Crawling from the wreckage: Looks like Pierre Omidyar drove his fancy $250 million blog empire into a ditch
Shit just got real over at The Intercept, the one fancy-schmancy blog that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar managed to get off the ground after much fanfare and hoohah and $250 million cash-waving-about.
As the kids say, “pass the popcorn,” because a key attraction left in a huff, Intercept headliners are indulging in an airing of grievances, and the whole thing is turning into what my grandmother would call “a good old fashioned country clusterfuck.”
If you’re into the whole inside-baseball aspect on Intertube new-sites and blogs and whatever the hell The Daily Caller is supposed to be, you are probably aware that First Look Media’s marquee hire Matt Taibbi has taken leave of the company before the first pixel of the his web-zine — called Racket — launched. How awkward and curious and intriguing.
Let’s dig in, and for musical accompaniment might I suggest: ‘Take this Job and Shove It‘ by Johnny Paycheck, ‘Free Bird‘ by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and ‘Welcome to Planet Motherfucker‘ by White Zombie.
Cool. Now for the details.
As noted above, New York reported Taibbi was out the door. First Look confirmed the ‘conscious uncoupling’ in a terse statement filled with tears and regret and a corporate-speak version of ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ while Taibbi’s cold lifeless body sank beneath the surface of the icy Atlantic.
Then Paul Carr at Pando published his side of an email exchange he previously had with Taibbi about tension and interference at First Look, with Carr basically calling it. Ignoring the unfolding story, Carr’s post became an point of contention with other journalists because “journalistic ethics,” just like GamerGate …. except not.
This afternoon the founding hires at First Look — Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, along with editor-in-chief John Cook — used The Intercept to self-cover the story in an oddly passive-aggressive way that laid out the rationale for FLM’s decision along with some serious “Shit is fucked up and bullshit around here but we don’t want to blow this sweet high-paying gig” subtext.
Oh hell, it wasn’t even subtext — they all but admitted that Omidyar promised them unicorns and then delivered donkeys painted like zebras just like the ones you get your picture taken with in Tijuana.
FLM’s side: Taibbi was a lousy manager who was mean and maybe sexist to other employees and refused to cool his jets and chill the fuck out.
Taibbi’s side: This is bullshit and
these are not the androids I was looking for this is not the job and freedom I was promised.
Then things got real fun when Alex Pareene — who was hired by Taibbi to be executive editor of Racket — tacked on his own statement to The Intercept post:
Working with Matt Taibbi was one of the best experiences of my career and I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to do so again. From my perspective, the management of First Look Media repeatedly took incidents that should’ve been minor hiccups of the sort experienced at any media company or startup and, through incompetence, escalated them into full-blown crises. Having worked closely with Matt since he hired me, I witnessed no behavior on his part that I would characterize as “abusive,” and his hostility was reserved for his superiors, not his subordinates. He certainly was no more “combative” than any number of other editors I’ve worked with, including Intercept editor-in-chief John Cook. I also categorically reject the allegation that there was a gendered component to his managerial issues. We were successfully working to address those issues when First Look once again stepped in to fuck things up. I regret that the world won’t get a chance to see Matt Taibbi’s Racket.
There are many takeaways from this to consider.
First, it is almost indisputable that creative people lack basic business management and people skills. It is one thing to compare Goldman Sachs to “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” It’s quite another thing to actually manage money and budgets and play den mother/dominatrix when staff herding.
Next, there is always tension between creative and management. Let the number crunchers rule the roost and you end up with the empty shell most local newspapers have become. Let creative have free rein and you get “Heaven’s Gate.”
Whatever billionaire Omidyar’s intentions — and there is ample reason to wonder what he is up to since taking on the rich and powerful and secretive for him is like shitting all over his own family — it quickly became apparent that he expected a return on his First Look investment, whether it was cover for his other ‘interests,’ or making a buck.
To make that buck, he brought in what Greenwald & Co called, “executives, who by and large come from a highly structured Silicon Valley corporate environment,” who brought with them, “a confounding array of rules, structures, and systems imposed by Omidyar and other First Look managers on matters both trivial—which computer program to use to internally communicate, mandatory regular company-wide meetings, mandated use of a “responsibility assignment matrix” called a “RASCI,” popular in business-school circles for managing projects—as well as more substantive issues.”
I willing to bet that Omidyar dangled some serious cash to lure an impressive collection of writers to his media stable, in many cases probably more than most of them have ever seen in their lives. Once they arrived, he dialed back his plans and the $250 million promised to fund the whole she-bang turned out to be a twenty wrapped around a bunch on singles. And while he dilly-dallied over ‘vision’ and ‘direction’ and other high-minded chin-strokey things, WaPo wonk Ezra Klein launched Vox (which “Voxplains” stuff), and NYT numbers wonk Nate Silver launched 538 (which ‘numbersplains’ stuff.) The Intercept brought up the rear, eventually launching, but posts were, until recently, at best sporadic making it appear that the high profile writers were sitting around doing nothing except banking paychecks while management got its shit together which, as recent events clearly show, is decidedly not together still.
And now this.
So now Omidyar has The Intercept – whose traffic is nothing to write home about — and maybe no Racket (except whichever one Omidyar is personally running), and a whole lot of dirty laundry being aired.
Let it be said:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is
OzymandiasOmidyar, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
-Percy Shelley, more or less…