Nieman Foundation at Harvard
The News Lens in Taiwan is doing what media startups in the region hesitate to do — acquiring other sites
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 28, 2014, 3:23 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The near future of First Look’s next site, Racket, looks fuzzy

The site, promised as a “satirical approach to American politics and culture,” was set to launch this month, but now it’s unclear when or if it’ll get off the ground.

Andrew Rice reported for New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer earlier today that Matt Taibbi has gone missing (update: he’s out) from First Look’s New York offices “after disagreements with higher-ups inside Omidyar’s organization,” where he’s supposed to be launching new digital political satire rag Racket.

Sources confirmed that Taibbi has been absent from the office for several weeks, only returning on one brief occasion to address the staff. Although those hired have been reassured that the project would continue on during the unspecified term of Taibbi’s absence, the the launch date for Racket — which Taibbi indicated in September would be coming “in a month” — now appears to have been pushed off.

“We have a target date but I wouldn’t make a launch date public,” said Temple, who is based in San Francisco, when reached by phone this morning. “I don’t comment about internal matters and I don’t comment on personnel matters….I mean we’re a private company, so why would we…no.”

first-look-logoI had the chance to sit down with both Taibbi and Racket staffer Alex Pareene to talk about Racket earlier this month in New York. We talked about launch strategy, which they were developing in hopes of a soft launch this month followed by a fuller launch in winter. Taibbi and Pareene described a publication in the spirit of Spy, The eXile, and National Lampoon; they also praised The Daily Show and ClickHole. The digital magazine would include longform writing and short videos, but also pranks, inside jokes, and stunts. The pair envisioned their team as a group of renegades, shaking a fist both at the rich and powerful and at other media companies as well.

But when I followed up with Racket later to clarify details regarding their plans and the management of First Look, I couldn’t get any response from either Taibbi or Pareene. Eventually, when I stressed that I was eager to write a story prior to their launch, I heard from Gordon Hurd, a newly hired managing editor at First Look. By phone, Hurd said Taibbi was unavailable, and in a later email he wrote:

The initial launch date has been moved and we are rethinking strategy, as you mentioned. If you can continue to hold off, we’d appreciate it. Once things are better set, we can update you on the facts for sure.

Rice’s reporting confirms suspicion that plans for Racket’s launch have run into trouble. Pando Daily’s Paul Carr wrote a series of tweets about First Look rumors — including the possible departure of Eric Bates — saying he had contacted Taibbi, who denied that he was struggling to cooperate with management.

The launch of The Intercept, First Look’s first digital magazine, was also less than smooth. After some initial stories, the blog stopped publishing. Editor-in-chief John Cook ultimately addressed these concerns after Carr wrote an article for Pando questioning what had happened. Cook said the purpose of the hold was to focus on resolving “questions about the site’s broader focus, operational strategy, structure, and design.” NYU professor Jay Rosen, who stepped down as an advisor of First Look earlier this month, was surprised by Taibbi’s departure.

I reached out to Alex Pareene for comment on Racket’s future and have not heard back. Perhaps the missing Taibbi will be found and asked for further explication tonight; he’s scheduled to appear at a fundraiser this evening in New York.

POSTED     Oct. 28, 2014, 3:23 p.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
Join the 45,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The News Lens in Taiwan is doing what media startups in the region hesitate to do — acquiring other sites
Within the first three months of this year, the four-year-old news company brought a tech site and a top site for sports fans under its umbrella in order to grow its overall reach: “By the end of this year, I want to have 5 or 6 different sub-brands,” News Lens co-founder Joey Chung said.
Could students’ media literacy be compared across countries, like math scores?
Plus: YouTube’s sad reliance on Wikipedia, a problem with Pinterest, and how countries around the world are fighting misinformation.
The Join the Beat project wants to tease out better ways of working with an audience directly and regularly on stories
“We want to find people who recognize the potential of the audience, and are looking to capitalize on this potential and pull together a learning group to try some things and see what emerges.”