Sasha Frere-Jones, the veteran music critic who has worked for The New Yorker for the past decade, is leaving the magazine to serve as executive editor for Genius, the startup formerly known as Rap Genius. The site was founded by three Yale graduates in order to explain hip-hop lyrics to people who could not understand them. Genius has raised $56.8 million since launching in 2009.
The New York Times says Frere-Jones will focus on "annotations of music lyrics." Genius could use the help.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to see familiar names from an atrophying field like print media switch over to the startup sector. Tech is the only industry that feels like it will still be able to get funding in the next five years, regardless of whether founders have figured out how to make money. (Print lost the privilege of operating without profit when it failed to see the internet coming.)
To pick one recent example: eBay founder Pierre Omidyar nabbed a number of investigative reporters, including Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, as anchor tenants for First Look Media. It wasn't a culture fit, as they say in Silicon Valley, for Taibbi. But half the tech bloggers in the Bay Area seem one swanky party away from switching sides.
Sure, it's a little eye-popping that someone from the most respected magazine in the country is joining the most clownish startup in the tech boom. The list of offensive antics from its co-founders could fill their Williamsburg penthouse. Music obsessives, in particular, have great disdain for the idea of whitesplaining rap lyrics, even if many prominent music critics are also (surprise) white men. Hip-hop, however, was just a stepping stone for the folks at Genius. They have moved onto annotating everything they can, even if they had to do some dirty SEO to get there.
In time, we'll probably come to view moving from print media to a startup with the same shrug as bloggers moving to magazines or vice versa. The more troubling trend behind Frere-Jones' decision is that Genius is now the kind of news organization that gets funded. According to The New York Times:
Genius’s expansion marks the latest merger of the tech and media worlds, and helps to fulfill a prediction made by one of the company’s funders, Marc Andreessen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, that the definition of journalism might broaden to include jobs outside of traditional writing and editing.
It's a prediction that Andreessen helped finance. His firm, Andreessen Horowitz, participated in the $40 million round that Rap Genius raised in last July and the $15 million round it raised in October 2012.
Venture capitalists have traditionally grimaced at investing in "content" (i.e. ideas expressed in words and images). But with institutions like Conde Nast, which owns The New Yorker, laying off 10 percent of its workforce, and the ouroboros of newspapers and blogs, it starts to look like an opportunity. All those places depend on traffic from social media pipelines like Facebook, another Andreessen Horowitz investment. Suddenly those pipeline investors are financing the media-tech hybrids they think will succeed within the system they helped create.
The New York Times, which broke the news about Frere-Jones, did not mention how much money Genius has made off its 40 million monthly unique visitors. Business Insider, which broke the news of Genius' new $40 million funding round, didn't mention money either. It's nice to be a startup, for now.
4/When the market turns, and it will turn, we will find out who has been swimming without trunks on: many high burn rate co's will VAPORIZE.— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) September 25, 2014