Reporters shouldn’t enjoy it when media entities become fodder for the headlines. Someone needs to remind Oliver Darcy about that.
Independent Journal Review (IJR) is dealing with some editorial issues, and that means that a few people are without jobs at least temporarily. When it was covered in Business Insider, it was offered with almost a tinge of blood lust. Oliver Darcy is starting to make a name for himself as a shark, and when it comes to IJR, he’s been on the track of blood in the water for a while now. While it’s not appropriate to say that IJR is blameless, Darcy is definitely going the extra mile to offer readers something on the same level as we saw in the days before the fall of Gawker – tabloid-style journalism calling foul on the same. The bottom line is that Darcy obviously is enjoying himself far too much.
That means he’s missing some parts of the story, which wouldn’t be shared with anyone who relishes the downfall of another media outlet as much as he apparently does.
In the interest of clarity, this article is an opinion column, from a personal perspective. That means I am speaking as a person – not as Editor-In-Chief of this site. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have been published in the past by IJR, but have never been on their payroll. Finally, I’m personally acquainted with two out of the three IJR staffers who were suspended – Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. Normally, I wouldn’t take the time to point those simple facts out publicly, but given the situation, that is absolutely necessary. After all, I have no wish to start dropping any further blood in the water for at least one shark who’s been swimming around.
There is no question at this point that IJR has made some questionable decisions, arguably since the very beginning. That’s the nature of the beast for any start-up, including this one. When you’re dealing with a media start-up, the learning curve is extremely limited, and typically involves just the business and technology portions of your work. There is little to no room for error when it comes to content. That is a hard lesson that IJR is learning right now.
To avoid pitfalls, it is important to start with a real plan that not only includes what kind of content a media company wants to produce, but also some strict rules on what kind of writers and editorial staff should be involved with the production. In example, it’s not wise to hire anyone with a questionable reputation, because it can cause a whole list of problems, including harm to the company’s reputation, loss of other staffers who do not want to be associated with that person, and loss of future talent for the same reason. It goes without saying that there is always the danger of that person doing something wrong again. Darcy probably was riding the IJR story in part because they had hired Benny Johnson, who had been dismissed from BuzzFeed over allegations of plagiarism. He was just waiting for the inevitable. If that wasn’t in Darcy’s calculations, it probably should have been if his goal was to write media criticism.
Another important issue is choosing an editorial staff that is trustworthy, and capable of dealing with the kind of content that you want to produce. When it comes to politics and news, a seasoned newspaper editor is a great choice. No matter what, whomever you choose should have a strong background in editing or publishing, including a full understanding of copyright and libel laws. It’s apparent to me, based on several conversations with multiple IJR staff members over several months, that Alex Skatell had been advised to hire someone like that at least once or twice.
Finally, just like in any other business, it is wise to take advantage of the assets that you have at your disposal. In media, that means placing reporters on beats based on their past experience. If you don’t have someone with the experience necessary to cover a particular beat, hire a reporter with the correct skills and experience needed. Erin McPike did not have the skill set necessary for covering anything on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Additionally, IJR’s management showed their own lack of experience when they failed to tell McPike that she must file stories just like a pool reporter would.
The bottom line is that far too many media companies are more concerned with profits than being accurate. It’s not entirely their fault. Readers drive the market on information, and when they settle for low quality content, the companies provide it. People complain about sensationalism and click bait, but obviously there is still a huge market for it. IJR was attempting to make a mark in that area, and needs to seriously rethink that decision.
For now, perhaps everyone needs a friendly reminder: The current occupant of the White House views most of the media as the enemy. Any media organization that is enjoying his “love” right now could lose it easily. This is not a good time to engage in media cannibalism. Yes, we should call out anyone who is saying something inaccurate, but reserve the big guns for government. (That might be more advice on how to run a media company.)
Disclaimer: This article is strictly the opinion of Liz Harrison. It is not the opinion of Practical Politicking, LLC, its staff, or management.