He was young and a little disheveled. It was the beginning of the millennium and I was working as a news editor at SONICNET, an early (maybe too early) internet music hub that had been acquired by MTV. If memory serves, he was wearing a rumpled gray sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, and shuffling along the concrete floor of our Park Avenue South loft as someone shepherded him from office to office and desk to desk to meet various people. He was a babyfaced 20something and I thought he might be a new intern—until they got to me and I was told to say hello to the new president of the company. That’s how I met JASON HIRSCHHORN.
Appearances are deceiving. Book, cover, yadda yadda yadda. Clothes don’t make the man. Curiosity and generosity do.
He wasn’t a news guy but he was fascinated by our music news operation and wanted to know exactly how it worked. He was endlessly curious. He was obsessed with musicians—from LIAM to NOEL, from K-CI to JOJO—and equally obsessed with the music business and the people who made it work. He soaked up stories about them and never, ever forgot one. And he looooooved to talk about music. Hip-hop, R&B, rock, dance, anything with a serious groove. We hit it off fast.
Jason was, and is, one of the least snobby music heads I’ve ever met. One of my guiding principles at SonicNet was that BRITNEY SPEARS was every bit as important to her fans as OUTKAST or PJ HARVEY were to theirs and we should cover her and them accordingly, with equal degrees of seriousness. He got that. We bonded over things like that. He became a friend and a kind of personal rabbi to me within the ever-shifting walls and loyalties of MTV Networks, where he eventually became the network’s first chief digital officer, and a zealous protector of our work.
At SonicNet, he maintained the kind of wall around the news operation that editors dream of. At URGE, the MTV streaming music service (speaking of too early) where we reconnected a few years later, he gave my programming/curation team the freedom and space to follow the grooves wherever they led, which was often far to the left or right of what anyone else at 1515 Broadway was programming. He wanted us to go there.
(He also could be a little difficult. To know me is to have heard me complain about him, and I have reason to believe the reverse is true as well. But the complaints are always in search of a common purpose, a common cause, and always end softly. He’s a tough but generous boss and a loyal and generous friend.)
At every company, there’s someone, usually a random middle manager or comms person, who sends emails to half the building every morning with way too many links for anyone to read. At MTV, it was the chief digital officer. And they were good links, all of them. A couple corporate presidencies and board appointments later—I assume everyone at those companies got daily links from him, too—Jason had his lightbulb moment. Those daily emails could be a job. Maybe even a company. Maybe even one that serves a crucial public need.
There are a lot of ways to describe what we do at REDEF. We curate news and ideas. Jason, who favors music metaphors, likes to say we DJ the news. (It’s no accident that we refer to the collections of stories we share every day as mixes.) We read the internet so you don’t have to. We sift through the noise in search of the signal.
We do this manually, with no algorithms and no particular interest in metrics. (Clicks matter a whole lot less when you don’t have advertising, it turns out.) But there are guidelines and intentions. A REDEF ethic that drives everything we do. For starters, we’ve never thought of ourselves as a news service. More of an idea service. A REDEF news motto: “Not that it happened, but why it happened and what it means.” We share thinkpieces we don’t necessarily agree with and ask questions of our audience. We seek depth and perspective and we seek it from a diversity of voices and a diversity of POVs speaking to a diversity of subjects.
We take great pains to share the original sources of news and ideas—the reporters and sites who’ve done the actual reporting and the original thinking. We make sure the reporting is solid and transparent and the stories are true, which gets harder and harder, and therefore more and more important, with every passing year. We avoid gossip and rumor and remain ever wary of simple lists and other fast-food content. We pore through thousands and thousands of headlines and stories every day and swipe left on most of them. Curation is, in part, cultivation. We don’t share it because it’s there. We share it because we want it to be there.
We think long and hard about how we present the links in our mix. Like DJs, we talk about segues and flow. Which story should follow which story? *Whose* story should follow whose story? We lose sleep over this. It’s worth it.
And for eight and a half years, I’ve been granted nearly total editorial freedom with my writing. The template is Jason’s. The voice is mine. I’ve written about whatever has piqued my own curiosity on any given day, in the hope it will pique your curiosity, too—and maybe, in my perfect world, the industry’s curiosity. I've offered my own history and perspective. I’ve shared my discoveries in real time. I’ve asked questions that I think need to be asked. I’ve ranted. I’ve raved. I’ve been given access to a bully pulpit and I’ve tried to use it wisely and judiciously. If I’ve been lucky, someone has listened once in a while.
Before I give up that pulpit for good, I want to thank the people who’ve made REDEF what it is over those years, starting with the journalists, essayists and storytellers whose work is the very heart of everything we do. So much of our work is literally theirs.
The artists whose stories and music have filled, and inspired, our newsletters.
The entrepreneurs, insiders and outsiders alike, who’ve invited us into their offices and their worlds and helped shape and reshape the way we think about the industry’s problems and challenges.
And my REDEF colleagues past and present: tech guru MARCUS SMITH, right-hand man CARL DAVIS, curators ADAM WRAY, MIKE VORKUNOV and HK MINDY MEISSEN, and, of course, my friend JASON HIRSCHHORN, our founder, CEO, chief curator and sushi pal.
And, finally, our readers. Even those who skip the rantnrave altogether and head straight for the mix. And the ones (I’ve met some of you) who always start with the obituaries. Thank you for every email and DM telling me how right or wrong I am, and every link, and every attempt to nudge me in one direction or the other. I appreciate every note I’ve ever received. They’re part of the curation, too. This is a team effort.
This is officially it for me though, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to continue to collaborate with Jason on REDEF’s future and maybe step back in with a thought from time to time. The MusicREDEF newsletter is going on a short hiatus but our Twitter feed will continue while Jason and I search for the right person to pick up the reins.
Ciao for now and thank you for reading!