Bookmarked 🚨 The mess at Medium by Casey Newton (Platformer)

Like Blogger and Twitter before it, Medium will bet on unpaid labor and algorithms.

All of which might be fine to the dozens of journalists about to lose their jobs, if Williams would publicly claim some responsibility for his part in the chaos — ”this crazy ride,” as he called it yesterday. Instead, he points to changes in the industry and shrugs. The media business — what can you do?

But of the employees who remain, few are buying it.

“He keeps talking like this company founded in 2012 is a brand new startup finding its way,” one told me. “At a certain point you’re not nimble and iterating. You’re just floundering and failing to follow through and execute.”

Casey Newton reports on Medium’s latest pivot, this time away from having its own editoral team, instead moving to a freelance model. The original vision was that journalism would provide the ‘premium feel’, however this vision has not eventuated:

Medium’s original journalism was meant to give shape and prestige to an essentially random collection of writing, gated behind a soft paywall that costs readers $5 a month or $50 a year. Eleven owned publications covered food, design, business, politics, and other subjects.

The original idea behind Medium going all the way back to 2012 was that professionally written stories would create a “halo” around the much larger body of user-generated content, enough to give the entire site a premium feel — and eventually, one that Williams could charge a subscription fee for. But by the end of 2020, the journalism didn’t feel like a halo — it felt like an albatross. And so the journalists were offered buyouts. (And generous ones, by the standards of American journalism: five months of severance pay, and six months of healthcare.)

Added to this situation is the recent attempt by journalists to unionise.

The move comes less than one month after all Medium employees—including the editorial unit—attempted to unionize and lost by one vote. Employees at the company say that journalists who work at Medium’s nine publications were not the initial driving force behind the union, but were some of the most vocal supporters of it. The news media industry (including VICE) is highly unionized; the tech industry is not. 

Newton explains that a focus on algorithms and unpaid labor leaves opens the platform up to a new sort of problem, as attested by the story of Joe Biden being served pornographic material.

The employee previously found that Medium had somehow added Biden as a writer on 10 “garbage publications,” as well as at least one software development blog. “President Joe Biden is Being Served Erotica on,” the staffer complained in an internal post.

I agree with Ian O’Byrne, that this again highlights why having a space of one’s own is so important.

For me, the key lesson is about having a space of your own to write. Lately, I’ve been having thoughts about moving this newsletter to Substack. Lessons learned from Medium are a reminder to keep building our own spaces.