A Play-By-Play Of A GOOD Magazine Founder’s Now Infamous Email

Last Friday, as is widely known to Internet-dwellers by now, the Los Angeles-based quarterly magazine GOOD laid off nearly everyone on its editorial staff. The move came the day after the magazine held a launch party (with a $10 cover charge) for its latest issue, awkwardly called “Migration.” The day of the mass exodus, GOOD publicly avoided the situation, and glaringly so, as many of the departed writers and editors tweeted about their newfound fate, and word quickly spread online, as it tends to. As LA Weekly pointed out in a great run-down of what happened, GOOD’s Twitter feed was a painful way to witness the denial and weird corporate coziness that went on in the hours after the news broke. The magazine tweeted about “pet news,” at-replying PurinaOne and linking to some Purina One-sponsored article about pets, and finally, at 9:57PM PDT, tweeted the following:

[tweet https://twitter.com/GOOD/status/208754266452668416 align=’center’]

Yes, “big & difficult.” And good “things” may be ahead, but what things? It would all be revealed, though very gingerly, over the next few days. Most clues would come from the former staffers themselves. The founders, apparently, want to transform GOOD into a “Reddit for social good,” Megan Greenwell, the magazine’s former managing editor, explained to the Columbia Journalism Review. A recent Craigslist job posting by GOOD looking for someone to head up a new enterprise called “GOOD Maker” described the company thusly:

GOOD creates media, community-based, and digital products that help make the world a better place.

Leaving the well-meaning original vision of the founders aside, it’s hard to read “community-based” as anything other than “so many page views that our advertisers laugh with glee.” After all, “community” (users) equals cheap labor: the only cost to GOOD involves getting those users signed up, logged into the site and engaged on a regular basis (oh, that’s easy: hire a couple of cheap social media coordinators fresh out of college). Once there, users presumably populate the site with news and information of the “social good” variety, causing untold numbers of ad impressions, in these men’s — the three founders are all men — delusional world. How could that possibly succeed under the banner GOOD is operating? What kind of social good is going to drive that many visitors — more visitors than the original reporting GOOD has been publishing since 2006? What will users be linking to, anyway? GOOD’s laid-off staff wrote great pieces about all manner of important issues: architecture, marijuana, immigration, energy, education. Now there is one less website to go to for articles that are worth sharing (GOOD’s education vertical will apparently remain, likely because the company has an ad deal with the flush University of Phoenix). If the magazine’s creator, Ben Goldhirsh, could just admit that his original business model — a subscription-based magazine, with subscription fees donated to one’s charity of choice — was terrible, and that he had to find another way to create a successful magazine, that would be one thing. This is a total other thing.

31-year-old Goldhirsh, the founder with the money (a few years before he started GOOD, he inherited $200 million from his father Bernie, the creator of Inc. magazine), wrote an email to the remaining staff of GOOD on Monday. The email doesn’t tell us the whole story, but it tells us a lot about Goldhirsh, about a CEO’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his employees, and how out of touch he appears to be. Not that that’s uncommon for a CEO, but it is surprising to see in a person with the philosophy that Goldhirsh had when he (naively, but admirably) launched GOOD six years ago.

Here’s a play-by-play of that email.

hey guys,
it’s monday.

Classic young-CEO email stylings: the lowercase letters, meant to convey a casual air, and perhaps a humble air too, in this case.

about to head out to Sustainable Brands.

This is a nonprofit organization that sort of, maybe, it’s hard to tell from its mission statement, aims to help brands be — or at least seem? — more sustainable. It has some of the least sustainable-sounding corporations in the world for sponsors: Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart, to name three. (It’s worth noting here that some of GOOD’s advertising partners seem like a terrible fit with the magazine’s brand: Pepsi?) It is also telling that Goldhirsh was “about to head out” to another company, not the one he even runs, one business day after he had laid off a huge chunk of people. Boosting morale? Clearly not his strong suit.

but wanted to engage all after I spoke to a few folks individually who raised some thoughts/questions/concerns about what occurred last week.

“Engage.” “Folks.” First two instances of workplace jargon.

namely, was the company in any sort of trouble/should they worry about their jobs, and were these decisions made with deliberation.

Interesting use of the slash. Is this an email, or notes for an email?

On the first matter, wanted to give everyone the heads up that we’re doing well.

Third instance of workplace jargon: “heads up.”

We’re profitable through the first half of the year, and this is probably one of the first times in the company’s history where layoffs were made not because of financial pressure, but for strategic reasons.

Ah, that’s comforting. So it’s not that the company can’t afford the employees; it’s that what the employees (writers and editors) are doing is suddenly irrelevant to what the company (a magazine) is doing.

And this brings me to the second question on deliberation. Layoffs are a really tough call to make.

Fourth instance of workplace jargon: “tough call.”

And frankly, it’s easier to make them when financial pressure is the catalyst. But that wasn’t the case here. This was about the direction of the business and the path to manifesting the very exciting potential ahead. Furthermore, this was a decision that was discussed at length, and included the opinions of every team at the company. At the end of the day,

Fifth and best instance of workplace jargon: “at the end of the day.”

the path forward requires some new roles and perspectives, and this meant that some roles got eliminated. While that’s hard. It’s also right.

Strange and incorrect use of period, perhaps for dramatic effect. (It is hard. It is, more importantly, right.)

Right for our business, and frankly right for the folks who are great at those roles, and who deserve to be at a place where those roles are fundamental to strategy.

Forgive me, but question: are you or are you not a magazine? Why is the writing and editing of articles not “fundamental to strategy”? Do you or do you not agree that it is weird to launch a magazine, then six years later just make it invisible not for financial reasons, while continuing to act as if the mission of that magazine is fully intact and valuable, just not in magazine form?

I know Casey is planning to dive into the path forward in depth at the coming all-hands,

“Dive into the path forward in depth.” That is quite a metaphor. Diving into a path sounds really painful!

but did want to take the moment now to reach out as digging into it in these individual discussions was valuable and I wanted to share with all.

Sixth instance of workplace jargon: “reach out.”

Anyhow, hope you’re all doing well.

Which is something that you say, fakely, desperately, to an accounts payable department that refuses to answer your emails, or more generally, to someone you barely know.

I’m really proud that we made the tough decision here,

Really! That is nice for you.

have put the turmoil behind us, and I’m so stoked about all that lies ahead.

“So stoked.” Word from a former employee is that the word “stoked” is used a lot at the GOOD offices, and that when these big changes were tentatively discussed over the past few months, the bosses declared that they wished the employees, most of them now gone, would be “more stoked” about them.

Hopefully you are as well, and definitely feel free to reach out to me if you ever want to discuss.

“Reach out.”

best, ben

Random decision to go back to all-lowercase at the end of the email, after succeeding with proper punctuation for one very long paragraph. Because things are not Best, they are best. He is not Ben, he is ben. And he is so stoked. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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