Commentary

Job Cuts At 'Pop-Up' Underscore Perils Of Patronage

Among the ways to survive in the publishing industry, having a rich patron willing to lose money on a vanity project isn't a bad choice. It works right up to the moment when a wealthy benefactor starts feeling less generous.

Pop-Up Magazine and California Sunday Magazinelearned that lesson the hard way when an organization run by Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, cut ties with Pop-Up Magazine Productions.

The company started as a multimedia producer of events that presented news stories in a live performance, thus the name "Pop-Up Magazine," and later started California Sunday Magazine as a print insert in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and San Diego Union-Tribune.

Jobs's Emerson Collective, which also owns a majority interest in The Atlantic, acquired Pop-Up two years ago to help support independent journalism amid growing financial pressures, Bloomberg News reported.

Obviously, the pandemic's economic consequences didn't help Pop-Up, which has stopped publishing California Sunday Magazine's online edition, according to a toothless union representing 11 employees at the magazine. In a letter to Pop-Up CEO Douglas McGray and President Chas Edwards posted on Twitter, the union claimed the company failed to negotiate the terms of employee severance.

As Bloomberg Newsnotes, Jobs' estimated net worth has grown 19% to $31.6 billion this year on the strength of Apple's stock -- her shares in Disney likely lost value. The mention of her wealth is the kind of detail that often spurs social-media outrage against indifferent plutocrats.

It's hard to see a path forward for Pop-Upuntil people are willing to crowd into theaters to see its live performances. And a wealthy benefactor wouldn't hurt, either.

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