Despite part-owner Martin Peretz implying that a sale of The New Republic was not happening, sources at the liberal opinion journal tell The Atlantic Wire that the magazine is weeks away from a deal. And the process of bringing in Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder and "the kid who made Obama president," is moving forward.
The Wall Street Journal broke the story last week that The New Republic had hired the Blackstone Group in an attempt to fetch $20 million from a buyer. Last Thursday, Michael Calderone named Hughes as a suitor on his Huffington Post blog after several other potential buyers — including The New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, Bloomberg L.P., and the Atlantic Media Company — indictated they were not making bids.
According to a source at the magazine that was speaking on background, the process is moving along and a resolution is weeks away. This person, who was in the room at an all-staff meeting a few minutes after WSJ's scoop held to answer questions about the magazine’s going on the block, confirmed both that The New Republic had contracted Blackstone and that Chris Hughes was a potential buyer or investor.
Hughes declined to comment on the situation. But Marty Peretz, who has been the owner, or as he is now, a partial owner of The New Republic since 1974, sort of disavowed his statements last week that movement was imminent at the periodical. Last Thursday, he poured cold water on the story when he told The Washington Post's Paul Farhi, "There's nothing there to the story." When The Atlantic Wire spoke to Peretz, he admitted that that wasn't the case. "What I was trying to do is just get him off my back. And I wasn't up to date about anything really particularly. So I took the liberty of exaggerating my ignorance," Peretz said. But he still maintained that he's at arm's length from Blackstone's work. "I know that people are talking, but I don't know where they are."
That is unlikely to relieve the curiosity of the magazine's staff as it braces for yet another possible ownership change. Shortly after The Wall Street Journal broke the news that the magazine had engaged Blackstone — a story that was quickly followed by a list of potential buyers on The New York Times's Dealbook blog — editor Richard Just called an all-hands meeting in which the financial health of the magazine was touted, and according to two sources who attended, left the staff feeling optimistic. One of them added that it was a cautious optimism.
The potential of Chris Hughes becoming an investor or even an owner is a good reason for optimism. While most of America might only know Hughes for being portrayed in The Social Network (he's the blonde roommate in the Harvard dorm scenes), he's a well-known, well-liked and well-connected figure in the New York media world. As one of Facebook's original product visionaries and first spokesman, Hughes once held the job title "The Empath" and thanks to his long-time affiliation with President Obama, he's earned a fair amount of exposure in political circles. Hughes also helped start and run more than one innovative new media company since college, one of which published the first ever (and now hard-to-find) candid interview with Mark Zuckerberg (PDF). Most recently, Hughes built Jumo, a cause-oriented social network that was recently acquired by GOOD for an undisclosed sum. According to Forbes, the 28-year-old's net worth is around $700 million, a far cry from his former Kirkland House roommates Zuck and Dustin Moskovitz's billion dollar fortunes.
Even he isn't likely to put a $20 million price tag on The New Republic, though, as was reported in The Journal. Our source at the magazine does have intimate knowledge of the magazine's finances and revealed that financially speaking, 2011 marked the best year of the past three decades for The New Republic. However, this person could not provide any details about the exact amount the magazine sought for the selling of a stake of The New Republic (if not the entire magazine) but noted that the folks on his side of the table were eager to complete the negotiations.
Hughes — who was dubbed "the kid who made Obama president" in a 2009 Fast Company cover profile in which senior Obama adviser David Plouffe describes Hughes as someone who "saw what was possible before anyone else" — was at The New Republic's offices last November for the magazine's regular Thursday editorial meeting, in which notables are often invited to attend. Everything was apparently cordial enough, but sources warned us from reading too much into the event. We have it on good authority that Hughes may have been interested even before then.