Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Thunderdome’s demise is déjà vu all over again

Time counts and keeps counting, and we know now finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride. But that’s our trek, we gotta travel it. And there ain’t nobody knows where it’s gonna lead. — From “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”

Thunderdome: A bunch of great journalists entered. And now, all leave.

By now, everyone knows Thunderdome is being unraveled.  There are lots of hows left to figure out and whys left to reckon with, but the fact is that it’s all ending much too soon. It’s all so terribly familiar to those of us who went through a similar unraveling at TBD in 2011… only this is worse. 

TBD didn’t have time to finish what we started, but at least we got the chance to start. Thunderdome never even got the chance to carry out even the beginnings of our goals. Many of our long-planned channels just started launching. We had a number of new revenue-generating products on the horizon. We had just started building our in-house product team. We were on the brink.

The Thunderdome Interactives team leaders circa August 2012. (L-R) Me, Tom Meagher, Julie Westfall and Yvonne Leow.

The Thunderdome Interactives team leaders circa August 2012. (L-R) Me, Tom Meagher, Julie Westfall and Yvonne Leow.

This is the startup world in journalism – our industry has a tough time finding funders with the stomach to endure the time it takes to build a digital business.

DFM and Thunderdome was founded on the idea of “putting the digital people in charge”. We were put in charge – and we made positive, forward-moving changes at dozens of local newspapers to prepare them for a future without print. Was it all perfect? No, we made a lot of mistakes. There were a lot of things I would do differently if I had the opportunity. That said, Thunderdome didn’t fail. It didn’t even start.

The employees of Digital First deserved better – not just the people losing their jobs at Thunderdome, but also those out in the field at local newspapers. I hope they can continue the digital transformation they’ve started at every local newsroom – because that’s what will keep them relevant in the years to come.

Just another day at the virtual and real-life office at Thunderdome.

Just another day at the virtual and real-life office at Thunderdome.

What’s Next

I encourage anyone reading this to check out the Thunderdome staff and hire them as soon as possible. I’ll do whatever I can to get them to their next stops. As for me, I don’t know what’s coming next – and frankly, I find that pretty exciting, all things considered.

I want to thank Jim Brady and Steve Buttry for giving me (another) chance to change my career. I wanted out of my social media pigeonhole and they gave me the opportunity to grow, lead and learn so much more about this industry and myself.  I also have to thank Thunderdome Editor Robyn Tomlin, who has been such an inspiration to me. She’s taken a lot of time to mentor me – in leadership and in life – and I value the trust she put in me when she appointed me as managing editor.

And finally, I have to thank the Thundercats. It was an honor and a pleasure working with you all. You’ve taught me so much – and I can’t wait to see what you all do next.

As heartbreaking as it is to go through this all over again, I have no regrets. I would do it all over again for the chance to have worked with these amazing people. They have changed my life – and I have absolutely no doubt they will change the industry. I only wish we were going to be doing it together.



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  1. stevesaldivar

    So sorry to hear what happened. I know you guys will do amazing things!

  2. A great, but sad, read. I’m excited to see what you get up to next.

  3. Siya

    Sad to hear of DFM closing but great read. It’s sad our industry doesn’t give innovation a chance. You think it’s bad in the US, look at South Africa where data journalism and digital first thinking is barely given a cent to lift off in newsrooms.

    But I digress, I hope all the staffers at DFM find work soon enough – they are more than qualified enough.

  4. I thought of you when I saw the news. You must be a very tough cookie. I wish you success!

    • Thanks, Feoshia. Change is a tough business, no matter what the industry, but especially in news. I still believe in it wholeheartedly, so expect to see more of the same around here.

    • Thanks, Feoshia. It’s been a rough few days, but we’re keeping our heads up and headed on to the next big thing.

  5. Dean Witter

    Immediately thought of you when I heard about this, Mandy. Wishing you the best in whatever exciting adventure comes next. I have no doubt that there will be something and it will be exciting. You’re a very courageous, daring professional and you’ve inspired a lot of people to take chances and taught them how to deal with setbacks. Keep pushing!

    • Thanks, Dean. I don’t know what the future holds right now, but I still feel very fired up about the industry. I’m in it for the long haul!

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