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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

PandoDaily: Just What We Needed, Another Tech-News Site

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 at 11:10 AM

Really? Seriously? Another site devoted to technology news? Yep, 'fraid so. This one, PandoDaily, will be written by, among others, some of the people who had previously made TechCrunch so awful: Sarah Lacy (who runs it), Michael Arrington, MG Siegler, and Paul Carr. These are people who believe that their coverage of, say, browser plug-ins and smartphone apps should be handled with -- and they actually used this word, about themselves -- "swagger."

Often, they employed this "swagger" by rewriting press releases, adding the word "fuck," and referring to themselves a lot. Much of TechCrunch seemed as if it had been designed by Lindsey Naegle and her marketing team: "Let's make MG Siegler 10 percent more 'in-your-face.' Perfect!"

Which is not to say they were wrong. TechCrunch was a huge hit. Apparently, a fairly large number of emotionally stunted geeks and marketing droids eat this kind of stuff up. For all the hype around it, tech news can be dull, especially at the granular level at which TechCrunch and similar sites operate. Maybe using the word "fuck" and writing a lot of self-regarding tripe is what makes it palatable for a certain demographic. Henry Blodget's Business Insider does the same kind of thing.

Advertisers, apparently, love manchildren, as long as their disposable incomes are sufficiently high.

The new site is called PandoDaily, and given the circumstances surrounding it, the name seems almost as if it were chosen, defiantly, as a straight line. It will be regularly referred to as PanderDaily -- mark my words. (Indeed, that's already happening.)

Lacy, like her TechCrunch compatriots, seems as enamored with herself as she is about anything else. But her greatest claim to infame is still the cover story she wrote for BusinessWeek about six years ago claiming that founder Kevin Rose had "made" about $60 million in 18 months. Digg was breaking even at the time, and that number was basically made up. The cover line about the $60 million was really the editors' fault, but the article, in all its shallowness and hype, represented everything that had gone wrong with BusinessWeek under its previous ownership, and which has long been a problem with tech coverage in general -- a problem that, lately, has reached new heights as web publishers grow more and more desperate for hits, and more and more prone to circle-jerkery. (BusinessWeek itself is now owned by Bloomberg, and is better than ever, staffed as it is by real pros who put readers' needs first).

Shallowness and hype seem to be part of the plan for Pando, too. Lacy's shtick is to be shamelessly enamored of "entrepreneurs." She uses the word -- a lot. She is generally not, shall we say, a skeptical reporter.

That lack of skepticism is almost certainly the main draw for the people and venture funds that are investing $2.5 million in the site. It reads like a who's who of Silicon Valley, including Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, CEO Tony Hseih, and a whole bunch of other financiers and venture firms.

Gawker's Ryan Tate sums up the situation nicely with his headline: "Tech Industry Buys Itself a Mouthpiece." Returns on the investment aren't important here -- they don't have to be, since $2.5 million, spread over that many funds and superrich people, is nothing. They aren't looking for profits, they're looking for PR. And that's just what they're going to get.

As has been well documented, Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch (whose CrunchFund is one of Pando's investors), has a complicated relationship with ethics. Which is to say, he doesn't actually have any. When he announced that he was going to invest in some of the companies TechCrunch was writing about, AOL (to whom he had earlier sold the site) fired him after a long and silly dance that involved AOL stumbling over what to do and various TechCrunch writers repeatedly declaring what streetwise rebels they were, in the process coming off a bit like George Costanza when he tried to be a "bad boy." Ultimately, not only Arrington, but also Siegler and Carr, and later, Lacy, left the site.

In Pando's case, nearly every item it publishes will carry some kind of conflict, given the number and length of its investors' tentacles.

Lacy addressed this by saying, basically, "La la la, whatever!" Actually, she declared of her writing both for and about her investors: "Some people will call this a conflict." It "is certainly messy," she said, but, "We are unashamedly part of the startup community. We love it and are advocates for the best parts of it, while we'll aggressively call out the worst parts of it."

The "unashamedly" part is clearly true. We'll have to see about that latter promise, though. "Either way," she wrote, "we'll disclose everything."

Ah, yes. "Disclosure." This is Arrington's watchword, too. It's based on the addled idea that, as long as you disclose the fact that you're shamelessly shilling for some company, it's okay to shamelessly shill for some company. Which is better than not disclosing, but it still raises the question of how readers are served. There are sites that publish press releases, after all. And there are already way too many sites -- an appallingly large number -- devoted to technology, some of them truly independent and not afraid to call bullshit when they see it.

Some of them even avoid making press releases their main source of tips.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell


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