How Elizabeth Spiers got Mediabistro noticed – then failed to profit from its sale

When Mediabistro was sold in 2007, I told some people that I thought Elizabeth Spiers deserved at least a few of the millions that Laurel Touby took to the bank.

Touby (left) and Spiers

Yes, Touby founded the site and was its boa-wearing party-circuit star, but it was Spiers who launched the site’s gossipy Fishbowls and got Mediabistro noticed with beefed-up content. (Spiers — Gawker’s founding editor — was Mediabistro’s editor from October 2004 to October 2005. In a January 2005 interview, she discussed “an important new phase” for Mediabistro, one that emphasized media news and gossip — and made it a more valuable property.)

While reading today’s Times story about Touby’s $5.9 million loft and $30,000 sofa, I thought of Spiers again and decided to finally ask about her Fishbowl days. I wrote: “It’s always been my contention that you’re responsible for Mediabistro taking off with the Fishbowls and that you deserved some of the millions when it was sold.” Her response:

When Laurel hired me, I took the job on the condition that they let me redesign the site and launch a bunch of blogs, including the Fishbowls which I thought would attract an audience beyond their existing first-time-freelancer-trying-break-in demo. They had TVnewser already (I think Jesse Oxfeld found Brian) but it sort of existed as a stand-alone site and the only content mb had was a daily feature (mostly “how to pitch…” articles) and a morning newsletter that aggregated the day’s media news.

They weren’t trying to monetize their content at the time — all of their revenue was coming from the job board and the classes — so it wasn’t as much of a priority for Laurel as it is now. I don’t think they anticipated that it would be a big part of their business or create opportunities for them in the events space.

And I didn’t make any money off the mb sale, but that’s my own fault. I had options and when I left, Laurel offered to buy them back and I let her. So I missed out but through no fault of hers.

Setting the record straight
In today’s Times story, CJR editor Cyndi Stivers says of Touby: “She also had a really good eye for talent. She spotted Brian Stelter when he was a college student. She spotted Rachel Sklar.”

Actually, other people “spotted” the talent for Touby. Spiers tells me that she hired Sklar, and Jesse Oxfeld confirms in an email that he hired Stelter.

Touby’s honesty — you have to love it
“Look, we don’t want teachers in Iowa on the site,” Touby told the New York Sun in 2005. (That means you, Stephen Bloom!)

UPDATE: Oxfeld was headed into a meeting when I contacted him earlier and he promised a more detailed email when it ended. Here’s that email:

I did indeed hire Brian, after finding him in the most obscure of ways: A front-page story in The New York Times. (I suppose you could argue Julie Bosman really gets the credit.)

Oxfeld

But I reached out to him, bought him a train ticket to New York, took him to Balthazar, and convinced him to take what he’d been doing and let us pay him a little bit for it. My only great contribution was to convince him that he should expand beyond just the world of cable, and I renamed CableNewser as TVNewser. I also launched GalleyCat, intitially edited by Nathalie Chicha, who came up with the name, and if I recall correctly we put out a release announcing these two hires and touting MB’s “Blogs Initiative.”

In any case, Laurel sold the company on the strenth of its listings business, which is where the money was, and in that respect, Kyle Crafton, who built that, deserves far more millions than either Elizabeth or I (and, in fact, I believe received at least far more thousands).

* Choire Sicha: People have been scandalized by NYT’s article about Touby’s loft (theawl.com)
* From 2005: Who will replace Spiers as Mediabistro editor? (gawker.com)

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