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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.
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15 comments
 
This is bullshit.

What's funny is that this is nothing more than bar talk. I'm not involved in any startup fund and I don't think I will be anytime soon (I never say never because tomorrow Bill Gates could walk up to me and hand me a billion dollars, but I'm not holding my breath). I haven't gotten to any sort of negotations where I even see a term sheet or anything official. No email. No serious conversations. No business.

I do not invest in startups. I have no money in any tech company other than in Rackspace stock (I own some mutual funds that might invest in tech).

I never have gotten to the point where I've been offered money or a job in a fund. Can I make that any more clear?
 
I'm always interested in talking about my career and the path it could take but I NEVER HAVE APPROACHED ANYONE about doing my own fund. Whoever said that to you is lying and you didn't make that clear to me in your email to me this morning, Dan. It's other people who come up to me and start talking to me about doing a fund.
 
This is the email that +Dan Lyons sent me this morning: "I was talking to a VC last week who said he was recently offered the chance to invest in an angel fund that you would manage. Were you trying to raise a fund? Are you still?"

I thought I made it clear that I was not trying to raise a fund. Sigh. Journalism sucks sometimes.
 
Robert, here is your email response to the email I sent you: "Hah. There is some bar talk about this but nothing official yet. I am interested but not anywhere close and certainly I wouldn't be managing it. Who was it?"

Where in this email do you say you're not trying to raise a fund? You say there's "nothing official yet" and that "I am interested."
 
+Dan Lyons it says I'm interested. It does NOT say I am raising a fund. Geesh. I had no idea you were going to write an article on this, either. I just was pounding out emails this morning so probably wasn't as clear as I should have been. I also wrote you another email where I speculate on what my role might be if such a fund was happening, which it is not. You should have called me to make this clearer. From now on I won't answer your emails.
 
Isn't +Robert Scoble's job already to be a spokesperson for Rackspace? Presumably there is already a conflict of interest there: startups could get better coverage from Scoble if they agree to use Rackspace.
 
Just to explain what's going on here. If Dan had done real journalism and not a drive by in email that I didn't understand the context of I would have explained. At the World Economic Forum there is a group led by Rich Strombach, which is an informal set of folks. They are thinking of doing their own fund and wanted to know if I'd be interested in joining them. I told them that I'm always interested in business ideas so to put something together and let me know what that might look like. I told them that I'd consider any such request after I have it in writing. I have NOT heard back yet from them and have NOT signed any documentation and have NOT asked any VC to invest in any such fund. If anyone is hitting up VCs on my behalf I sure would love to know that. My phone number is +1-425-205-1921 and my email is scobleizer@gmail.com
 
+Daniel White of course there's a conflict of interest there. But if you look at my record you'll see that the companies I hype up the most are often not on Rackspace. For instance: Flipboard. Or SmugMug. Or Shaker (which won Techcrunch last year). Or many many examples. None of those are on Rackspace.
 
Yep, that's the no longer so new world of the social web. Everybody can be everything, including their own PR agency, marketing firm, ad agency and mainstream media intermediaries are no longer the gate keepers.
 
+Robert Scoble I think my point was more that this wouldn't really be a change in your objectivity. People who follow your work should already be aware of the fact that you're not an independent observer.
 
Stating that there is a conflict of interest doesn't make it magically go away. It just lets people make a better judgement about whether they should agree with your opinions.
 
+Daniel White actually if I joined a VC firm or did something like that (I'm not, at least I dont currently have any offers) then it would be a massive change in my objectivity. As an employee of Rackspace you know where I'm coming from. As a VC you have a lot more diverse set of conflicts.
 
+Robert Scoble I guess it would be more complicated as a VC, yes. To be clear though, I'm not intending to attack you, I'm just saying that I wouldn't see this as a desertion of the ethical high ground.
 
So if mainstream reporters do not invest in Tech can I ask you how much money you have tied up in tech companies +Dan Lyons ?
 
The part about +Robert Scoble not saying in the email that he's not trying to raise a fund is hilarious. It's like the classic "there's no prove that god exists, but there's no prove that he doesn't exist either!" Sheesh.
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