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Tech news site The Markup rehires editor for a do-over

IT has been a turbulent few months for The Markup, a news startup with ambitions to combine investigative and data-driven journalism to cover the world of technology. Those associated with the site hope the turmoil is over now, and on Tuesday they announced what the venture's new president called a reboot.

The do-over includes the return of Julia Angwin, the original editor-in-chief, more than three months after she was fired in a move that prompted nearly the entire editorial staff to resign.

Joining Ms Angwin at the retooled site are the new president, Nabiha Syed, a former associate vice-president and general counsel at BuzzFeed; and a new managing editor, Evelyn Larrubia, previously the executive editor of public radio programme Marketplace.

In interviews, the site's leaders described a business plan that will eventually rely partly on reader donations and a Web interface that disdains third-party trackers of the kind that might know you were reading this article — fitting given the site's plans for examining the tech industry's effect on consumer privacy.

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Ms Angwin said on Tuesday that The Markup, which is based in New York, planned to begin publishing by the end of the year and to expand its staff.

"Honestly, we need to prove we're back and get people comfortable with us," Ms Angwin said, adding, "It's safe to come back in the water."

The six members of the seven-person editorial staff who quit shortly after Ms Angwin was fired in April are also back. Like Ms Angwin, they continued to be paid in the interim.

The Markup is still being financed by the group of nonprofit backers, led by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, that made an initial contribution of around US$23 million to the initiative. Ms Angwin and Ms Syed will report to an independent board of directors that is to be formed soon, the site said in its announcement.

Despite its small staff and embryonic status, The Markup has drawn significant interest in journalism circles because of Ms Angwin's track record at ProPublica and The Wall Street Journal, where she was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and the site's vision for producing investigative news as a lean, mission-oriented non-profit along the lines of ProPublica and the Marshall Project.

During the upheaval of this past spring, the site went from closely watched to the subject of outright voyeurism.

In April, Ms Angwin was fired. In a letter to Mr Newmark, the Craigslist founder, she accused Sue Gardner, the executive director and a founder of the site, of ousting her as part of Ms Gardner's desire to adopt a tone of frank advocacy against the tech industry. Ms Gardner disputed that, arguing that there had been problems with Ms Angwin's leadership. As Ms Angwin noted then, most members of the staff followed her out the door.

A month later, on the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, Mr Newmark wrote on Twitter that Ms Gardner and The Markup's third founder, Jeff Larson, a data journalist who joined the site from ProPublica with Ms Angwin and succeeded her as editor-in-chief, had departed. Neither Ms Gardner nor Mr Larson replied to requests for comment.

Throughout the shake-up, Ms Angwin and Ms Syed, who had originally been approached to be The Markup's general counsel, worked on a business plan and a budget for the site, they said. They considered trying to become part of a larger organisation but ultimately settled on staying independent.

"After working closely with the other funders and the great folks at The Markup, including Julia and Nabiha, I'm happy to continue to support The Markup," Mr Newmark said in a statement. The site's other financial supporters include the John S and James L Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative.

In its announcement on Tuesday, the site listed 10 editorial staff members, including a newly hired investigative reporter.

Ms Syed, who will oversee the site's business operations, said she had gained management experience overseeing teams of lawyers in international litigation. Last year, she helped successfully defend BuzzFeed against a Russian technology executive's defamation lawsuit over the publication of an unverified dossier detailing links between President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and the Russian government.

"As a media lawyer," she said, "fighting for investigative journalism is what I know".

Ms Angwin said that after the period of strife, The Markup was resuming the role it always envisioned: keeping a close eye on the enormously powerful tech industry with the traditional tools of the investigative journalist and the modern ones of the data digger.

"The world of technology is itself data driven," she said. "To examine the impacts of technology, you need to collect data to examine how they're making their data-driven decisions."