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Updated Jun 2, 2024, 9:27pm EDT
media

Money woes, staff issues strain the Intercept

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The Scoop

Staff at the Intercept are imploring the nonprofit’s board to fire its CEO and chief strategy officer amid a dispute that involves allegations of gender bias, the likely departure of two top staffers, and the failure to secure a major donor who expressed interest in funding the news site.

In April, Semafor published a story noting that the proudly progressive news organization was on track to run out of money by sometime early next year, and that two of its top journalists, co-founder Jeremy Scahill and Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim, had unsuccessfully petitioned the Intercept’s board to take over the organization themselves.

Since the story was published, internal tensions have stretched the organization to the breaking point, particularly over issues related to fundraising and spending.

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Following Semafor’s report, the Intercept was approached by what multiple sources described as a high-level donor who expressed interest in making a significant contribution to help keep the publication afloat.

But the board of directors has not yet reached an agreement with the potential donor.

The inability to secure that crucial support alarmed the news site’s remaining employees, who saw it as a further sign of managerial incompetence. In its letter to the organization’s four-member board on Tuesday, the Intercept’s unionized staff urged board members to take drastic measures “aimed at rescuing the organization from what we believe will be its inevitable demise.”

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The union made three demands: the immediate dismissal and termination of CEO Annie Chabel and Chief Strategy Officer Sumi Aggarwal, a commitment to restructure the business, and transparency about the board’s recent discussions with prospective donors.

The newsroom’s union “has zero confidence in its current business leadership,” the union said in the letter. “Its relationship with the current CEO is not salvageable.”

The Intercept’s board and leadership have balked at staff’s push for new leadership. They’ve pointed to some modest fundraising successes, saying the news outlet raised $400,000 in major donor gifts in the spring, with a goal of reaching $1 million in contributions. In a letter from the board of directors on May 8, the board said it stood by the CEO, CSO, and other non-newsroom leaders, but acknowledged that funding was “diminishing” and “platform algorithms are choking distribution.”

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Management also pushed back directly against other staff complaints. In response to a series of letters the union sent to the board, Chabel and the new interim editor-in-chief Ben Muessig said that the fate of the Intercept is “uncertain.” But they also accused staff of expressing bias against women in executive roles.

“We are concerned the union has singled out salaries from two female executives, but raises no concern about the male executives, nor other highly compensated positions. We would also like to note that the executive team was the only group to take substantial, voluntary pay cuts, and is also the only group that has made voluntary major donor level contributions to the Intercept.”

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Know More

Staff responded to management this week saying the accusation was “insulting” and a “cynical ploy that we categorically reject.”

In a statement to Semafor, Chabel said of the potential donor that there are “continued conversations on ways this person might provide support for journalism,” and added that the nonprofit board “has repeatedly expressed its confidence in the management of this company.”

Uncertainty over the publication’s future and friction between the sides has also begun driving out well-known staffers. Two Intercept writers, Ken Klippenstein and Daniel Boguslaw, announced last month that they were leaving the organization amid frustrations with business and some recent editorial moves. Grim and Scahill also appear likely to exit in the coming weeks. With their bid to take over the Intercept stalled, the duo have mulled resigning and starting their own project outright. They are also in discussions with Chabel about launching an affiliated spinoff site with a small grant from the nonprofit and backing from the donor. In a May note to staff, Chabel confirmed the discussions, saying the Intercept was working towards a “win-win” departure for the duo.

The protracted internal turmoil has also dragged down other parts of the organization. Remaining staff have been disheartened by what they see as editorial drift and a lack of vision. Reporters were disheartened by a presentation at a recent meeting which included pitches on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s “weirdness” and “a historical look at other Supreme Court oddballs.” The Intercept also presented a strategic vision to staff which included what staff said were nice but empty platitudes, such as “become a go-to brand for fair and accurate information.”

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