The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Media critic Jack Shafer leaves Reuters

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Media critic Jack Shafer is leaving his job at Reuters, he announced Wednesday evening.

The announcement appears to be among the final gasps of a Web strategy that started a few years back with great optimism. In April 2011, Reuters exec Chrystia Freeland was named editor of Reuters Digital and proceeded to stock the outlet with big-name opinionators. In addition to Shafer, there was David Rohde, David Cay Johnston (both previously with the New York Times) and Larry Summers — an aggressive expansion well documented in this BuzzFeed piece.

Freeland left Reuters in mid-2013 to run for a seat in the Canadian Parliament. At the time of her departure, she was managing director and editor for consumer news and the champion of a pricey and troubled project — “Reuters Next” — to launch the news service into the 21st century with a fancy, consumer-oriented Web site. In September 2013, Reuters CEO Andrew Rashbass killed Reuters Next on the rationale that it “is a long way from achieving either commercial viability or strategic success. In fact, I believe the existing suite of sites is a better starting point for where we need to go.”

The abandonment of Reuters Next brought about a great number of departures from Reuters and raised questions about where the organization is headed digitally. Thomson Reuters bills itself as the “world’s largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms.” Despite all its scoops on business and finance, it has had trouble figuring out how to adapt key business products — subscriptions and financial information terminals — to the digital age.

So Shafer’s departure ends something of an oddball marriage. His columns, stocked with historical references, occasionally sharp-edged and particularly authoritative on topics ranging from plagiarism to media moguls, didn’t quite fit with the feel of a wire service. (He is a friend of the Erik Wemple Blog). He came to Reuters from Slate and will hopefully find a platform on a similarly oriented site.