How Richard Rushfield’s The Ankler Took on Hollywood

Netflix is way from a demise spiral, however one of many greatest media tales of 2022 turned out to be the corporate’s gorgeous subscriber stumble. The streamer misplaced nearly half its inventory worth and got here to be seen as a possible acquisition goal. I requested Rushfield if he felt vindicated. “I wanna leap up and down,” he mentioned, “and yell ‘I advised you so’ every single day.”

Rushfield, 54, grew up in Pacific Palisades and attended Santa Monica’s prestigious Crossroads College, the place he overlapped with future hotshots like Matthew Greenfield, Jay Sures, Brett Morgen, Jason Blumenthal, Maya Rudolph, and Jack Black. Rushfield’s youthful sister, the TV author Alexandra Rushfield, was mates at Crossroads with Jenni Konner, who went on to showrun HBO’s Ladies with Lena Dunham. At Hampshire Faculty in Western Massachusetts, Rushfield frequented punk exhibits—X, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Henry Rollins (he noticed Black Flag in highschool)—and wrote a decidedly gothy senior thesis about Jacques-Louis David’s work from the French Revolution (Marat bleeding to demise in a bath, and so forth.). After graduating, he adopted the grunge-era playbook of loafing round and not using a plan. Then he landed an entry-level gig with the ’92 Clinton marketing campaign, sharing a small cigarette-smoke-filled workplace with Noah Shachtman, now editor in chief of Rolling Stone. “Even after we had been youngsters, he was a determine from a special period,” Shachtman recollects. “I felt like he had stepped out of a Raymond Chandler novel.”

After working as a subject organizer for a number of different Democratic campaigns, Rushfield pursued a writing profession. His first byline, a front-of-book merchandise for Los Angeles journal, highlighted a stand-up comedy present that includes rising stars like David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Patton Oswalt, Margaret Cho, and Janeane Garofalo. (He grew to become mates with a variety of these people.) “I feel it ran two sentences and I received $25,” Rushfield recollects. In 1998, he and his pal Adam Leff conceived a Spy-inspired trend-forecasting charticle, “The Intelligence Report,” which caught the attention of Graydon Carter. He gave them a contract with this journal, the place the column appeared a number of occasions a yr till 2010. (Rushfield has additionally written a number of options for Self-importance Honest.) By the mid-2000s, Rushfield was working as an internet editor on the Los Angeles Occasions, the place a print higher-up as soon as advised him the one motive folks needed the web variations of articles was so they may print them out to learn within the bathtub. He embraced the online, the place he ended up spending nearly all of his skilled life. In 2009, Rushfield left the Occasions to turn out to be West Coast editor of Gawker. He then wrote a e-book about American Idol and did excursions of BuzzFeed, Yahoo, and, lastly, HitFix, the place he was editor in chief earlier than the positioning was acquired in 2016. “The second half of my profession was engaged on each web site, primarily,” he advised me.

The Ankler nearly didn’t occur. After HitFix, Rushfield was accepted to the USC Rossier College of Schooling to pursue a graduate diploma in instructing. Across the similar time, impressed by the success of The Data, Jessica Lessin’s subscription-powered tech-news publication, he began sending an e mail digest to a small group of mates, who began displaying it to their mates, who then forwarded it to their mates. Earlier than he knew it, he had a formidable distribution record. “It began getting handed round in a short time to the chief class,” Rushfield advised me. He determined in opposition to USC Rossier and put his eggs in The Ankler as an alternative. “It took me time to stand up the heart to place down a paywall, however I made that leap.”

Rushfield first met Min on the Golden Globes a couple of decade in the past, “caught on the youngsters’ desk within the again,” Min joked. A former Folks and InStyle reporter and editor who grew to become a mid-aughts media star because the editor in chief of Us Weekly, Min was within the midst of her celebrated reinvention of The Hollywood Reporter, which she ran till 2017. In 2021, as Min recovered from a short stint on the prepare wreck that was Quibi, she and Rushfield began speaking. “The Ankler had come to my consideration as a result of folks had been forwarding it to me, fairly senior folks within the trade,” she recollects. “My ideas had been that leisure was present process these loopy upheavals, each culturally and within the enterprise mannequin, and no person was actually proudly owning that dialog.” They made it official with a New York Occasions piece shortly earlier than Christmas and entered the Y Combinator program a number of months later. “In Silicon Valley phrases,” Min mentioned, “Richard could be ‘the product.’ ”

The Ankler isn’t any stranger to courtship. Penske Media, whose near-monopoly on main leisure titles consists of THR, Selection, Deadline, Billboard, and Rolling Stone, made numerous overtures up till a number of weeks earlier than Rushfield and Min introduced their enterprise relationship. (Selection put a proposal on the desk in 2019 so as to add The Ankler to its publication lineup; later, Penske Media boss Jay Penske pursued an acquisition.) Moreover, Puck had conversations with Rushfield previous to its personal launch. Min and Rushfield later explored partnerships with Axios and Lessin, an early Ankler booster who’d welcomed Rushfield into The Data’s inaugural accelerator program. Ankler Media’s resolution to stay impartial—albeit with traders—and to proceed publishing on Substack, the place they’re a part of a rising crop of full-fledged publications, mirrored a want to “management our personal future,” as Min put it.

What does The Ankler’s future appear to be? Min envisions “a universe of bundled subscriptions” and a push into worldwide markets. “The story of streaming is that it hit the ceiling in the USA earlier than it was alleged to,” she mentioned. “So everybody’s saying, ‘Let’s attempt to generate income some other place,’ aggressively wanting towards markets like Japan, India, Latin America, and that’s an awesome story.” Once I requested for a pie-in-the-sky goal of paid subscribers, she didn’t flinch: “100 thousand.” In the event that they handle to get there—that’s a variety of paying subscribers!—it gained’t have been simple. “I feel they’re off to an incredible begin, however the highway forward is difficult,” mentioned Lessin, considered one of Ankler Media’s traders. “It’s a very tough, lengthy path.”

In early 2018, Lessin hosted Rushfield and the opposite members of The Data’s first accelerator class at her residence in San Francisco. Over dinner, she requested her company to explain their five-year aspirations. When it was Rushfield’s flip, he mentioned, “What drew me to newsletters was the possibility to essentially write one thing significant and to have the ability to do your greatest work. If, 5 years from now, I might be doing that on a steady foundation, I’ll be thrilled.”

Right here we’re, 5 years later. I known as Rushfield late one night time whereas wrapping up this piece and browse again his quote from Lessin’s soiree. “I couldn’t imagine I used to be getting away with talking so truthfully and freely about this trade again then,” he mentioned. “I nonetheless can’t imagine I’m getting away with it.”

HAIR, CHECHEL JOSON (MIN); MAKEUP, TAYLOR BABAIAN; GROOMING, STACY SKINNER; TAILOR, HASMIK KOURINIAN. SET DESIGN, BETTE ADAMS. PRODUCED ON LOCATION BY PRODUCTION SQUAD. FOR DETAILS, GO TO VF.COM/CREDITS.

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