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Nov. 29, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
Business Models

Mic lays off almost everyone and goes for a last-ditch sale to Bustle

“What you hear less about the truth is that it is expensive,” publisher Cory Haik wrote in her resignation letter.

Mic.com has laid off the bulk of its staff, Recode’s Peter Kafka first reported Thursday.

Publisher Cory Haik has left the company. In a departure email published by Recode, she wrote, in part, “What you hear less about the truth is that it is expensive.”

Mic raised $60 million in venture funding and as of 2017 was reportedly valued in the “mid hundreds of millions” of dollars. Bustle Digital Group has acquired what’s left of the company (like its custom CMS) for, reportedly, around $5 million, a fraction of its former valuation.

Mic was launched in New York in 2011 as PolicyMic.com by former Goldman Sachs banker Chris Altchek and cofounder Jake Horowitz. The site was originally based on two-way political conversation; as Altchek explained to Business Insider in 2011:

Our site is different because it offers two-way dialogue. Commenters are given points (“Mics,” or a form of currency) by other readers, based on how smart their posts are. The more “Mics” you get, the more you can write on the site. This discourages angry commenters, and rewards people with intelligent, substantial posts….

We’d like to be a combination of Quora, Twitter and The Economist, which has a great debate platform. We’re also intrigued by DailyKos, RedState.com and the Huffington Post.

Mic in 2018 was nothing like the intimate site that Altchek originally described. Over the years, the company increasingly chased scale: New name. Apps. European expansion. Nine new verticals. Distributed content everywhere. An unsuccessful pivot to video. (Ultimately, AdWeek reported, the final nail in Mic’s coffin may have been Facebook’s cancellation of a reportedly $5 million contract for its Watch program, Mic Dispatch.)

“We were run by people who did not believe the things that their staffers were hired to write about and [that] their staffers truly believed in,” a former Mic staffer told The Outline’s Adrienne Jeffries in 2017.

Madhulika Sikka, who had been the executive editor at NPR News and was hired as Mic’s executive editor in 2015; she left after less than six months. Cory Haik left The Washington Post at the end of 2015 to join Mic as the company’s chief strategy officer, and was promoted to publisher in 2017. She wrote in her Nieman Lab prediction for 2018:

Pivoting to video, forsaking O&O for distributed, hiring growth hackers, pursuing OTT, new ad products, subscriptions, live, visual — you name it. None of these things are inherently bad — all mere tactics in our transition. And yet they are villainized, by, well, us. 2018 will be no exception. However, here’s betting that it will also be a moment when the tide turns in favor of thinking about impact — realness — in a new way. The winners will be the ones who have built a meaningful journalistic report that transcends, and likely capitalizes on, the platform moment.

Haik wrote in her resignation letter, which — in my read of it at least — is strung through with a tone of apology to the young journalists being laid off:

Our business models are unsettled, and the macro forces at play are all going through their own states of unrest. If anyone tells you they have it figured out, a special plan to save us all, or that it’s all due to a singular fault, know that is categorically false.

Meanwhile, CNBC reported this week that Facebook Watch, which had aimed to attract the millennials that Mic was aimed at, is “pivoting to older audiences” because young people aren’t interested.

Here’s a collection of folks who lost their jobs Thursday:

Photo of Mic founders Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz from Mic’s website.

This story has been updated.

POSTED     Nov. 29, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
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