Embattled Ozy CEO Carlos Watson sent an open letter to his readership Monday afternoon, vowing to build “Ozy back stronger” after a week of press he described as “brutal.”
In the letter, addressed to the “Ozy Family,” Watson opened by apologizing for unspecified mistakes.
“While we have strived to open eyes and hearts, we also have made mistakes that hurt our team, our investors and our partners. I deeply regret those mistakes,” the founder wrote.
The “mistakes” Watson refers to may be any or all of the damning reports unearthed by the New York Times last week, including the inflation of traffic numbers and the impersonation of a Google executive by COO Samir Rao during a investor call. Watson previously called the Times piece “a bulls— ad hominem attack.” The reports led to the company’s collapse within a week’s span.
In his letter, Watson did admit to several marketing falsehoods, including saying his self-titled talk show was picked up by A&E (it was not) and falsely advertising the company’s marquee live event, Ozy Fest.
“In our effort to bring our best stories to a diverse array of people, we have often marketed hard. Sometimes too hard, with bold claims and improper attribution,” he wrote. “That was wrong and I pledge to make sure we get better.”
It’s unclear who the “we” are. On Friday, Ozy’s board shut the company down. Former employees told TheWrap on Monday prior to the letter’s release that they are “definitely not returning.”
“There does not appear to be a plan. Carlos has gone completely rogue,” one former staffer said. “The entire editorial staff is done with him — who would possibly go back? Who the hell is going to want to go on ‘The Carlos Watson Show’ now?”
Still, Watson believes he can build “Ozy back stronger” and even invited feedback from his readers on how to accomplish that.
Read his letter in its entirety below:
Dear OZY Family,
I hope this note finds you well. You have undoubtedly heard what a tough time we have had this past week. It has been brutal and heartbreaking on so many levels. Since 2013, we have been on a mission to bring fresh voices to light and to cover unexpected stories from around the globe. While we have strived to open eyes and hearts, we also have made mistakes that hurt our team, our investors and our partners. I deeply regret those mistakes.
I also regret not responding to some of the media coverage in real time. The deluge has been swift and brutal — some of it true, but much of it not. Together, the coverage and my silence left the impression that there was no substance to the content at OZY, no depth to our audience, and worse yet, that we were charlatans, even bullies. But as a loyal reader, you know that our team has produced incredible work each day for millions of people. We’ve launched or developed real TV shows across top networks including Hulu, BBC, PBS, OWN, Lifetime, A&E and others. We even won an Emmy last year. Our podcasts have been rich and varied including The Thread which cracked Apple’s Top 10, The Future of X and Flashback. And while one report tried to malign OZY Fest as some sort of Fyre Festival, you know that we have held that wonderful event four times — three in Central Park and once virtually — meeting thousands of terrific people in the process. What we have done has been purposeful, diverse and full of real effort.
As deeply proud as I am of the work that our team has done, I also wish we had done many things differently. Among them:
Team + Culture: I wish we had succeeded in developing the kind of culture that our team deserves. On one hand, I am proud that we have hired hundreds of people (including full-time and part-time) with an explicit focus on building a diverse team. We also hired interns each year for fully paid internships and promoted many to full time. We built one of the best freelance networks and paid people well for doing top flight reporting. But we also at times failed to build and maintain the kind of culture that I would have hoped. I am the son of two teachers, someone who believes in working hard and growing and learning. Some of the things reported in the media were very hard for me to read and I vow to do better.
Data + Transparency: We have had good data, but often struggled to lay it out clearly for people used to only looking at website traffic — rather than website, plus newsletter readers, plus TV / Podcast consumers, social media consumers and festival-goers. We will do better in the future and ensure that we are delivering that data transparently, with third-party validation for our partners and stakeholders.
Marketing: In our effort to bring our best stories to a diverse array of people, we have often marketed hard. Sometimes too hard, with bold claims and improper attribution. That was wrong and I pledge to make sure we get better. To be sure, that was not our norm all of the time or most of the time, but enough that it was not ok and we can be better.
Thank you for your time and loyalty over the last 8 years. One of my mentors said to me the other day that he hoped we would own what we did wrong, fix it well and indeed become a leader in those areas going forward. This morning, I had a chance to start that process and respond to some of the hard questions raised on the Today Show and Squawk Box. Please watch us, hold us accountable and help us grow.
I would be happy to hear from you — whether thoughts, frustrations, ideas, or dreams. I look forward to building OZY back stronger, healthier and better and to bringing you stories, ideas and perspectives that make a difference.