A new year is a cause for reflection—and for resuming this column, which I intend to write regularly, but not every week. You may recall I took a break to have my third child. All is well—and busy—in the Lessin household, and at The Information, which is growing rapidly.
As I look across the media industry, I see a new genre of news organization emerging. If last year was marked by the continuous hype around Substack, it seems that this year is witnessing the emergence of a close cousin: newsrooms that first and foremost see themselves as collections of individual star writers.
This new wave of "influencer journalism" outfits conjures visions of the infamous (and now defunct) Sway House, where TikTok influencers lived and worked together—only far wonkier and without the swimming pools.
I’m including in this trend everything from Axios (a veteran of this model) to Puck, a newer entrant, which emailed out a manifesto this week claiming the belief that “elite reporters are influencers.” I see it in a publication The Information backed: The Ankler, a newsletter founded by ace Hollywood reporter Richard Rushfield, now turbocharging its team with star editor Janice Min.
A mysterious new venture from Ben Smith and Justin Smith seems to have some of this ethos. In a call with me this week, future editor-in-chief Ben said he and Justin are thinking hard about how to balance a strong newsroom brand with the aspirations of superstar journalists.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why this new “talent model” is emerging and what it means for journalism. The upshot: I think it’s great for the short-term business prospects of these companies, all of which I expect will have meaningful exits in the next five years. But long term, the current obsession with treating journalists like influencers isn’t healthy for journalism.
First, the Business Reasons
While pop-culture influencers have TikTok and Instagram, the new influencer journalists have newsletters. Writers need to write, and newsletters allow them to do that, with few barriers and with ready-made distribution via email lists.