Learning from the right-wing media, Elizabeth Spiers is starting an 'Insurrection'

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elizabeth spiers

Media entrepreneur and journalist Elizabeth Spiers thinks the Trump presidency is offering America “the most expensive civics lesson” the country has “ever had to learn.”

Catching up with Brian Stelter in this week’s “Reliable Sources” podcast, Spiers said she thinks Donald Trump is running his presidency in ways that are “completely unprecedented,” ways that are exposing “the limits of what the norms are for the executive office very quickly.”

Spiers, an early member of the Gawker team and formerly the editor in chief of the New York Observer, which was then owned by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, spoke with Stelter about her experience working with Kushner.

She shared her thoughts about Kushner’s White House appointment, and what she learned about Kushner’s and Trump’s relationship with the media: “The story that [Trump] tells the American public about how he feels about the media doesn’t exactly square with his actual behavior,” she told Stelter.

Listen to Brian Stelter interview Elizabeth Spiers on the “Reliable Sources” podcast

Spiers said that Trump’s election prompted her to try and address the vacuum she currently sees in the “left-leaning media ecosystem.”

She is currently raising funds for a new media venture called “The Insurrection,” which she defined as “a left-leaning adversarial journalism organization” with a “definable ideological position.”

Is her new company going to be the “Breitbart of the left,” as some defined it? She said that’s not accurate. “We’re not a propaganda outlet,” Spiers told Stelter.

But Spiers thinks there is room within the realm of liberal media for more explicitly adversarial journalism, taking a page from the right-wing media’s playbook.

“In the last cycle, the right was much more creative in spinning up organic news operations and really getting their message out,” she said.

Subscribe to the “Reliable Sources” podcast on iTunes

Contingent on securing investment in the fall, she hopes “The Insurrection” might launch in the first quarter of 2018. “The secret sauce of the company,” Spiers said, “is as much in the distribution and targeting as it is in the news.”

In the current media landscape — so fragmented, noisy, and heavily reliant on social media for content to reach audiences — “you can’t really wait for the story to sell itself,” Spiers told Stelter.

“I don’t think Watergate would sell itself in this environment,” she added.

Another key concern for Spiers is to build an organization with a solid legal infrastructure, something that has become even more important for newsrooms and for individual reporters after Gawker was essentially sued out of existence by Hulk Hogan, with financial backing from Peter Thiel.

The conversation about legal protection for reporters constantly comes up in the recruitment process, she told Stelter. Potential hires “ask me questions about indemnification.”

“They ask me specifically because they saw what happened with the Gawker case,” she added.

The Gawker suit did not only set “a lot of bad precedents,” it also significantly impacted the bottom lines of all media entrepreneurs, she said: “If you’re going to do adversarial journalism, the cost of that is pretty high at this point.”

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