Pete Rizzo and his ponytail (via LinkedIn).

CoinDesk editor Pete Rizzo out

Sources told Modern Consensus Rizzo was let go; the change comes as a move into owner Digital Currency Group’s offices raised questions about editorial independence

CoinDesk editor in chief Pete Rizzo has been fired from the cryptocurrency industry news source he built into a powerhouse, sources familiar with the matter told Modern Consensus.

The move comes at a delicate time for CoinDesk. Rizzo’s September 25 departure will certainly be linked to the controversial decision announced recently by owner Digital Currency Group to move the editorial team into its corporate headquarters. 

Announced in a September 17 email to staffers from DCG founder and CEO Barry Silbert, the move will allow DCG to integrate CoinDesk’s business staff into the operations. DCG is a large investor in blockchain and cryptocurrency firms. Despite that, editorial independence would not be compromised Silbert promised, noting that CoinDesk’s editorial and conference staff would be located on a different floor in the building.  

Silbert indirectly highlighted the importance of Rizzo to CoinDesk’s operations in that email. In deciding to buy the then-financially struggling media property in 2016, Silbert said, “I knew that I needed to choose strong leaders and let them build a terrific team with a steadfast commitment to cover the industry with honesty, integrity, and independence.”

That is why Rizzo’s removal, “is even bigger than it seems on the surface,” a former CoinDesk staffer told Modern Consensus exclusively. “Rizzo built a crew of people who he’d known for years — like, that he lived with in off-campus apartments long before CoinDesk. His friends would say he closely managed—his detractors would say he micromanaged—every aspect of operations there.”

The former staffer added that Rizzo’s importance to the news source cannot be overstated, adding, “The editorial side of CoinDesk was Rizzo’s shop the same way that Tesla is Elon [Musk’s] shop.” 

Still, his management style had critics, and sources told Modern Consensus that Rizzo’s firing was about longer term issues with his leadership.

Rizzo would not return messages to Modern Consensus.

The Block, which broke the story of Rizzo’s departure, said that managing editor Marc Hochstein would take over temporarily while advisory board member Michael Casey will become chief content officer. The Block’s founder and CEO, Mike Dudas, had a Twitter feud with Rizzo in April, calling CoinDesk “vapid, decaying bullies.” And in 2018, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin boycotted the publication’s Consensus 2018 show over CoinDesk’s coverage of Ethereum governance issues.

A controversial move

Silbert was also clear in his announcement that he understood moving CoinDesk into DCG headquarters would lead to serious questions that independence. “I can’t control the conspiracy theories and perceptions on Twitter, or what sources will say, and neither can you,” Silbert acknowledged. “Conspiracy theories will persist as long as DCG owns CoinDesk and that’s definitely not changing anytime soon.”

The editorial and conference production staff will remain fully independent and will never be told what to write or not write, Silbert promised, saying, “we are 100% committed to preserving that [editorial] independence.”

While calling the move a “fantastic opportunity for ambitious journalists,” Silbert also warned staffers, “each of you will have to make the personal decision about participating in the exciting opportunities on the road ahead.”

So, it’s fairly clear that whoever is appointed the new editor in chief of CoinDesk will have a big task in re-convincing the publication’s readership that its editorial independence is secure.

Rizzo’s departure comes less than two weeks after one of CoinDesk’s biggest competitors, Cointelegraph, lost its two top editors. Olivia Capozzalo, who was Cointelegraph’s executive editor, and Molly Zuckerman, who served as the site’s head of news, announced that they had resigned on September 12. [Zuckerman has since written several articles for Modern Consensus.]

Lawrence Lewitinn, watch your back. 

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.