Duncan Greive founded The Spinoff in 2014. Today he has decided to hand the torch to his colleague and friend Amber Easby. He explains why.
I swear I thought of it first. Or at least, in parallel. I remember walking up the stairs to work on January 9, and for the first time, it was a trudge and not a bound. Instead of fizzing with energy to start the year, I felt a sense of mild anxiety. Not because of the people, the greatest colleagues anyone could ask for; nor the mission, which remains the only work I’ve ever really cared about. It was the hard and vitally important job of leadership which had, very suddenly, become something I approached with a kind of dread. I didn’t want to refine another strategy or make another speech. I was tired and bored of myself.
It was also about journalism. I’d found myself sneaking away from my day job to spend my evenings and weekends writing features. This past weekend, around dealing with our own flooded rooms, I wrote and reported, and it felt right. That’s what I used to do, before starting The Spinoff, then Hex Work Productions, then Daylight. We started with two people at a tiny website called The Spinoff that no one had ever heard of. Using nothing but our own will and ingenuity we built these entities which now reach hundreds of thousands of people every month, and feel like they play a tangible and specific role in our media ecosystem.
When the pandemic came, the work got immeasurably harder – suddenly what started as a TV blog was truly life-and-death media – but that was OK, because it also became more meaningful. We also went from being a largely commercially funded organisation to one which relied on its members for the largest part of its income (we still do, and if you love The Spinoff, please show us by joining up). 2022 saw us largely returning to peacetime, and with that a whole new set of challenges and opportunities.
When a rollercoaster becomes a tomb
For years, there was nothing else I wanted to do. But over the last few months, I found that pull starting to wane. Hard but achievable tasks I’d previously have relished loomed over me, seemingly insurmountable. Instead of putting time into them, I’d do some journalism instead. I wrote more and more as the year went on, and started to find my podcasts, The Real Pod and The Fold, even more stimulating than usual. I didn’t realise what was going on, thought it would surely pass. But when I found myself describing my job as a “beautiful tomb which I have built around myself” during an impromptu speech while camping at new year’s, I started to wonder whether I was actually OK.
It was less than two hours after walking up those stairs on January 9 that, quite involuntarily, I blurted it all out to my great friend Mark Kelliher, The Spinoff’s GM. An hour later, I was talking to our editor, Mad Chapman, and basically asking for a job. I wanted to write again, and have making media be the whole of my world, rather than running a media company. To my surprise, rather than trying to dissuade me, Mark and Mad instead had my back – said they thought we should try it. They could run the business, while I returned to my roots.
That elated peace lasted 24 hours, before Mark pulled me aside to say that he’d been offered an amazing job heading a content agency and that he was going to take it. Suddenly the beautiful tomb closed around me again. That’s the thing about tombs: they’re not designed with an exit.
Still, I was determined to stay the course, and within minutes of Mark’s news it became blindingly clear. We didn’t need a new GM, we needed a new CEO. And there was an impossibly perfect candidate just down the hall.
Meet the new boss
Her name is Amber Easby, and everyone who works at The Spinoff knows her very well. She was the founding leader of our video production company, Hex Work Productions, makers of beloved series like Scratched and Alice Snedden’s Bad News. She’s been a key member of our senior leadership team ever since she walked in the door, and has always had this extraordinary combination of energy, intellect and vision, with an effervescent sense of humour thrown in too.
Amber is a really singular individual, someone I have known for two decades, since we were both kids running round K rd, on the peripheries of the music scene. She has had a pretty wild career. She was merch manager for The White Stripes, touring the world with them at the height of their fame. She managed Special Problems when that video production house was one of the hottest in the world, making Lorde’s first video and shooting mega budget global TV commercials. She sold a book about band t-shirts to a New York publisher, and started DOC, Auckland’s best bar, while it lasted. Now she’s running The Spinoff, and will bring all her experience, drive, ideas and an immense care for people to the role.
That will allow me to return to the newsroom, as a senior writer – finally awarding myself the staff writing job I always wanted but could never get in my twenties and thirties. I’ll be mostly writing about business, with a sideline in media and politics, sometimes straying back into pop culture, the scene from which I came. I’ll also soon be starting a new project which will be exclusive to members, so if you’re curious about that please become a member if you’re not already – heading into a recession, the support of our members is more crucial than ever. I’ll still play a role in the direction of the site, as chair of the board, but its strategy will be set and executed by Amber, and I couldn’t be happier about that, nor more excited about watching her go.
It comes from and leads to other changes at The Spinoff too. Sophie Dowson, a brilliantly talented producer who works alongside Amber at Hex Work Productions, will step up to lead video across the companies. And we farewell Mark Kelliher, our GM, who will go and run a big and vibrant agency of his own at Drum. This all adds up to an entirely new era at The Spinoff, with Mad Chapman flying after a year as editor, and ready for the fresh energy of Amber, who she has worked with closely for years, at the head of it all.
As for me, I’m looking forward to just being one of the troops – a tool at their disposal, and watching what these two incredible wāhine toa do atop a little independent media organisation which still has big dreams and a vital public role to fulfil. I think there’s something to be said for knowing when you’ve done all you can, when it’s time to hand it over to the next generation with fresh legs for the next part of the relay, when you don’t have “enough left in the tank”. I think Jacinda Ardern jumping off the biggest job in the country with a week’s notice might have made it easier for the rest of us regular people to call time, and move onto something new.
With that, I’m taking a week off, then looking forward to rejoining The Spinoff’s editorial meetings, under Mad’s direction and alongside my friend and fellow ex-editor Toby Manhire and all the rest of the team. Pitching some bad ideas, responding to breaking news, and re-discovering those old reporting muscles again.
To all those reading, this dream job was only possible because of you reading, listening, watching (and our partners sponsoring!) – and to members, this funny little company could never have survived, let alone thrived, without your support allowing us to be different, to be ourselves. So thanks to you all from this old journo, who finally escaped the tomb, which turned out not to be a tomb at all. I look forward to serving in a very different role this year, and watching Amber bring all she has to the greatest job I ever had.
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