Laurene Powell Jobs—tech billionaire, philanthropist, 35th richest person in the world, and widow of Apple founder Stever Jobs—was lauded as a hero in 2018 when she began to add media companies to her portfolio. Her company Emerson Collective heavily invested in a number of outlets, including The Atlantic, Monumental Sports, Concordia Studio, Anonymous Content, Gimlet, Axios, and Ozy, to name just a few. Of course, these investments weren’t strictly for financial gain; as she told CNet in March, she was worried about “democracy.” (I’m sure democracy was at the core of the decision making when Anonymous Content partnered with Amazon to adapt Homecoming, a podcast from—you guessed it—another Powell Jobs investment, Gimlet.)
Now Powell Jobs has reached the inevitable conclusion of the rich people saving media cycle, by offloading said media company as soon as it becomes advantageous to do so. Powell Jobs now finds herself one company short as of Wednesday afternoon when Emerson Collective cut ties with Pop Up Magazine Productions. Pop Up which produced interactive events and operated The California Sunday Magazine, shared that as a result of Emerson dropping them, 11 employees will be laid off and California Sunday will be discontinuing online publication. This comes after The Atlantic, of which Powell Jobs is a majority stakeholder, had their own round of layoffs after her investment triggered an unsustainable hiring bonanza.
In 2018, at the height of Powell Jobs’ media shopping spree, the New York Times’s Kara Swisher ended a laudatory examination of the entrepreneur’s media pivot with a provocative question: Could she save storytelling? The piece, which focused on Powell Jobs’s purchase of Pop Up, fawned over the potential of the marriage of a company owned and operated by a billionaire and “super high-quality journalism.” Swisher forgot to mention that said marriage has been seen time and time again and, just like regular marriages, often ends in an expensive divorce.
But Powell Jobs was framed as the chosen one. After all, she was not some tech bro from Silicon Valley; she’s a woman, and for years before she became a certified billionaire had been working in the social and education sectors. She was also, as she made clear in a 2020 Times interview, hyper-aware of her privilege. “It’s not right for individuals to accumulate a massive amount of wealth that’s equivalent to millions and millions of other people combined,” she said several years after inheriting over $2 billion from her late husband. If ever there was a person to look to as a savior of storytelling, here she was.
The unfortunate thing about heroes and saviors though is that they are not and have never been real. Being able to dispense money doesn’t make someone a hero, it makes them powerful. Journalism and other forms of storytelling will perpetually be imperiled so long as they are reliant on the wealth of investors looking to make back their return, private equity firms, and even the self-styled journalism-loving Emerson Collective. Benevolent “thought leaders” and those out to save democracy are not the knights in shining armor journalists keep waiting to find, they’re just a shiny distraction.