The Guardian is about to publish a hit job on The Kernel. Here, our Editor-in-Chief explains what’s behind the story.
As a start-up, you don’t expect a hit job from a national newspaper after just eight months of operation. But let’s face it: at The Kernel we punch hard sometimes, and doing robust journalism can make you a few enemies – some political, some personal, and, especially, some professional. And so the Kernel is about to experience its first bit of rough press after much lavish praise, at the hands of someone we’ve recently enjoyed ribbing.
I was made aware earlier this week of an assassination attempt brewing over at the Guardian, a newspaper about which it’s fair to say we – and I particularly – have been very critical (and even mocking) in the past. Fair enough: media is for grown-ups, and we play rough and tumble with the best of them. We should be able to take it as well as dish it out.
But some of the accusations I understand to be brewing are pretty serious, so I wanted to write to you about them, lest that newspaper’s machinations, unmistakably driven, as they surely are, by a personal agenda and a desire to spread muck, don’t unduly concern our readers, writers, or investors.
Here’s a hard truth. We’ve been late paying some of our contributors. The amounts concerned are not massive and the lateness generally measured in weeks rather than months, but, perhaps understandably, the Guardian was delighted to get its hands on that information. I’m not surprised it reached them: there are people who have just cause to be very angry with us.
Here’s another. One of our former employees, who failed to meet the conditions set out in his contract, launched an employment tribunal claim a few weeks ago when we refused to honour our end of the deal. The case is entirely without merit, and negotiations with that person are ongoing.
The responsibility for these two situations is mine alone. Over the last few weeks, with the help of advisors who’ve been around the block more than I have, I’ve reassessed the next 18 months of growth, so we’re living more firmly within our means, we have a more comfortable buffer and we grow more slowly but more sustainably. We’re rapidly ticking off those last pending invoices as a result.
I am deeply sorry to those writers affected. Here’s my first big lesson from this entrepreneurial journey: don’t believe a word anyone tells you until the cash is safely in your bank account. Here’s my second: £30,000 (my personal investment into this business) doesn’t get you very far in media.
* * *
This afternoon, the Guardian will probably insinuate that we’re thinking of winding up The Kernel. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re proud that we’ve been able to offer many young writers money for their work in a hostile economic landscape for journalists, and we look forward to doing much more of the same in future.
In fact, we’re in the process of raising another round of funding to turbo-charge our expansion plans into Europe and America, and I returned from Germany this morning (and will head back again tomorrow) having had some thrilling conversations about our future on the Continent.
I believe in what The Kernel is doing – I wouldn’t have put my own money and my professional reputation on the line to launch it otherwise – and, judging by the incredible feedback we’ve received from readers and our remarkable revenue growth, which proves that even a young editorial product can make money if it stays true to the principles of high quality, unparalleled expertise and a sharp sense of humour – so do many of you.
The short version is: we’re here to stay, irrespective of the growing barrage of attacks from our critics. I have a bold vision for this publication and I will stop at nothing to see it fulfilled. That said, this episode has taught me some valuable lessons. Chief among them is that my next hire should be a finance director.