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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

PandoDaily Is Really Very Terrible

Posted By on Tue, Jul 9, 2013 at 1:05 PM


Badness emanates from PandoDaily all the time, but the site has been especially reeky lately.

Pando is the tech-news site with corruption built right into it: Its investors are a whole bunch of financiers with fingers in nearly every Silicon Valley pie. Just about everything the site publishes touches in some way on the business interests of its owners. But its biggest problem from the perspective of a news consumer isn't so much that the site is so shamelessly shilly -- it's that it's so shamelessly silly (not that these things are unrelated).

The site is as light as graphene aerogel, and it produces little that could be considered useful or insightful. Certainly, there isn't much in the way of industry criticism there, but that's not necessarily, by itself, a big problem. Many trade magazines tend to shy away from criticizing the industries they cover, but that doesn't necessarily render them stupid.

Much worse is Pando's general bubbleheadedness and a preening self-regard that is so woefully misplaced here that it actually makes for a rather amusing spectator sport.

Case in point: The public radio show Marketplace last week decided to elicit Pando editor Sarah Lacy's opinion on the BART strike. What Lacy offered wasn't so much an opinion as it was a word salad, but, what the hell, Marketplace threw it in there anyway. "If I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause," Lacy said (the hilarious presumption being that she has any friends who are BART drivers.) And if BART drivers "had more friends who were building companies, they would probably realize we're not all millionaires, and we're actually working pretty hard to build something. People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions."

Whatever your take on the BART strike, or on unions in general, you have to recognize that statement as being incredibly vacuous. It's hard to pin down precisely what she means, but it appears that Lacy is saying that everybody should be building companies, and not allowing themselves to be stuck in dead-end train-operator jobs (or, presumably, dead-end teacher jobs, or dead-end migrant-farm-worker jobs). In other words, she's out-Randing Ayn Rand. Or maybe she simply means that BART drivers need to be more sympathetic to people in the tech industry, who work so hard, and that those drivers shouldn't be so selfish as to try to get their pay increased. Or maybe she means something else entirely, hard to tell, but it's clear that Lacy actually believes that Silicon Valley (or at least the "startup culture" she champions and believes she's a part of) is a "meritocracy." Lots of people believe that, of course, but given that Silicon Valley is more of an asskissocracy than any other kind of ocracy, and that Pando has the Valley's biggest, juiciest set of lips, you'd think she'd be the first to know.

Presumably, Marketplace decided Lacy was the go-to person for Silicon Valley's take on the BART strike because of a column she had recently written on the subject. Here again, it's hard to tell what she was on about, but she concluded the thing by writing that it's "too bad no one is working on disrupting BART. "

"Disrupting" is an industry buzzword that tends to be applied, especially by outlets like Pando, to any tech company doing anything that's marginally new and that might make money. (It actually means something else entirely, but whatever.) Sam Biddle of Gawker, who has made hilarious sport of Pando and Lacy, imagined Lacy's head "spinning with dreams of equity-hungry Stanford dropouts dynamiting tunnels through mountainsides" in order to "disrupt" BART.

As if all that weren't enough, Pando last week also found itself in a bit of trouble when it published a story stating flatly that the Los Angeles e-commerce startup BeachMint was going belly-up, that its two co-founders had been fired, and that 20 million of its dollars were being returned to investors. None of that, it turns out, was strictly true -- in the sense that it was completely false.

When Pando was informed of this fact, it didn't run a retraction or an apology. Rather, Lacy wrote an "update," which consisted of her expression of surprise that what her site had published was apparently 180 degrees opposite of reality, and her insistence that something, somewhere, must have gone wrong, but it couldn't possibly be that Pando had simply made a whopping mistake by relying on the wrong sources. "So where does that leave the veracity of our story?" she rhetorically asked. "We're still trying to conclusively figure that out." Incredibly, even for her, she wrote "At this point, I can say with certainty that our reporting was not '100% false,' but -- as with most breaking news -- it's appears not to be 100% accurate."

That makes it sound like the site muffed a couple of details, when really the entire premise of the story was, in fact, 100% false. When you think as much of yourself as Lacy does of herself, it's simply not possible that you can make any big mistakes. And if big mistakes happen, they must be somebody else's fault. In this case, it was apparently the BeachMint founders' fault for having been dickish to Pando in the past. "Note to entrepreneurs," Lacy wrote. "This is why being straight with reporters is generally a good policy. It means you get the benefit of the doubt in cases like these."

The reporter who wrote the initial story, Michael Carney, apparently has bad relations with the company (whether that has anything to do with the competing interests of any of Pando's investors is hard to know, but it wouldn't come as a shock), so maybe that explains why he apparently didn't even try to contact BeachMint's founders, or any representative of the company, or of its board, before writing the story based on the declarations of anonymous sources whose interests he didn't even hint at. Despite this utter lapse of basic journalistic practice, Lacy defended Carney's reportorial chops in part by calling him "a huge advocate for the scene" -- meaning the tech scene, or, in PandoSpeak, the "ecosystem."

And that should tell you everything you need to know about Pando. Imagine the Associated Press bragging about one of its congressional reporters being "a huge advocate for the Capitol Hill scene."

All this stuff sticks out, but it's mostly in the day-to-day publication of pointless nonsense that Pando's awfulness shows itself. It runs a lot of stuff about this or that company getting this or that piddling amount of venture financing, with the company in question often characterized as being all set to "disrupt" something or other. Many of these stories consist of little more than a CEO crowing about how great his firm is, and all the disruption he has in store.

And it runs hysterically bad columns by Bryan Goldberg, the odious, inarticulate founder of Bleacher Report, the notorious, drivel-generating content mill. Goldberg is on the board of Wall St. Cheat Sheet, an opinion site about finance. Last week, Pando published an item about that site based on the declaration by one of its founders that it grosses about $15 million a year with, as Pando put it, "profit in the millions." Is that true? Maybe, but given Pando's penchant for just slapping up stories based solely on CEO interviews or press releases, and given what happened with BeachMint, I wouldn't bank on it.

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Dan Mitchell


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