In the premiere episode of the fourth season of HBO’s Succession, that amusingly precise and insightful roman à clef of the media industry—“I am convinced Jesse Armstrong has the transcripts of Rupert’s rants and inner monologues,” one media executive in a position to know such things recently told me—the hapless Roy siblings are revealed to be toiling away on a new startup, The Hundred, which Kendall describes as “Substack meets MasterClass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.” This absurd, idea-less name-dropping pitch-deck babble was quickly embraced by journalists and Succession enthusiasts (it’s a heavily-shaded Venn diagram, to be sure), who delighted in a critique of the various behaviors on display: bullshit-laden start-up ideation, born-on-third-base fundraising arrogance, general vanity, and the craven lust for influence.
Every startup is built on a promise, of course—Puck promises to take you inside the conversations happening in America’s power centers, all premised on a new economic model—but media types today seem particularly vulnerable to a heavy cake of grandeur. When Ben Smith decamped from The New York Times to launch Semafor, with former Bloomberg C.E.O. Justin Smith, he memorably promised a global news site that would cater to the world’s 200 million, college-educated, English-speakers “who no one is really treating like an audience.” Executives at both the Smiths’ alma maters certainly raised eyebrows. The Times and Bloomberg weren’t treating their audiences like audiences? Also, what does that even mean? Anyway, whatever.
Ben, perhaps recognizing his own moxie, as well as the delta between Semafor’s current iteration and its ultimate ambitions, has recently been game enough to get in on the joke. After the Succession premiere, the Semafor Twitter account briefly turned The Hundred’s tagline into its own. Ben also appeared on Kara Swisher’s (excellent) HBO-sanctioned Succession podcast, effectively capitulating to the conceit that The Hundred was, at least in some part, modeled after his own company.