Look what Steve Jobs’ money is doing

Laurene Powell Jobs is a media mogul with a mission.

From Robert P. Baird’s “Benevolent Haze,” posted Thursday in the Columbia Journalis Review:

Powell Jobs, who is fifty-seven, has often said that she named the Emerson Collective for Ralph Waldo Emerson, and particularly for his essay “Self-Reliance.” The organization started small; in the early years, it was focused primarily on advocacy work in education, climate, immigration, and gun violence prevention. Powell Jobs gave money to a handful of nonprofit newsrooms engaged with those subjects, such as Chalkbeat. She also invested in Ozy Media, a millennial news site cofounded by a friend of hers. But it was not until 2016, around the time of McGray and Edwards’s visit to Palo Alto, that Emerson started a major expansion that included, for the first time, a determined focus on media.

In the years since, Emerson’s media investments have grown quickly in scale. Through Emerson, Powell Jobs has acquired equity in a number of Hollywood production companies, including a controlling share of Anonymous Content, which helped create Mr. Robot, Spotlight, and George Clooney’s Midnight Sky. Since 2015, according to a person familiar with Emerson’s finances, she has spent roughly a quarter of a billion dollars on journalism.

In July 2017, in the surest sign of Powell Jobs’s ambitions to date, Emerson bought a 70 percent stake in The Atlantic, the magazine that was cofounded by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and her for-profit media portfolio now also includes investments in Axios; The Athletic; and Pushkin Industries, the podcast company founded by Jacob Weisberg and Malcolm Gladwell. In addition, she has helped fund a slew of nonprofit news organizations—including ProPublica, the Marshall Project, Grist, the Texas Tribune, The Trace, Christianity Today, CalMatters, El Paso Matters, Climate Central, Reveal, Lawfare, and The 19th—and given money to “infrastructure” organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists; the Solutions Journalism Network; and the American Journalism Project, a relatively new foray into “venture philanthropy” that supports local news outlets such as the VTDigger, in Vermont; MLK50, in Memphis; and The Oaklandside, in California. Recently, Powell Jobs invested in a new book-publishing venture launched by Cindy Spiegel and Julie Grau, industry veterans who were founding editors of Riverhead Books.

Part of what makes these investments and grants notable is their sheer accumulation. In late 2018, Ben Horowitz, the venture capitalist, surprised Powell Jobs by referring to her as a “media mogul” in front of a crowd. “I don’t think anybody would call me a media mogul except you,” she shot back, which was accurate, on some level. Though Powell Jobs’s acquisition of The Atlantic gave her a visible perch within the hothouse of American media—early this month, she assumed the title of board chair—no one would quite compare her to Barry Diller or S.I. Newhouse Jr. Still, Horowitz’s characterization was not entirely hyperbolic. In recent years, Powell Jobs has made Emerson into a powerful, if not always obvious, tectonic force shaping the journalism landscape.

Emerson’s media investments are also distinguished by their underlying motivation. In recent years, virtually all of the organization’s media-funding decisions—with the possible exception of some of the Hollywood partnerships—have started from a recognition that American media, and in particular American journalism, is in the grips of an industry-wide market failure.

My take: Did the Steve and Laurene talk about this before he died?


  1. Joe Murphy said:
    “My take: Did the Steve and Laurene talk about this before he died?”

    My take: What difference does that make? Not to mention — that’s not our business.

    As we have previously commented, Steve had confidence Tim C. would make the best decisions running Apple, therefore instructed Tim not to ask himself “What would Steve do?” but believe in and follow his own vision.

    Similarly, Steve trusted Lauren to believe in and follow her own vision. If not, Steve would have made other arrangements.

    From reports of Steve’s last words, he was at peace with his journey and left this world confident, happy and looking forward to his next experience

    January 22, 2021
  2. Gregg Thurman said:
    have started from a recognition that American media, and in particular American journalism, is in the grips of an industry-wide market failure.

    I’ll be eternally in love with Laurene

    January 22, 2021
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    I read closely the lengthy article “Benevolent Haze” posted in the CJR. I do not see anywhere that Laurene Powell Jobs’ efforts will preclude journalism from continuing to invent the wheel on the way to its own guillotine. The media (journalism) does not desire objectivity satisfied by two opposing sides offering competing opinions thus leaving the reader or viewership to split the difference. They desire to own the whole. The media supports an unconscious subscriber, an indoctrinated subscriber, a subscriber fed only partisan information and opinion that confirms the writer’s own bias, a subscriber made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda making the subscriber less inclined to fight, to resist, to ask questions and to be skeptical. Theodore Roosevelt warned over a century ago of the subversive influence of money over public policy. The average person knows little how money determines public policy. Money controls our political system. The United States belong to the people; not to the government. I am a fundamentalist on the First Amendment protection of an independent press, one that will resist the seductions, the intimidations from those who hold power, money and influence while exercising that influence and power arbitrarily in secrecy.


    January 22, 2021
  4. Jerry Doyle said:

    Benjamin Franklin said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” Its no longer a top-down story anymore. Other folk are going to write the story from the ground up and the truth will prevail. The Internet, smartphones, digital cameras, blogs and podcasts make possible a nation of storytellers, every citizen a Thomas Paine.

    Journalism matters, but journalism today is obsolete. Walter Lippmann the ultimate Washington journalist insider warned us decades ago when he described journalism as “the last refuge of the vaguely talented.” Today’s media consists of individuals who define narrowly democracy as including only people like themselves. This is how Ms. Powell sees it.

    January 22, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      I see her acquisitions as a counterpoint to money driven conservatism in a media today devoid of opposing views in its editorial space.

      What you describe is the ideal, unfortunately we live in a world that is not ideal and is molded by the loudest voice. Until Fox appeared on the scene the voice did not include those in disagreement with the political view of CBS, ABC or NBC. This is obvious due to the spectacular growth of Fox and talk radio.

      Birds of a feather flock together and has always been thus, hence the lack of diversity of thought in individual media outlets. They target markets, just as does Apple, in order to survive (advertising dollars).

      The closest I’ve seen to objective reporting, reporting without agenda, has been the Christian Science Monitor. Unfortunately, in today’s galvanized political scene there aren’t enough objective readers to get the financial support the opposing camps do.

      January 22, 2021
  5. David Leishman said:
    I think this thread is conflating magazine publishing and journalism.

    My office bookshelves hold the first issues of more than 3,250 American magazines from 1743 to 2015. They cover the full spectrum of American political thought and include The Atlantic. A great many titles eschew politics entirely,

    The magazines of our first 150 years relied almost entirely on paying subscribers for support, and the subscribers were invariably well-heeled. Harper’s had perhaps the largest circulation of late-19th century titles at about 200,000 copies, and famously limited advertising. But Americans in general have been among the most literate citizens on earth, and by the late 1890s, the greatly reduced price of magazines led to an explosion in magazine circulations. The change was caused by the convergence of population growth, technical and economic transformations, and the willingness of national advertisers to “pay the freight” of production and delivery,.

    As the 20th century dawned, titles such as Curtis’s Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post reached circulations of more than a million each, with “middle of the road” content that entertained and informed, acknowledging but not submerged in the muckraking that spurred McClure’s (circulation of half a million at its height) and politically like-minded titles.

    January 22, 2021
    • [The rest of David’s post…]

      Our population has nearly doubled since then, our technological progress surpasses H. G. Wells’ dreams, and IoT advertisers will soon be able to peek secretly into our underwear drawers. “What hath God wrought?,” as Samuel Morse exclaimed. Magazines became our first mass medium, but their formula for success has worked marvelously for radio, television and our charming internet, to the extent that newsstands now are hard to find. Magazines, like King Canute, won’t be able to stem the tide.

      Journalism, however, will be with us as long as people have opinions and stories to tell, and a means to share them. And for the foreseeable future, we’ll be able to pick the oracles and fora that suit us, crazy or repugnant as they may be to others. Mr. Lippmann captured the conundrum that was H. L. Mencken, of American Mercury fame: his ideas may have been “sub-rational,” but he was still “the most powerful personal influence on this whole generation of educated people.”

      Vive Le Différence!

      January 22, 2021
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @David Leishman: Good comments David. Thanks!

        January 23, 2021

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