Friday, November 07, 2014

omidyar's version of events...,


firstlook |  Matt Taibbi, who joined First Look Media just seven months ago, left the company on Tuesday. His departure—which he describes as a refusal to accept a work reassignment, and the company describes as a resignation—was the culmination of months of contentious disputes with First Look founder Pierre Omidyar, chief operating officer Randy Ching, and president John Temple over the structure and management of Racket, the digital magazine Taibbi was hired to create. Those disputes were exacerbated by a recent complaint from a Racket employee about Taibbi’s behavior as a manager.

The departure of the popular former Rolling Stone writer is a serious setback for First Look in its first year of operations. Last January, Omidyar announced with great fanfare that he would personally invest $250 million in the company to build “a general interest news site that will cover topics ranging from entertainment and sports to business and the economy” incorporating multiple “digital magazines” as well as a “flagship news site.”

One year later, First Look still has only one such magazine, The Intercept.

Omidyar has publicly and privately pledged multiple times that First Look will never interfere with the stories produced by its journalists. He has adhered to that commitment with both The Intercept and Racket, and Taibbi has been clear that he was free to shape Racket‘s journalism fully in his image. His vision was a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy that would employ Taibbi’s facility for merciless ridicule, humor, and parody to attack Wall Street and the corporate world. First Look was fully behind that vision.

Taibbi’s dispute with his bosses instead centered on differences in management style and the extent to which First Look would influence the organizational and corporate aspects of his role as editor-in-chief. Those conflicts were rooted in a larger and more fundamental culture clash that has plagued the project from the start: A collision between the First Look executives, who by and large come from a highly structured Silicon Valley corporate environment, and the fiercely independent journalists who view corporate cultures and management-speak with disdain. That divide is a regular feature in many newsrooms, but it was exacerbated by First Look’s avowed strategy of hiring exactly those journalists who had cultivated reputations as anti-authoritarian iconoclasts.

The Intercept, through months of disagreements and negotiations with First Look over the summer, was able to resolve most of these conflicts; as a result, it now has a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists working collaboratively and freely in the manner its founders always envisioned.

When First Look was launched last October, it was grounded in two principles: one journalistic, the other organizational. First, journalists would enjoy absolute editorial freedom and journalistic independence. Second, the newsroom would avoid rigid top-down hierarchies and instead would be driven by the journalists and their stories.