First Words: In Our Cynical Age, No One Fails Anymore — Everybody ‘Pivots’


Credit Illustration by Derek Brahney

Last month, the right-wing media personality Mike Cernovich announced that he was conducting a ‘‘big pivot’’ away from the fringes of the news ecosystem. The move was unexpected, as Cernovich had carved out a comfortable niche for himself — railing against coastal elites and feminism, peddling conspiracy theories and self-help books. But Cernovich appeared to have decided that it was ‘‘bad for business’’ to, for example, keep pushing rumors of pedophilia in the Democratic leadership. Instead he wanted to capitalize on the relationships he had developed with Trump-administration officials in order to present himself as a new kind of journalist.

Cernovich’s announcement may have seemed like typical digital-age image management, but a few days after his declaration, a somewhat generous profile appeared on the website of New York magazine. Its (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) headline: ‘‘Mike Cernovich Pivots From Pizzagate to Not-So-Fake News.’’ In the article, Cernovich told the magazine that he was a ‘‘nonfiction writer,’’ which may have been news to the various enemies he has casually accused of being child abusers, or to Hillary Clinton, who Cernovich claimed during the election cycle was suffering from a terminal illness. While acknowledging Cernovich’s toxic history, the article still gave him credit for his ability to break news from Trump’s advisers. And like that, the pivot was complete. Cernovich had changed his narrative by announcing his intention to do so.

The ‘‘pivot’’ has assumed a peculiar place in our common lexicon. A word once used to describe a guard angling for position on the basketball court is now in wide circulation in politics and business. That’s especially the case in Sili­con Valley, where pivoting has become the new failure, a concept to describe a haphazard, practically madcap form of iterative development. With its sheen of management-speak, pivoting is well suited to our moment. And like any act of public relations, pivoting is also a performance. A key part of the act is acknowledging that you are doing it while trying to recast the effort as something larger, more sophisticated, highly planned. The pivot, though it arises from desperation, is nevertheless supposed to appear methodical.

The word seems to have first gained currency in Silicon Valley through the efforts of Eric Ries, author of ‘‘The Lean Startup.’’ Ries defines pivoting as ‘‘a change in strategy without a change in vision.’’ Many successful start-ups now claim a pivot as their origin story. Slack began its life as a video-game company before realizing that its actual value might lie in a chat app the company used to communicate internally. The company is now considered to be worth at least $5 billion, putting it among the most successful pivoters of all time. (Other web staples — YouTube, Groupon, Instagram — began life in vastly different iterations before pivoting into their current forms.) There’s a promise of technocratic efficiency with pivoting, that all you require is a good business plan, and perhaps another injection of venture capital, and you can transform yourself overnight.

It was inevitable that the word would eventually creep outward from Silicon Valley. Recently, it has found a home in online media, where pivoting is now seriously in vogue. Following the cue of Mashable, Vocativ and other digital outlets, Cory Haik, the publisher of Mic, announced her company’s pivot in August. Haik acknowledged that Mic was acting out ‘‘the much-lamented and much-snarked-about . . . ‘pivot to video.’ ’’ For the uninitiated, this entails essentially dumping your editorial staff in favor of cheaply produced, shareable videos favored by advertisers and newsfeed algorithms. This is precisely what Mic did — the company laid off 25 editors and writers — but Haik claimed that this time was different, that this move was part of a greater transformation, namely ‘‘the early stages of a visual revolution in journalism.’’ Mic wasn’t just pivoting to survive, according to its publisher; it was doing so because it saw great opportunity — and ad dollars — in another medium. Or at least, these are the promises peddled to worried shareholders and disaffected media critics.

Continue reading the main story

Source: New York Times – Technology



Comments are closed.