I've been responding to comments on a post about my article on the Daily Beast today about Robert Scoble looking to get involved with an angel fund. This has set off a bit of a debate about online journalism and whether we're all a bunch of click whores.
First off: The news today is simply that Scoble has been trying to raise an angel fund. I heard about it from a VC, checked with Scoble, who says he's interested but hasn't got too far along yet -- and then reported that.
Someone points out that the Daily Beast, where I work, also tries to drive clicks. That's true. The Daily Beast does lots of things to boost traffic, including linking to stories here on G+ hoping to attract readers. Most online news organizations do things to drive traffic. We all try to craft our stories in a way that makes people want to read them and find them interesting.
But -- and this is a significant difference -- reporters at places like the Beast or NY Times or other outlets are not allowed to take money from VCs and start an angel fund and invest in companies that we write about. Try to imagine Pogue or Mossberg or Nick Bilton or Harry McCracken starting an angel fund and keeping their day job.
This is not to say one group is better than the other. Bloggers can do this, but mainstream reporters play by a different set of rules than bloggers. Having been both a blogger and a mainstream media guy, I see value on both sides. I definitely know which side was more fun. If bloggers can find ways to get rich off their blogs, more power to them.
Another way to look at this is that really it's not journalism but rather is a new form of public relations (and a threat to the established PR industry). As I say in my Beast article:
"In a way, what these bloggers are really doing is creating a new kind of PR firm, one where the promoters get paid not in billable hours but in early-stage equity. If you’re a startup, this makes a lot of sense. Why pay a PR agency millions of dollars and hope they can get you some favorable coverage when you can just bring on an investor who will write the articles for you—and reach a bigger, more targeted audience than mainstream media outlets like the New York Times could ever do?"
The traditional way that companies go about getting press coverage is expensive and inefficient. They hire a PR agency, and/or a bunch of in-house PR people, and pay lots of money to those people hoping they can go out and schmooze the press and get some good stories placed. Why go through all that when now, in the Internet age, you can build (or buy) your own media coverage? Tumblr is doing this and just hired away one of my colleagues at Newsweek to lead a new site devoted to covering Tumblr and its world of bloggers.
What I really wonder is why more companies are not yet doing this. I suspect we'll see more doing it in the future.