Et Tu, Taibbi? No one seems to have noticed the most worrying line in Pierre Omidyar's new blog post
Much ado today about Pierre Omidyar's nine month update on his strategy for First Look Media. Gone is the grand plan to create a stable of digital magazines, and in its place a greater focus on building tools for journalists. Omidyar insists, however, that his two already announced blogs -- John Cook's The Intercept and Matt Taibbi's unnamed project -- will continue as planned.
We've seen this playbook before of course. A couple of years ago I wrote about ebook publisher, The Atavist's plans to pivot into a platform to allow others to publish. (They too promised they would maintain a commitment to also publishing their own material.) My thoughts on that move -- outlined in a post subtly titled "Platforms are for Pussies" are equally relevant today...
Every day another independent publisher pulls this same move: “we’re going to refocus on being a platform”. Evan Ratliff’s Atavist has all but abandoned its original publishing model in favor of its ebook “platform”, GOOD magazine has fired its entire editorial staff and will instead focus on being “a platform for social good” and now Punch! wants to help other publishers make it impossible for readers to click on articles about Mitt Romney.
I mean, I get it. Editorial is expensive. Christ, it’s so expensive... But it gets worse: Not only is editorial expensive, but nobody wants to pay for it. Readers, we’re told, don’t want to pay for it (I’ll deal with that bullshit another time). And investors certainly don’t want to pay for it... No investor of sound mind thinks he or she will make money from a magazine, any more than they think investing in restaurants or airlines is a smart move.
A platform, on the other hand… well, that’s the answer to everything. Noone ever went broke building a platform. For one thing, a platform doesn’t need to commission editorial: some other sap takes care of that — either clients (Atavist, Punch!) or Joe User (GOOD magazine). Of course, in the case of first look, Omidyar is both sole investor and publisher. And apparently he's just realized that, even with a $250 million dollar budget and a big pile of NSA leaked documents acquired along with Glenn Greenwald, creating a serious journalistic enterprise is hard. A platform, on the other hand, is something Omidyar has built before and clearly believes he can build again. Someone else can take care of actually fixing American journalism and delivering on all the promises he made in his weirdly Pierre-centric launch video.
But while others discuss Pierre's pivot, and what it means for Greenwald's future at the project, there's another pivot tucked away in the announcement that most people seem to have missed. Here's the line (emphasis mine):
"[W]e’ve partnered with the talented Matt Taibbi to plan and launch this fall a new digital magazine with a satirical approach to American politics and culture.""A satirical approach to American politics and culture."
Now compare that with Taibbi's original plan on joining First Look, as reported in the New York Times back in February... (again, emphasis mine)
Mr. Taibbi will start his own publication focusing on financial and political corruption, he said in an interview on Wednesday. First Look is financed by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who is worth $8.5 billion, according to Forbes. Mr. Omidyar has pledged $250 million to the project.Even the Times couldn't resist pointing out the juxtaposition. Were we really supposed to believe that Taibbi would be allowed to investigate financial corruption, and Wall Street hi-jinx, when his boss is one of the richest men in America?
As Pando has written before, Omidyar has long been a critic of government wrongdoing, but when it comes to corporate America, he takes a firm "don't ask, don't tell" position. He once said that leakers of corporate documents should face the full force of the law, and that he'd be glad to hand one over to the cops should they approach him with stolen Wall Street secrets.
Today we have the answer: Apparently Taibbi will still be going after politicians and popular culture, but he'll have to find another outlet for his rightly celebrated take-downs of billionaires like the one who pays his salary.
(I emailed Taibbi a couple of hours ago for clarification. No reply as of press time.)