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The First Look Mess

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I never really understood what Pierre Omidyar was doing with his non-Intercept project, which seemed to involve hiring interesting writers and not letting them write anything. Now we know:

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.

It’s obviously hard for an outsider to judge. It obviously wouldn’t be the shock of the century if Taibbi had gender-related management issues, and it certainly sounds like the meddling from upper management was intolerable:

Taibbi and other journalists who came to First Look believed they were joining a free-wheeling, autonomous, and unstructured institution. What they found instead was 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.

Ugh. Hopefully Alex Parene will be employed by someone who’s actually paying him to write things soon.

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