About The Markup
On Monday, The Markup made the difficult decision to remove our co-Founder Julia Angwin as Editor in Chief. Five of seven editorial staff have resigned in protest, and we know that many people are deeply upset about this situation. I want you to know more about what went into the decision, to share clearly what my vision is for The Markup and what we hope to achieve.
First, let me say very clearly: We did everything we could to make this work.
Julia Angwin is one of the most talented reporters in journalism today. At ProPublica, she and I pioneered new ways to do data-driven journalism. Many of us, myself included, have been in awe of her ability to dive deep into tough subjects and illuminate the impacts of technology on society. Many of our staff came to The Markup at least in part because of Julia, including me.
I have worked side-by-side with Julia for more than five years. We have co-reported dozens of stories together. Our series, Machine Bias, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It was with Julia that I left ProPublica to co-found The Markup with Sue Gardner.
Over a period of many months, though, it became clear that The Markup did not have the right leadership structure in place to be successful. It has been reported that Julia’s departure was abrupt and a surprise, and that there was “no discussion” of a new role. That is not true. As early as December 21st, we started a conversation — Sue Gardner, Julia and I — about crafting a different role for Julia that would keep her as a central part of The Markup. As a co-Founder and talented journalist, we wanted Julia to remain the public face and voice of the institution, and to assume a role that would put her front and center, driving much of our most important journalism.
We kicked around a lot of ideas together about what to do: one of us could become investigative lead. We could recruit an experienced Editor in Chief from outside the organization. Sue and I were totally willing to craft any role that would work for Julia, that would be a fit for her considerable talent, and that would give us a leadership structure that played to our strengths and was the best structure moving forward.
None of this was particularly unusual. There are many other journalism startups in which founders initially took on roles like Editor in Chief and then moved into different roles that still position them as some of the leading voices in American journalism today. Over a period of several months, we worked to pursue and craft different approaches that would keep Julia at The Markup.
We wanted Julia Angwin to stay. We did our best to make it happen. I wanted her to stay, and to succeed, both because of how much her reporting matters and also because of what she has meant to me in my career. We wanted this to work. But it wasn’t working, and after months of trying we reached an impasse.
We fundamentally believe that HR issues should remain private, and so we didn’t want to comment on Julia’s departure, because it’s an internal personnel matter. We believe saying nothing is the most respectful and kindest approach. We still believe that, and I am still reluctant to say more. But I recognize the need to set the record straight.
The Markup had planned to launch early in 2019. At that time, we were expecting to have an editorial staff of 24. But by late 2018 it was clear that we had fallen far, far behind. Hiring was slow. Recruitment was slow. Even as of this month, we didn’t have stories banked. We didn’t have editorial processes in place to accept and develop pieces. We hadn’t developed areas of coverage. We still lacked an editorial value proposition. We were very far behind.
Both Julia and I, having not run newsrooms at this level, were asked to participate in management training and coaching. Recognizing my own shortcomings, I jumped at the opportunity. Julia refused, and was not interested in any of the support offered, and did not want any feedback.
Finally, there were other management and leadership issues at play, that led us to have a breakdown in trust between the three of us as co-founders. Again, it’s not my place to lay that bare. And I won’t. But where it left us was in a position where Julia refused to discuss any role other than Editor in Chief, and would not consider any other configuration. So unfortunately we made the decision to remove her from that role.
So What is The Markup?
Yesterday brought about a lot of discussion on the subject of journalism versus advocacy. Julia sent a letter to Craig Newmark, a donor of The Markup, that said that she was fired for retaliating against Sue’s “approach.”
Let me be clear: that is not why we asked Julia to leave. It also doesn’t make sense to me. My own background is in data journalism. For nearly a decade at ProPublica, I worked on deep investigative journalism, reporting on social media platforms, redistricting, mass surveillance, and artificial intelligence. I was in the room as part of the team that sifted through the Snowden documents. Journalism is what I do, and it’s why we founded The Markup.
The team we had been building together was a team of talented journalists — investigative reporters, prize winners, data journalists — and the editorial value proposition that we ultimately put together emphasized evidence. It is absolutely not true that we intend to be anything other than a rigorous, fact-checked news outlet, and there has been no shift in approach. Our mission is the exact same one that Sue, Julia and I agreed on and committed to publicly last Fall.
So what is that vision?
We intend for The Markup to be a news organization dedicated to data-driven, rigorously fact-checked reporting on the effects of technology on society. This is what we set out to do, and we are doing it. My vision is the same vision that led me, Sue and Julia to co-found The Markup: the urgent need for journalism that illuminates how powerful institutions are using technology. Yes, we intend to hold the powerful to account, raise the cost of bad behavior, and spur reforms. But that’s not “advocacy” — that’s what journalism is, and what I’ve learned from peers and mentors.
Finally: I am sorry for how this was handled in our newsroom.
For all that I’ve articulated above, clearly our staff was shocked by this news and we did not do what we needed to do to give them a voice. I am deeply saddened by the resignations in our newsroom.
And to our reporters who have left: I know you felt blindsided. That is not what we wanted. We wanted you here. Our door is open, and I hope you will consider coming back to be part of this project. What’s clear to me from the ongoing discussion is that there is an overwhelming desire for journalists like you all to do journalism that illuminates how technology is changing society.
I take that charge seriously, and look forward to launching a news outlet that is the gold standard in technology journalism.