively young man.”
Mr. Steiger said that he and Mr. Varadarajan had discussed the possibility of bringing him over to news over lunch last year. “He’s certainly someone I’ve had my eye on for some time,” Mr. Steiger said. “I think that what may have triggered it was that someone from outside was interested in him.”
Are others going to follow Mr. Varadarajan’s lead?
“I don’t expect this to be a frequent occurrence, because the skill sets are generally different,” Mr. Steiger said. “But here’s a case of a guy who’s worked both sides of the house, opinion and news, both successfully. It seemed right.”
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