I don’t know a great deal about online magazine The Kernel, apart from that they did a truly dismal hatchet job on Laurie Penny, and that the magazine is currently involved in complex industrial disputes with former employees claiming to be owed thousands for unpaid work. Then, a good source asked if I would consider publishing the following piece. I found the article compelling, and credible, so have shared it below. I cannot name either the author of the article or the person who recommended it to me. Apparently Mr Yiannopoulous is a man you don’t want to cross. But unpaid labour is a red light for me.
The other day, Guido scored a memorable scoop in exposing leading left-wing blogs who were relying on the labour of unpaid interns. The principle that the labourer is worthy of his hire is a good one, which all people of good will should be happy to endorse. The use of unpaid labour in our media, however, is not a problem confined to Left Foot Forward or Political Scrapbook. There are other stories to be told of struggling hacks or young interns being ripped off by unscrupulous media entrepreneurs.
Meet Milo ‘Nero’ Yiannopoulous, who has been making something of a name for himself as a right-wing shock jock and proprietor of The Kernel, a site which purports to be at the cutting edge of tech journalism. Well, the tech start-up scene is full of guys with websites trying to convince gullible investors that their product will be the next Facebook, so it should come as little surprise that tech journalism should have the occasional wide boy.
One interesting thing about Mr Yiannopoulos is that he hasn’t always been Mr Yiannopoulos. He used, not so very long ago, to trade as Milo Andreas Wagner, under which label he published EJ Thribb-style juvenile poetry and acted as speechwriter to Bianca Jagger, amongst other accomplishments. He has also been known as Milo Hanrahan. There is of course nothing intrinsically wrong with changing one’s name, but for a young man of 28 to have already been through three surnames is a little extravagant. We are unable to confirm rumours that Yiannopoulos will soon be changing his name to Milo Minderbinder.
The same theme of excess runs right through Yiannopoulos’ public life. Again, there is no shame in dropping out of university, but it is remarkable that someone of such tender years should have attended both Manchester and Cambridge without graduating from either. And that’s without going into the multiple companies – Counterknowledge Ltd (dissolved 2 November 2010), Wrong Agency Ltd (dissolved 17 May 2011), Hipster Ventures Ltd (filed for dissolution 26 July 2012)… a whole string of companies with obscure purposes that come to life, then dissolve before actually filing any accounts.
The most interesting of the above is Wrong Agency, which was engaged by the Daily Telegraph to run an ill-fated project called Start-Up 100, aimed at profiling young technology companies. Not only did the project end in acrimony over the eventual winner – more to the point, the April 2011 awards ceremony proved to be an enormous money pit after only three of the promised sponsors materialised. The loss to the Telegraph was substantial – believed to be in excess of £70,000 – and the whole episode led to Yiannopoulos being shown the door in a quite literal sense.
Still, you can’t keep a good man down, and Yiannopoulos has bounced back with The Kernel, a site owned by Sentinel Media Ltd, a company of which Yiannopoulos is founder and sole director. Having had a patchy career in media, more than once parting company with an employer on acrimonious terms, Yiannopoulos has now found a job that he can’t be sacked from. Meanwhile, he has built up his profile as someone who roams social media looking for fights.
Despite launching a self-regarding ‘Trollwatch‘ feature aimed at making the internet safe for, um, Milo Yiannopoulos, our friend has rather a way with vituperation. In fact, the man behind ‘Trollwatch’ is far from shy about voicing strong opinions on individuals, or entire social groups, who fail to please him. He doesn’t like lesbians very much, it seems. Then we might take his view on Jews. Since Yiannopoulos has been keen to do business in Israel’s profitable tech scene, where his reputation hasn’t preceded him, this throwback to his Milo Wagner days could be more than a little embarrassing.
The same style carries over to The Kernel, which for a tech magazine devotes remarkably little time to how tech is impacting on society, and rather a lot of time to monstering various people who have crossed Yiannopoulos. One need only mention the unfortunate Luke Bozier, formerly a good friend of Yiannopoulos who wrote numerous articles for The Kernel, including giving Yiannopoulos the exclusive on his defection from Labour to the Tories. More recently, as readers will be aware, Yiannopoulos took apart his former friend’s private life with what can only be described as salacious glee. And this is only what is openly published on The Kernel. Once you factor in The Nutshell, Yiannopoulos’ legally incautious private email circular, it’s not hard to see why people are scared of criticising Yiannopoulos openly. If you cross him, he will come after you.
Which brings us back to where we began. It should not surprise readers by now that Yiannopoulos has not stayed out of trouble since going into business for himself. In fact, The Kernel has gained notoriety for its chronic inability to pay contributors, some of whom are owed several thousand pounds apiece. Does Yiannopoulos show any contrition? You bet he doesn’t. Below are excerpts from emails that have been widely circulated in tech and media circles, in which Yiannopoulos replies to a former contributor seeking payment:
On Friday, 14 December 2012, Milo Yiannopoulos <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
You’ve already made yourself permanently unemployable in London with your hysterical, brainless tweeting, by behaving like a common prostitute and after starting a war with me, as perhaps you are now discovering.
On 17 Dec 2012, at 12:39, Milo Yiannopoulos <email@example.com> wrote:
You’ve not only torpedoed your chances of ever having a career in journalism in London, but you’re rapidly losing my sympathy as well.
The more I hear of your feverish gossiping, the more I’m moved to publish the real story. The shameless, disgusting, drunken sluttishness, about which the entirety of ____ was sniggering on a daily basis. Your reputation on the start-up scene, propagated by your ‘friends’. That *delightful* photograph from the ___ party.
The final sentence there certainly carries an implied threat, and shows Yiannopoulos in full vituperative mode. These extracts are indicative of the sort of emails anyone who Yiannopoulos takes a dislike to can expect to receive.
So there you have a portrait of the ‘pit bull‘ of tech media. If we are going to be naming and shaming media outlets that don’t pay their workers, as Guido rightly suggests, or indeed taking a stand against online bullying, the charming Mr Yiannopoulos seems a good place to start.
Update, by MD: Peter has picked up on this, and adds more detail on Milo’s florid bigotry.
Also: word is that Jason Hesse, former Kernel contributor, has just been awarded £16,000 by an employment tribunal against Sentinel. This debt is apparently for unpaid wages and is legally enforceable.
Another update: Luke Bozier has responded.
Endgame: The Kernel is to close. Milo’s final editor’s blog is here. Also see this earlier piece of Friday March 1 by Charles Arthur, which excerpts the email Yiannopoulos sent to former Kernel staffer Margot Huysman, after she chased him for back wages:
Two other former writers, Margot Huysman and Mic Wright, say they are still waiting for a balance of about £4,000 each to be paid. Yiannopoulos paid each of them about £1,000 at the end of October and, they say, promised further payments each month – but those were not forthcoming. When Huysman complained of the non-payment on Twitter, he sent her emails saying ‘You’ve already made yourself permanently unemployable in London with your hysterical, brainless tweeting, by behaving like a common prostitute and after starting a war with me, as perhaps you are now discovering’ and implying he had a salacious picture of her from a party that he would publish if she persisted in complaining.
Arthur notes that ‘The threat proved baseless; Huysman has since worked at two other major UK publications, including the Sunday Times.’