Commentary

Fate Of 'The Markup' Is Up To Craig Newmark

Investigative journalist Julia Angwin was just fired as editor in chief of The Markup, a startup news site that plans to examine the effects of technology on society. Her dismissal led five of the site’s seven editorial staffers to quit in protest, a few months before a planned launch in July, reports The New York Times.

The nonprofit received strong financial backing based on the reputation that Angwin and another founder, Jeff Larson, had established at ProPublica, the nonprofit news organization started by former Wall Street Journal editor Paul Steiger and billionaires Herbert and Marion Sandler.

The Markup managed to raise more than $23 million, including donations from Craig Newmark, the billionaire founder of Craigslist. In a letter sent to Newmark, Angwin said she was forced out by Sue Gardner, The Markup’s executive director and third founder, who had led the Wikimedia Foundation until 2014.

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Angwin claimed Gardner wanted to change the site’s mission to advocate against tech companies, instead of data-based reporting about the effects of technology on society. Gardner disputed that claim; she said the The Markup’s purpose hadn’t changed.

Gardner said the site took issue with Angwin’s leadership, management and willingness to accept feedback and training to grow as an editor in chief.

Larson took over as editor in chief and plans to have almost 36 reporters in place to begin publishing by early 2019. He said the site wants to beef up staff and have more publishable work ready to post when the site goes live.

“I’m devastated to be forced out of the organization I conceived to pursue rigorous, evidence-based tech accountability journalism,” Angwin said in an emailed statement to the Times. “I will continue to pursue that mission and hope to find other ways to help build this field.”

Before joining ProPublica, Angwin worked at The Wall Street Journal and was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering corporate scandals.

While the she-said, she-said of Angwin and Gardner’s publicized dispute is hard to measure, the future of The Markup rests in Newmark’s hands. For the site to survive, he has to believe it can survive without Angwin’s editorial leadership.

As news organizations lose audiences to social media and face dwindling ad dollars, billionaire beneficence underpins a lot journalism these days. Just ask any editorial staffer who collects checks from Advance Publications, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Atlantic, Bloomberg News and The Boston Globe.

Also, don’t forget the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Time or The Washington Post.

The Guardian reported on Twitter that Newmark had declined to comment about The Markup’s shakeup and reporter exodus.

It’s perfectly appropriate for him to remain quiet and let the dust settle before making any public remarks — although a public pronouncement of his commitment to the project would help in recruiting a new reporting staff. His $20 million can still go a long way to setting up a newsroom.

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