Reports From Inside First Look Media Suggest That Maybe Silicon Valley Shouldn’t Manage Journalists
As any veteran of the terminally self-infatuated tech world can testify, a start-up ethos usually means a very long string of conference calls and navel-gazing managerial monologues. And a number of First Lookers told me that the media side of things endured a sustained bout of neglect as management talk metastasized.
At First Look, “strategy meetings are always more important than actually producing things,” says one of the journalists still hoping to weather the storm at the company. These confabs tend to perpetuate themselves in all bureaucratic work environments, but at an ostensible journalistic endeavor—which is, after all, tasked with nimbly breaking news and moving just as quickly on to the next big story—they can become lethally counterproductive. Another source at the company says the disconnect goes much deeper than a simple aversion to productive activity. Company managers “are afraid of us, they don’t like us, they gravitate toward the people who can engage in their weird management-speak.”
Omidyar himself exerted heavy-breathing oversight of everything from the rollout schedules and social-media strategies of First Look sites to individual reporters’ travel expense statements. Taibbi and John Cook, his counterpart at First Look’s daily site The Intercept, “chafed at what they regarded as onerous intrusions into their hiring authority,” the First Look team noted. Cook later made his displeasure all too clear by leaving First Look in November and returning to his former home of Gawker Media (though in a post for First Look and several tweets, Cook said that working at First Look “was incredibly satisfying professionally”).
Indeed, in the company’s barely year-long existence, several editorial leaders have fallen in and out of favor with Omidyar, each trying his best to carry out the founder’s gnomic dictates. The newest bearer of Omidyar’s good graces is John Temple, who ran an early journalism start-up for him in Hawaii.
On conference calls, staffers would “bet among ourselves how soon it would be until Pierre described himself as a ‘technologist,’ ” another First Look employee reports. “It was always less than three minutes.”