The Markup appears to be facing a staff revolt — and its financial backers may be reconsidering their support — following the firing of editor-in-chief Julia Angwin.
When the site was announced last fall, it was backed by $20 million from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, with additional funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The goal was to do data-driven journalism about the impact of technology on society.
Angwin and her co-founder Jeff Larson seemed particularly well-suited for the job — both are award-winning journalists who worked together at ProPublica, where they did impactful reporting around topics like Facebook’s ad practices.
However, Angwin was fired on Monday, a move she blamed in interviews on executive director Sue Gardner’s plan to turn the site into “a cause, not a publication,” with headlines like “Facebook is a dumpster fire.”
This, Angwin said, was at odds with her own dedication to “evidence-based, data-driven journalism.”
Larson, who’s now become editor-in-chief, offered a different account on Medium, where he said work had fallen “far, far behind” by the end of 2018: “Hiring was slow. Recruitment was slow. Even as of this month, we didn’t have stories banked. We didn’t have editorial processes in place to accept and develop pieces.”
He said that he and Angwin were both asked to take management classes, but she refused. (Angwin acknowledged that she may have had things to learn about being editor-in-chief, but she noted that she’s led investigative teams in the past, and she said, “There was never any attempt to guide me into that learning.”)
Larson also alluded to other issues that led to “a breakdown in trust between the three of us as co-founders.” He said there were attempts to find other roles for Angwin, but she “refused to discuss any role other than Editor in Chief, and would not consider any other configuration. So unfortunately we made the decision to remove her from that role.”
The editorial team has sided with Angwin, with all of them posting a statement supporting her and praising her “effectiveness as a manager and an editor.” Five of the seven editorial team members also resigned in protest.
As a result of all the controversy, Newmark and the other funders of The Markup have issued a statement of their own, saying that while they’re still “committed to the mission of The Markup,” they’ve also decided “it is necessary to reassess our support and we are taking steps to do so.”