Something to do with a Chinese wall
Ken Silverstein's (I actually don't know who he is) non-rant was reported by jimromenesko.com (also unknown to me): "Ken Silverstein Resigns From Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, Blasts ‘Dishonest’ Leadership." I am vaguely familiar with Omidyar (eBay founder who today is worth $6.4 billion). The story Silverstein tells is to me, unfortunately, very familiar.
The story in short: the need to meddle in the world's affairs comes upon a recently-minted billionaire ("the rest of the world should see things the way I do") and so sticks his fingers into gears he knows not of. We see this with billionaires who try to bankrupt the Bank of England, interfere with democratic voting, or destroy publications -- either accidentally or on purpose.
Omidyar decided do his good by giving Glenn Greenwald a full-time job (he was only on a part-time contract to The Guardian doing those Snowden articles) by establishing First Look Media (a pun on the USA constitution's first amendment on free speech) and a series of news sites, such as The Intercept and Racket. His brilliant idea: that lots of money would ensure lots of free speech. Just one year after launch, however, and First Look has gone all The New Republic on us.
There is a vast difference between running a corporation like eBay and running a publication like upFront.eZine: Corporations operate on good news; publications operate on bad news.
To live on their daily diet of happy news, corporations have marketing departments that spin any news as good. They have public relations firms who press good news on publications. Their investor relations folks reports goods news to the fullest extent of the law. They hire corporate lawyers to war against news not deemed good.
Publications, however, operate on both good and bad news. ("If it bleeds, it leads.") We print bad news (like Autodesk 360's failure to display DWG files without corruption) and good news (PTC launching its PLM Cloud). We war against marketing departments, public relations outfits, investor relations, corporate lawyers, and their intense battles to press the line that "the only good news is good news" -- or as we in the publishing industry call it, "puff pieces."
Silverstein gives an example of a puff piece at First Look Media:
...you know what my favorite part of working for First Look was? Last year’s holiday party when two of our fiercely independent staffers “interviewed” Pierre Omidyar and asked him what he did in the morning.
Since you are all hanging on the edge of your seats, he drinks tea and reads stuff, the NYT and other things and then The Intercept was about #5 (he claims).
And for the record, I boycotted this embarrassing affair and sat in a conference room with two other people, one who no longer works there and one who may or may not. It’s hard to keep track. What a joke.
Billionaires whose diet consists mainly of good news have no life experience in running honest publications, which feed on good news and bad. For them, it's mixing oil and water; this is why publications traditionally maintain a Chinese wall between editorial (oil) and advertising (water). Each has a simple, clear role: advertising makes the money; editorial spends it. The two should otherwise be utterly independent.
When the revenues generated by the advertising side are insufficient, then publications have these few options:
- Option #1: Turn editorial into another form of advertising (the lazy solution)
- Option #2: Have a sugar daddy to subsidize editorial (the upFront.eZine model, where I am the sugar daddy)
- Option #3: Go out of business
Option #1 fails once sufficient readers realize they are being sold advertising under the guise of independence (c.f. HSBC and the The Telegraph).
Option #2 fails when the sugar daddy misunderstands editorial's unique two-prong business model: it is a perfectly regular practice to (1) operate at a 100% loss, while (2) outputting bad news daily. For a normal business man, this doubly-negative model simply does not compute. So he takes a stab at making editorial profitable and the news good. By pushing his idea of success, his publication fails.
No wonder newsmen are traditionally portrayed in books in movies as heavy smokers, hard drinkers, and weary cynics. It's the nature of our doubly-negative biz.