Lauren Williams, New York Times, October 5, 2021
Like many others in the media business, I couldn’t look away from the drama that unfolded last week around Carlos Watson and his company Ozy Media. Once a Black-run media darling among investors and advertisers, it’s now at least temporarily shuttered after a New York Times column exposed its inflated audience metrics, a fraud allegation and other concerning business practices.
For a lot of observers, the Ozy saga is just another too-wild-to-be-true scammer story that entertains and disgusts in equal measure. For me, a Black media entrepreneur, it’s a little more meaningful than that — a stark reminder of the type of company and content that attracts the big money and how few profitable paths exist for serious Black news.
The first is that we would be uncompromising in our mission to prioritize deep original reporting on the serious topics that affect Black lives across America — public health, education, politics, criminal justice, the environment and housing.
The second was that there was absolutely no way we could do the first as a for-profit, Black-run media company.
Mr. Watson’s ability to raise millions and generate ad revenue for a breezy journalistic product focused on the “new and the next” — which from what we can tell hardly any real audience consumed — should not be taken as a positive sign that it can be done (with a few ethics tweaks). It’s another discouraging datapoint in an industry full of them.
Too many of the people responsible for doling out the dollars that keep the industry afloat would prefer to give money to a company like Ozy, with an Ivy League-educated pitch man selling a shiny, controversy-free vision of news and opinion, with none of the real-world stuff. Ozy was the white whale — the perfect, brand-safe opportunity for folks to say they were supporting a Black media company, even if the only Black person being supported in the process was Mr. Watson.
Earlier this year, Byron Allen, whose company, Entertainment Studios, owns the Weather Channel, the Grio and several other media and news properties, led a group of fellow Black media entrepreneurs in publicly pressuring the advertising industry to funnel more money into Black-owned media. The results were uneven. Roland Martin told The Times’s Ben Smith that his Black Star Network didn’t see an uptick in ad revenue. In the end, as Todd Brown, owner of Urban Edge Networks and a part of that group, told Mr. Smith, advertisers “had found a safe Black space, a comfortable medium — and we were shocked that it was Ozy.”