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This Is Us: The Story of Puck

Jon Kelly
September 12, 2021

Welcome. I’m the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Puck, a new media company focused on the intersection of Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood: that rarified and overlapping world filled with moguls and strivers, powerbrokers and disruptors, behind-the-scenes players and ubiquitous C.E.O.s, alike. Notably, we’re building our business atop a new kind of model aligned with the massive and exciting potential of the creator economy. Our journalists aren’t simply the core animating spirit of our business; they are also owners in our company.

I first began imagining Puck sometime in 2019. Part of it was personal. I’d begun my career nearly two decades earlier, in the heyday of the magazine business, working under the tutelage of Graydon Carter, the legendary editor of Vanity Fair. In those days Graydon’s office was a bustling operation—manuscripts came in hourly for top-editing, handwritten notes to politicians and executives and writers had to be dispatched, the commercial side of the business needed to be managed, as did the egos and vicissitudes of photographers, stylists, and illustrators. All while the phone rang endlessly—David Geffen, Sue Mengers, Barry Diller, Annie Leibovitz, Fran Lebowitz, Sidney Poitier, David Halberstam. The most important part of the entire enterprise, however, was that Graydon always put the writers at the center of the business.

But the business as we knew it then was all starting to change. During my subsequent tours at the Times, Bloomberg, and eventually co-founding The Hive, I saw the irrevocable transformation first hand. Just as Napster had deconstructed traditional albums into individual songs in the aughts, social media platforms were unbundling magazines into articles. And yet I was optimistic that there would be a new heyday to come. After all, the music industry had boomeranged back in the streaming age by leveraging the powerful connection between artists and their audiences to create a subscription-based business model, which helped listeners to discover other artists that they might like along the way. Journalists, perhaps the original influencers, were due for the same transformation. 

After I left V.F., I began making calls and assembling a team to help bring the vision to life. We wanted to create a brand focused on the inside conversation—the story behind the story, the details and plot that only the true insiders knew. And we needed to marry the complementary powers of a new generation of prescient media executives, those who understood the new distribution streams and the power of the creator economy, with generationally talented journalists, who themselves were excited to lean into this new world and express their talents across channels—via articles, sure, but also newsletters, podcasts, conference calls, Zooms, and (soon enough) live events.

I teamed up with an incredible group of media pros. I was introduced to Joe Purzycki, a natural entrepreneur and start-up veteran, who had helped pioneer Vox Media from a few employees into a colossus before his star turn at Medium. Most recently, Joe had co-founded an innovative podcasting platform called Luminary. I was also connected with Max Tcheyan, a marketing and strategy savant who had helped build Bleacher Report before masterminding The Athletic’s industry-defining growth strategy. And I reconnected with Liz Gough, my former colleague from Conde Nast, who had formerly been a star at McKinsey and Warby Parker. We all represented different paths in the media universe—content, product, subscription, brand—and yet we were thrilled to share a new vision about the path forward, one that encouraged elite creators to band together with all the important furnishings of the old world (brilliant editors, legal vetting, art direction, and so forth) along with talismans of the new era (growth marketing, a product-mindset, and iterative strategy). We decided to call our company Puck, after the ever omniscient and devilish Shakespeare character, who always seemed to know what was going on, with just the right ratio of acuity, splendor, and mirth.

We knew that, in this new media age, the creator is the heart of the business equation. And so the founding team endeavored to build our business around elite, genre-defining journalists—pros in the prime of their careers who saw their subjects and audiences at an eye-to-eye level.

For years I had admired the work of Matthew Belloni, most famous for his brilliant stewardship of The Hollywood Reporter. Matt, by every measure, is the greatest and most compelling bard of modern Hollywood. I became obsessed with his stories about the various definitions of the participation pools (he’d been a lawyer in a past life), his extemporizing on the studio executives, and what was really going on inside the agencies. The Hollywood that he described was more compelling than any HBO show. He knew everyone, and he knew everything. And he explained it all in a lucid and impartial manner that was exclusive to an insider and yet accessible to a veritable outsider. He was our very first hire.

I also reached out to Julia Ioffe, who I worked with for a brief spell earlier in our careers, right as she was becoming a rising star at The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. She always represented that rare mix of graceful stylist, elegant humorist, and fearless journalist. And furthermore, she understood how Washington really worked—wide-grinned on the outside, sharp-elbowed on the inside—and wasn’t afraid to write about it like Jane Goodall in the political jungle. I knew that we had to hire her so that she could cover Washington—not politics or policy, but the town itself—with all her wisdom and talents. 

I quickly reunited with Benjamin Landy, my longtime deputy at The Hive, who had moved on to become the executive editor of Fast Company, to serve as Puck’s executive editor. Isabella Lichauco was brought on to help us create the look and feel of our brand. Scandinavian design visionary Orn Olason was able to translate our ambitions into a modern and elegant design, replete with our signature salutary swash. Product geniuses Paul Ford and Vicky Volvovski, from Postlight, architected the bedrock beneath the vision to make it come to life. 

Meanwhile, my surveying of the market for elite Silicon Valley journalists always led me back to Teddy Schleifer, whose work focuses on that unique axis where tech meets politics and you can’t always tell the difference between beneficence and influence-peddling. His work always reminded me of how Silicon Valley was quietly remaking everything—media, finance, and now politics—in its own image. He was the perfect guide for the upheaval.

And then, of course, there was William D. Cohan. Bill understood high finance better than any journalists I’d ever worked with, and for good reason: in a past life, he’d been an M&A banker for nearly two decades. For years, I had been mesmerized by his mastery of the dealmakers who roamed his orbit. They called him and texted him around the clock because, it seemed, they realized that he was one of the few journalists out there who really got what they were doing. 

Soon enough, I was able to persuade Snap’s Peter Hamby that we were the right domain for his exclusive interviews with politicians and acerbic reporting on the political media elite. Baratunde Thurston has a singular voice on, as he puts it ironically, “the easy stuff”: figuring out how the hell our generation is going to make progress on the essential topics of race, tech, climate change, and equity. I’ve never read a more cogent, thoughtful, and hilarious voice on those topics. Over lunch one day this June, I made an impassioned plea to Tina Nguyen, to leave her prestigious gig at Politico and cover Trumpworld and its discontents for Puck. We were both gnawing on overpriced rubber chickens that afternoon, which made me laugh since the article that put Tina on the map was a piece about how Trump Grill was possibly the worst restaurant in America.

Lastly, just before launch, we were thrilled to hire Dylan Byers, whose singular expertise on the Venn diagram of the tech-media-entertainment ecosystem has made him a must-subscribe talent for both the mogul class and the concentric circles of aspirants around them. I used to wake up every morning excited to read Byers Market, in part because of his understanding of how individual personalities and egos moved the needle in our overlapping industries. I have always admired his dual ability to cover the change in media while living it, too.

Three months after our launch, we added Eriq Gardner, the country’s foremost expert on entertainment and media law: who was suing who, what was really at stake, and the seminal issues with the world’s biggest deals. And only a few months later, we added Tara Palmeri, the one-of-a-kind political reporter who used to co-author Politico’s vaunted Playbook newsletter. Tara’s mandate: to cover the real inside conversation inside the West Wing, on Capitol Hill, on K Street, and within the media institutions that cover them.

I hope that in the coming weeks and months you’ll discover in Puck a unique new voice—insightful, inquisitive, elevated, always informed but equally curious, and never ever boring or dull. I also hope that it helps you do your job and make informed decisions by offering unique access into an elevated world. 

In the meantime, here are some useful notes about what we are offering. Puck is a paid product built around connecting elite journalists to their community of followers. Every day, we will send subscribers an email, The Daily Courant, offering our most important piece of journalism. One day it might be a story by Dylan, another Tina. And I’ll be sending an email every Saturday resurfacing some great work that you might have missed, in addition to offering the backstory about an important article, our team, or our company—the stuff that journalists used to have to save for the bar after deadline. Meanwhile, you can customize your settings to also receive emails directly from your favorite authors, when their work is right off the presses. I highly recommend subscribing to Matt’s private email, What I’m Hearing… this way.

Lastly, members of our inner circle can look forward to certain unique privileges, such as off-the-record conference calls and Zooms. Our member benefits department will be emailing Inner Circle members directly to keep you abreast of events. 

Meanwhile, we hope that you are enjoying what you are reading. There’s so much more to come.