Reading Tea Leaves at TBD
The announcement of Jim Brady’s departure from TBD is not just the old “different direction” story. It is akin to Roger Ailes leaving FOX, Aaron Sorkin leaving the West Wing, or Steve Jobs leaving Apple. TBD, Brady’s visionary idea for the next great media thing, was a truly online local news organization that leveraged all those much-ballyhooed elements of new media — blogs, linking, social media etc. It really was a different concept.
Brady was not just the head of TBD but its guiding light. Previously the online editor for the Washington Post, he made his reputation by nurturing the old media dinosaur into a viable new media incarnation but moved on when new management took a left instead of the right he was trying to steer. Brady is an unrecognized pioneer of modern media.
Then Robert Albritton, backer of Politico and arguably the most imaginative and inventive media executive working in the American media business, had the foresight and brilliance to buy into Brady’s idea for TBD about two years ago, putting his money where everybody else’s mouth is.
So here is what rings hollow about Brady’s departure. Brady was said to be a technology guy, while Albritton wanted to focus on content generation.
But Brady actually is that rarest of beings: the content guy who is equally as comfortable with its technology. Was it simply a personality conflict, a financial equation, or Albritton’s looking for a right when Brady was going left? Was it literally a rejection of Brady’s vision by the paymaster? It’s all possible and just business.
But I would suggest that this is now a critical moment for the new TBD idea, which was a truly new concept in online-driven, locally focused journalism in a sustainable form. Just as Politico is the personification of its leaders John Harris and Jim VandeHei, TBD was Jim Brady. Albritton seems more than committed to growing his newest adventure, but TBD runs the risk of so many other new media incarnations today: To start with a promise and an idea but evolve into something not much different from traditional legacy media, just with fewer unions for bosses to worry about.