The Mirror

Is Rare really just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Another one bites the dust.

Content Editor Matt Cover‘s last day at Rare was last week. He went to the Alexandria, Va. office for the final time on Friday. He’s one of four editors who have parted ways with the Cox Media Group-owned news outlet since its inception in April. Once billed as red meat for conservative readers, those who’ve worked there have experienced editorial policies that are anything but right-leaning.

“I left because I didn’t like the direction Rare was headed or the disrespectful way staff was treated,” said Anneke Green, Rare‘s former opinion editor who quit in August. “We have enough conservative outlets — we don’t need to support a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And at the end of the day, instead of appealing to actual conservatives, it seemed the Cox people were more interested in Rare redefining conservatism to what they want it to be than reporting on what it is. I’m going on the record now only because I was so positive on the record when Rare launched and I’m disappointed such a great opportunity was squandered.”

Leon Levitt, VP of Strategy at Cox Media Group, denied that Rare is struggling at all. In fact, he said on Monday there will be a total of eight content employees. But he knocked Rare‘s prior leadership, saying, “In my opinion, under previous editorial leadership Rare tilted too far on the mean and divisive meter.”

A former Rare editor said less than conservative orders were repeatedly thrown at staff.

“The editors were ordered to lay off Obama, stop being critical of Islam and were banned from social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. We were also told to take more shots at Republicans. That doesn’t sound like a conservative publication to me,” responded one former Rare editor. “What Leon calls divisive happens to be what drives conservative traffic. They have almost zero original content now, and there is hardly anything about their aggregated material that could be called Rare.”

The former editor also questioned the rareness of Rare. “The previous editorial leadership attracted exclusive big-name contributors such as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Judge Napolitano, Donald Rumsfeld, Reince Priebus, Ted Nugent and Grover Norquist. Take a look at the site; they don’t bring in national figures anymore. So what is so ‘rare’? Not much.”

The guy now calling the shots is acting editor Will Alford, who has worked primarily in design and layout for the Cox-owned Atlanta Journal-Constitution but really has no experience as an assignment editor. When asked about claims that the Old Town office could soon close and the general state of affairs at the publication, Alford denied any truth to it. “All untrue,” he wrote by email. “Under new leadership, Rare is stronger than ever and headed in the exact right direction.” When informed that he was the person who sources claimed floated the information in the newsroom, he replied, “We’re not going that route.”

Alford does, however, appear to be an oddity at a news outlet that allegedly gears itself toward a conservative readership. He’s liberal and voted for President Obama. He’s also openly gay and has explicitly forbidden any content critical of gay equality or gay marriage, according to those who have worked with him. He’s been at Cox for years, but he wasn’t originally hired for Rare.

If they’re looking to cut costs, they’re certainly not doing it with Alford. The acting editor lives in Atlanta, but commutes to Virginia during the week and stays at the swank Orion Hotel and Spa on King Street in Old Town. Sources say he sometimes stays for three days or all week and through the weekend.

A top manager with a “personality disorder” was mentioned as another possibility why employee retention has been troublesome.

Rare source went into greater depth on why the publication is failing.

“First, the people at Cox are not conservative so they don’t understand what conservatives care about or want to read,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “They also think that ideology they don’t like or disagree with (like not supporting gay marriage) is negotiable. That mindset is not going to result in a media outlet conservatives will want to support. Second, they have several people in positions of authority who have little media experience. These people make content calls or decisions about the direction of the outlet when their expertise would make them more suited for keeping people’s laptops running (which they didn’t do well). This is due to a reflexive Atlanta bias. In other words, a janitor who’s at the headquarters in Atlanta will have more credibility with the bosses when it comes to content than the media professionals who were ostensibly hired for their experience.”

The outlet has minimal staffing left — two of the original hires left are junior staffers in their early-20s and a third editorial employee, initially brought on as an intern, is paid hourly. Also still on staff is Tabitha Hale, who sources say does no work. They’re allegedly quietly trying to get rid of her, but they fear backlash. She doesn’t work from Alexandria but “prefers to stay on the road.” She makes no mention of Rare on her Twitter bio or personal photography and politics website. The Mirror requested comment from her on the state of the site and her employment there.

Despite four editors leaving in the site’s extremely short existence, Levitt made it sound like things are going swimmingly. “We are delighted with the progress of Rare,” he wrote. “Cox is completely committed. With several people starting next week Rare will have as large a staff as it has ever had. Plus we just hired a director of sales, have sold several accounts, and will soon make several large announcements. We are happy in Alexandria, and absolutely plan to maintain a physical office in the DC area.”

He continued, “Here is what Rare is and what it is not … ” and took it upon himself to explain what Rare is in bold black.

Rare is … a news site with a point of view. We celebrate the wonderful conservative principles of freedom and accountability; and the awesome things people do to help us carry on this lifestyle. Rare is … a brand that highlights how conservative thinking makes everyday life better.  It uses a common sense — not agenda-driven think tank, politician or interest group — lens. We’’l add context to the most important issues, and take strong positions where appropriate. These positions will be in keeping with conservative thinking for the majority of Americans. Rare … thinks for itself, and hopes its readers to do the same.”

Cover was previously a reporter for CNSNews and had a talent for getting Drudge links. The four editors who resigned include Brett Decker, the site’s founding editor-in-chief, James Robbins, deputy editor, Green, the op-ed editor and Cover. The site does have a job posting for the managing editor position — the job Hale was hired forlisted on LinkedIn.

Cover’s departure aside, the days of the conservative-leaning publication having office space may soon be over. Cox News Media brass is discussing closing down the office in Old Town and moving to a “work from home” model.

It gets worse. Rare traffic, according to internal sources, has plummeted to approximately 150,000-200,000 pageviews a week. In July, they had hit 1.6 million weekly pageviews. In addition, sources say the outlet has been buying hits. For example, for awhile in the fall, Rare was getting a disproportionately high number of pageviews from Asia. “Very suspicious since there was no regional content to justify it,” a source explained. There were also spikes from the UK with no content connection.

Cox News Media launched the site in mid-April 0f 2013.