Does First Look Media know how to manage talent?

American journalist Matt Taibbi, reporter for ...

American journalist Matt Taibbi, reporter for Bill Maher’s television program, in Philadelphia, interviewing an Obama supporter during the 2008 presidential election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matt Taibbi has left First Look Media after the relationship with the organisation collapsed over several months. According to The Intercept, the relationship with Taibbi broke down over several months as the organisation tried to work out its internal structures and responsibilities. [1]  Taibbi’s departure shows the paradox of social media talent management. In the new media economy, talent thrives because of their personal identity. The organisation succeeds by being able to capture that talent. In the new media economy neither the talent nor the organisation can survive or thrive without the other.[2] The individual needs the organisation and the organisation needs the individual but not in the same way.

Who is managing the talent will decide your success

The new media corporation exist because of the talent. The New York Times or the Guardian will continue if a talent or even if a couple of talents leave. First Look Media cannot continue if talent continues to leave and they cannot attract it.[3] The issue is who is managing the talent. Without talent management an organisation can becomes a cult of personality or become a corporate clone. The cult of personality sees the organisation serving the talent or talents who has amass a large following.[4] The corporate clone syndrome is where corporate rules crowd out talent. In the new media companies, the organisation often resemble a Renaissance court rather than a corporation.[5] Talent cannot displease its patron. Even if he stayed, Taibbi’s focus on financial corruption would place him in conflict with his patron. His patron still has to do business.[6] This shows a serious weakness within First Look Media’s business model.[7] To disciplineTaibbi to an organisational line would ruin what makes him a talent. This appears to have been the way the organisation managed its talent.

Apple the brand is bigger than any talent so talent can run free

New media organisations can learn from the way Apple has managed talent. Apple has harnessed talent to its brand so that no one is larger than the company. They focuses on a few products, so less chance of a personal empires. The integrated corporate system means all parts rely on each other for the good of the organisation. The talent is connected to the same goal. In that sense, organisation “disappears” as talent runs free (within the organisation). Jobs managed the talent through the annual retreat for the top 100 employees. [8]He drew from anywhere within the organisation not just from the senior managers to unsettle talent hierarchies.

The question: talent or organisation?

First Look Media appears to be struggling with the way that it manages talent. The Intercept, for the most part, has resolved that issue as it was first. Can a rival emerge or be tolerated is a talent management question. New media organisations will need to answer the same questions.

  • Is the talent independent or there to serve the organisation?
  • Whose reputation is more important; talent or organisation?
  • Is the organisation a talent platform or a corporate structure?
  • Can the organisation tolerate an individual brand?

[1] (accessed 30 October 2014) The problem may be much worse than talent management as it appears to be on the brink of imploding. Consider this public admission:

“Taibbi and First Look disagreed over the functionality of the website, the timing of its launch, which designers and programmers they would use, Racket‘s organizational chart—even, at one point, over office seating assignments.”

If you are arguing over seating arrangements, you have a dysfunctional corporate or organisational culture. You have a problem with the organisation not just an employee.

[2] The case of Andrew Sullivan illustrates this point as the Dish would disappear without him. (accessed 30 October 2014)

[3] If you want to understand the health of First Look Media consider who is arriving and who is leaving, and when. Those who can see a dysfunctional organisation, arguments over seating arrangements, will likely leave rather than endure. If new talent is not being attracted, then the organisational reputation is deterring talent. Neither are good for long term survival.

[4] Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept is the exception that proves the rule. It was created as a platform for Greenwald on the back of his Snowden work and his previous following created by earlier blogging. It has shown some success in delegating the work and widening the talent umbrella, but it remains a niche publication.


[6] One could argue he should have never been hired because the organisation is not independent of the patron’s business and that meant no one thought through what Taibbi was going to do or how he worked. The business needs to consider who provided that advice and keep them away from strategic decisions.

[7] Paul Carr at Pando has made a similar point but in a different way by focusing on the concern that the owner will dictate editorial content.

[8] (accessed 30 October)


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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