Sarah Lacy’s latest Medium/me critique makes no sense:
Medium has been producing some enviable original journalism of late, but Williams is so risk averse that he simply won’t — or maybe can’t — decide if he wants Medium to be seen as a publication or a platform.
First of all, is my problem that I’m risk averse or conflict averse (as stated earlier in the piece)? Those seem like different things. I suppose I can be both. But how either is the cause of not deciding if Medium wants to be seen as a publication or platform is a strange leap to make.
Says Sarah, “The most interesting content is siloed off into the Matter brand, which does have quality editorial leadership.” The reason it’s “siloed” is because Matter is a publication, and Medium is a platform. There are other publications on Medium, as well (some we run, others we don’t). That may be confusing to some people, but it will become clearer over time. And it certainly has nothing to do with avoiding decision, risk, or conflict.
And this bit with the cheap-shot link is just silly: “Still it remains to be seen whether he can continue to avoid having to stand by anything that appears on his site.” The story talked about in that link pissed a lot of people off and was removed by the user who posted it. Had it stayed up, that’d be perfectly fine with me (preferable, actually). Most people may not be aware, but the companies/platforms I’ve built on the past have always taken a strong free-speech stance and defended users rights to publish controversial things. Twitter is an exemplar of this. And the Blogger team had many debates once we got to Google about content policy (always arguing to let controversial content live, against potential corporate interests). That was always on behalf of users, but in Matter’s short history, we’ve done the same when we’ve faced attack.
Though an interesting provocation — that those who build media empires need to be comfortable with conflict, while those that build tech empires don’t — I find several other points in the piece have questionable logic. For example, had Omidyar and Hughes really been avoiding conflict, would they have pissed off their writing staffs so much? I don’t really know the story in either case. But what I have heard has nothing to do with them lacking the type of courage that Graham is exalted for. I think they were trying to improve their organizations and made some tough calls. Whether those were the right calls is hard to say, but I don’t know what it has to do with avoiding conflict.
Also, this: “Meanwhile Williams has done a better job — so far — at Omidyar’s stated goal of wanting to support real journalism mostly by staying out of the newsroom…” How do you know? I might be messing with what our publications post all the time. Meanwhile, Pierre has this happening.
To be clear, none of Medium’s owned and operated publications are news sites. They’re more magazines. Besides Matter, there’s one about music, one about tech, and one is about design. Which may be why this doesn’t resonate with me: “This is why journalists are such a nightmare to manage, or even have at a dinner party. They turn combative on a dime because that’s the only way to survive.”
I’ve known a lot of journalists (and employ a few) and mostly they’re curious, pleasant, respectful people. I like having dinner with them.
Anyway, I am new to being a publisher. I will read that Katharine Graham book, and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. Meanwhile, for what it’s worth, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with conflict.
So, fuck off.