Oz Media closes after studies of lies and wrongdoing
Carlos Watson, CEO of Ozy Media, told staff on Friday that the board had voted to close the company, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In a five-minute phone call in the late afternoon, Watson briefed Ozy staff of the decision, said the person who asked not to be named as the conversation was private. A dejected sounding Watson took no questions, the person said.
The New York Times was the first to publish news of Ozy’s decision.
“At Ozy, we are blessed with a remarkable team of dedicated people,” the company’s board member told The Times. “Many of them are world-class journalists and seasoned professionals to whom we owe great thanks and who are wonderful colleagues. So today we must announce from the bottom of our hearts that we are closing the doors of Ozy.”
A spokesman for Ozy was not immediately available for comment. According to Axios, which also reported that Ozy Media will be closing, the company had 75 full-time employees.
Full-time workers are now waiting to hear if they will receive severance pay or enhanced benefits from the abrupt shutdown, the person said. Freelance writers will get their final paychecks next week, another person said.
The Times first reported on Sunday that an Ozy executive would later become known as COO Samir Rao, who on a conference call with Goldman Sachs posed as a YouTube executive considering a $ 40 million investment in the company. The company also reportedly had grossly inflated its monthly unique visitors, a metric used by media companies to attract advertisers.
This report triggered a downturn in the company.
Former BBC presenter Katty Kay and one of Ozy Media’s executive producers resigned from the company on Wednesday amid the episodes.
On Thursday, Marc Lasry resigned as chairman of Ozy Media after only three weeks in office. Billionaire investor Lasry is CEO of Avenue Capital Group and owner of NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
“I believe that going forward Ozy will require experience in areas such as crisis management and investigations, in which I do not have particular expertise,” said Lasry on Thursday. He added that he will remain an investor in Ozy Media.
CNBC also reported Thursday that Ozy Media founder Carlos Watson lied when he claimed Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne invested in his company. The Osbournes filed a trademark lawsuit in 2017 over the company name Ozy Fest, the company’s annual concert and festival. Osbourne told CNBC that Watson had used his ties to billionaire Ozy Media, Laurene Powell Jobs, to threaten lawsuits. “This guy is the biggest Shyster I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Osbourne.
Ozy also promised former producers that he would direct a show for A&E, according to a report in The Times on Thursday. But producers found that was a lie, too, and that, according to The New York Times, A&E never intended to air interviews Ozy had filmed.
Former Ozy employees told CNBC Friday that Watson ran the company as a charismatic and spirited leader. His demands of reporters – including writing four full-length stories a week of “tasteful” prose – resulted in several employees quitting burnout. CNN spoke to other employees who mentioned similar stories of long workdays and exhaustion.
Both Watson and Rao have earned a reputation for yelling at employees in the workplace, according to five former employees. One said working at Ozy felt like a trading floor on Wall Street and thought that their time at Goldman Sachs may have contributed to their behavior.
Watson often bragged about Ozy’s reach at internal meetings, said three people in attendance for her, but reporters and editors saw little sign of Ozy’s popularity. Yet they stayed loyal to the company because they believed in its mission: to report stories and trends that other media had not yet discovered. Former Ozy employees also credited Watson with creating a diverse workplace and giving them opportunities to tackle outside of the box issues.
“I’ve never seen a job as diverse as Ozy’s,” said one former employee. “That was a big reason to stay with the company.”
But the demanding pace and temperament of Watson led many to leave – often to Watson’s annoyance. Several reported that Watson tried to keep them and even contacted them after they quit.
“There’s a real guy in there somewhere,” an ex-employee said of Watson. “It’s just hard to penetrate vanity.”
Watson is the face of the company both literally and figuratively, the employees said. He would ask to be more prominent on the website with links to his YouTube talk show “The Carlos Watson Show,” two of the people said. A YouTube ad for the show cites a quote from Deadline that Watson calls “The Best Interviewer On TV.” That line was actually said by Rao, the manager who impersonated the YouTube manager, in a 2020 deadline article on “The Carlos Watson Show”.
SEE: NYT’s Smith discusses Marc Lasry’s resignation from Ozy