Foster Kamer at Village Voice:
Gawker Media owner Nick Denton Tweeted earlier this evening, asking if the rumors he’d heard about Business Insider editor John Carney’s firing were true. Well, Nick, here’s your answer: John Carney, managing editor of financial news and gossip vertical Clusterstock at Business Insider, was let go this afternoon by B.I. owner Henry Blodget, we’ve confirmed with sources familiar with the matter.
This…is going to take quite a few people by surprise. Nobody from the company we spoke with certainly saw it coming, either.
We’re told Carney was fired by Blodget this afternoon, and it was speculated that this was the result of the last few weeks of disagreements between Blodget, publisher Julie Hansen, and Carney over how to best run Business Insider: Blodget wanted more sensational, pageview-grabbing posts and click-friendly features like galleries, while Carney wanted to put forth breaking news scoops that told a longer narrative. It was also speculated that Carney, one of the highest paid members on the Business Insider staff, wasn’t bringing the traffic numbers to sufficiently satisfy Henry Blodget, given his high profile within the financial reporting world, but that Clusterstock’s homepage had the highest traffic of all the verticals at Business Insider during Carney’s tenure, and that his own stories generated “tons of [unique visitors].”
The mention of Carney’s salary is also indicative of a newfound focus on cashflow at TBI. There’s a finite number of name-brand financial bloggers out there, and when you hire one of those brands, you do so in large part for the respect that gives your franchise as a whole, rather than doing silly math about whether the ad revenue from his pageviews justifies his monthly paycheck. Blodget wants to be taken seriously as a financial news outlet: he wants to compete directly with the FT. And to be able to do that, he’s going to have to be able to hire talent. After today’s events, however, he’s going to find it extremely difficult to hire any respected financial journalist with a reasonably secure job.
Carney certainly has his idiosyncrasies, and he wouldn’t last a week at Bloomberg, but he’s perfectly open about them, and one of the great things about media companies in general and blog companies in particular is that they’re pretty good about letting the talent do what it needs to do, just so long as the stories keep coming. And Carney always kept the stories coming. What’s more, the beating heart of Clusterstock is the dynamic duo of Carney and Joe Weisenthal; now that he’s fired Carney, Blodget must know that he risks losing Weisenthal as well. If he loses them both, he’ll rapidly become something like 24/7 Wall Street or Minyanville: a site with lots of low-quality traffic and generally uninspiring editorial content. After all, left to his own devices, Blodget is prone to publishing silly and irrelevant stuff like this which is barely worth tweeting.
Kamer’s sources within TBI certainly don’t seem happy about this news, and on its face there’s a lot more downside than upside for Blodget in firing Carney. I don’t worry about John: he’s a huge talent who will certainly land on his feet. But if I was an investor in TBI, I’d be very worried about Blodget, and I’d be phoning him up right around now asking him what exactly he thinks he’s doing. Because this kind of thing is likely to lose him a lot of respect in the finance and media communities.
Update: It’s worth noting that Henry Blodget put a post up last week with the headline “The Internet Is Making Us Shallow and Vapid! (Or Maybe We Were Just Shallow And Vapid To Begin With)”. Clearly he’s come to peace with appealing to the shallow and vapid. And once he did that, I’m sure the decision to fire Carney was made easier.
The Blodget/Salmon TwitSpat at Clusterstock
Henry Blodget at Clusterstock:
A Reuters blogger attacked us on Twitter this afternoon.
Having gotten used to having his own journalistic efforts funded by a multi-billion-dollar finance-terminal business (which we, sadly, lack), he was apparently appalled that we care about producing content that people want to read.
Many of the folks kind enough to follow us on Twitter were bored to death by the exchange that followed. Some, however, were kind enough to say they enjoyed it.
In the hope that there might be others who would have enjoyed it had they been wasting time following Twitter this afternoon, here it is.
Yesterday, a Reuters blogger named Felix Salmon attacked Business Insider for, in effect, producing content that readers want to read.
Felix didn’t put it that way, of course, but he does seem to feel that a publication’s writers and columnists should not be concerned with whether readers actually want to consume the content they produce.
We, needless to say, disagree. We exist for you and because of you. And if you don’t want to consume the content we produce, we can only conclude that it’s because we’re doing a lousy job.
Felix’s views are shared by some journalists who work in mainstream media organizations, where there is still a lot of money coming in from old business models and where long, text-heavy content is the primary storytelling form (And no wonder: Newspapers sell more ads when they fill more pages, so stories run long). This is especially true at Reuters, of course, where the bloggers’ salaries are paid by a massively profitable global trader-information terminal that Wall Street folks pay thousands of dollars a month for — a terminal business that, by the way, the bloggers’ efforts don’t help in any way.
Let me be the first to tell you that we would LOVE to have a multi-billion-dollar global trader-terminal business to fund our online news operation. It would make life a lot easier and more luxurious. We hope to someday have a business like that. As yet, we don’t.
More importantly, we also think Felix’s criticism of our content is grossly unfair. We’re publishing a huge amount of content that is exactly what he thinks we should be producing — long, text-heavy analysis, original reporting, and commentary.
At this point, even I’m bored of the Salmon vs Blodget wars. But Henry has decided to grossly misrepresent my views, so it’s worth explaining in a bit more detail what I actually think about blog content and how it can and should be turned into money.
One of the first rules of blogging is to link a lot, especially if you’re writing about someone who has made their views freely available on the internet. For instance, my post on Wednesday about Blodget firing John Carney has seven external links, three of which are to Business Insider; my post on Friday about Business Insider’s economics had eight external links and one internal link, with six of the external links going either to Blodget’s site or his Twitter feed.
If you look at Henry’s post about me, however, it includes the word “Felix” five times, but he doesn’t link to me — or to anybody else — at all. Instead, he larded his post up with lots and lots of internal links. It’s easy to get from Henry’s post to somewhere else on his site; it’s impossible to get from his post to anywhere else on the internet, unless it’s someone who’s paying him for the privilege of advertising on TBI.
This is important, because Henry talks about how I “seem to feel” and about how “Felix’s criticism of our content is grossly unfair”. It’s simply wrong to blog such things without linking to the criticism in question and allowing your readers to make their own minds up about whether you’re characterizing it accurately — especially when Henry doesn’t even bother to quote me directly in his piece.
Now because Henry doesn’t quote me or link to me directly, it’s not clear exactly what he’s talking about. But the one thing that’s pretty clear is that he thinks that I think that TBI is failing to produce “long, text-heavy analysis, original reporting, and commentary”. Well, for the record, I don’t think that. But his tweetifesto does make it pretty clear that he judges such content in exactly the same way as he judges a dashed-off blog entry illustrated with a picture of two hot babes kissing: by how many pageviews it generates.
If you’re going to judge all stories using that particular yardstick, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to end up with lots of cheap posts with provocative headlines and/or photographs, and lots of slideshows which can generate dozens of pageviews per reader per post. And you’re going to end up firing people who are better at more thoughtful, longer-form content.
TBI’s lead developer, Ian White, left a comment on Henry’s post saying that TBI has published 2,547 stories in March to date — all with an editorial staff of 15, plus three interns. Ignoring weekends for the sake of simplicity, that works out at 8.5 posts per person per day. It’s the more-is-more sweatshop model: never mind the quality, feel the quantity. If you throw enough stuff up there, something’s bound to be a hit. And if you spend too much time and effort on any one post, the opportunity cost of doing so is large: you could be generating more pageviews by writing more, shorter pieces, or — better — putting together a slideshow instead.
This is a model which works until it doesn’t. It’s undoubtedly true that the more posts you put up, the more pageviews you get, and when you’re selling ads on a CPM basis, every extra pageview means extra revenue. It’s also true that if an airline charges a passenger $25 for checking a bag, that’s $25 of revenue it wouldn’t have had otherwise. But charging money for checking bags can result in lower revenues overall, and chasing pageviews can do likewise.
Choire Sicha at The Awl:
What do you do after you’ve fired blogger John Carney as managing editor of Clusterstock on grounds of lack of cheap sensationalism? Why not have a snippy little girl-spat with Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon! Go Henry Blodget, go! Show the tweens how it’s done.
Also, you know what? The Internet: Let’s Get Rid Of It.
I don’t agree with everything Henry Blodget has been saying, but between Blodget and Felix Salmon, Blodget sounds like someone who runs/has run a new media business before and Felix sounds like someone who’s never been anywhere near the business side. (And I say that with the caveat that Felix is a smart and agile writer. But I think he’s very naive about the granular economics of an online biz.)
Heather Horn at The Atlantic, with the tweets:
Here, we’ve edited it for readability, included some nasty one-liners from the bystanders, and tossed in the satisfying denouement.
- Salmon: “[Blodgett’s] business model: Take a story about M&A fees associated with AIG. Illustrate with 2 hot babes kissing. http://bit.ly/dexECw”
- Blodget: “[Salmon] blasts appalling collapse of journalistic standards: Illustrate boring stories with 2 hot babes kissing.”
- Salmon: “there are 2 journalistic issues here: the pic; and the fact that you’re running boring stories … there was no reporting involved in this story, yet it involved a significant amount of time to write it & find a pic.@nicknotned rightly says that the old days of link-plus-snark are over. Replacing with link-plus-babes-kissing is self-defeating … it’s like crack cocaine for blogs. You get a short-term high, but at the cost of long-term health and sustainability.”
- Blodget: “Wow, check out what Reuters is paying [Salmon] to do all day: http://bit.ly/92eVl2 Can I get a job at Reuters?”
- Blodget: “Can’t figure out who [Salmon] works for now — Columbia Journalism Review, McKinsey & Co., or CEO of Business Insider? … I mean, it is really astounding that Reuters pays [him] huge money to complain about things on Twitter all day …”
- Samurai Trader (unrelated Tweeter who starts attacking Salmon halfway through): “[Salmon] is a bitter Brit stuck in the States with a shit blogging job. If his research had value, he’d work for a fund. $$”
- Blodget (to Samurai Trader): “Well, [his] writing is excellent. That part I get. I don’t get why Reuters paying him to bitch/tweet at others” (turning back to Salmon) “if business model really the issue, can we have a $10 billion finance terminal cash-gusher to fund our newsroom with? … If you give us $10 billion a year to fund our newsroom, I promise we’ll publish some stuff that you like to read … And, by the way, one of the first things I’m going to do with that $10 billion is hire you. Because you’re excellent.”
- Salmon: “and then the second thing you’ll do is fire me. Because I don’t create enough slide shows.”
- Blodget: “But we can’t afford you if you just noodle around bashing people on Twitter all day”
- Salmon: “damn, you’re micromanaging me already, and you haven’t even hired me yet!”
- Blodget: “Okay, back to this glorious waste of time (thank goodness I’m the boss or my boss would be an idiot not to fire me … First, a confession: That tweet about firing you for not making slideshows was brilliant. I almost choked in sandwich line … But of course it’s not really about slide shows. It’s about producing content people want to read … Specifically, unless you’re subsidized by a trader-terminal, it’s about being read by enough people to pay your $ … And that’s where, honestly, I would be a bit worried about hiring you. Because you don’t seem to think that should matter … And now, unfortunately, although this is great fun, I have to get back to work. Because otherwise we’re going to go bankrupt … And then you would have one less site whose journalistic standards and business strategy you can insult!”
- Salmon: “Of course he turns it into a 25-page slideshow :-)”
- Salmon: “of course you cut out the ‘can I get a job at Reuters’ / no’ exchange…”
- Blodget: “Ahhh… apologies. I didn’t realize what that “no” referred to. I’ll add it.”
- Salmon: “RT @ChadwickMatlin: @hblodget turning his twitspat with @felixsalmon into a slideshow either tonedeaf irony or brilliant postmodernism”
Mike Taylor at Fishbowl NY
More Kamer at Village Voice:
So: this thing over? Smoke cleared? We got answers from both Blodget and Salmon on the entire affair. Granted, they’ve done a pretty good job of speaking on it themselves, but we figured it’d be worth it to throw them a few questions regarding less the argument’s subject matter, but more on the argument itself. And, of course, we got far, far more than we asked for:
Have you seen an increase in traffic because of John’s firing/the “discussion” between the two of you?
Henry Blodget: No. We’re large enough now that dust-ups only generate meaningful traffic when they’re with really high-profile folks. Felix is well-known and well thought-of in New York media circles (including at our shop), but most people in the real world have never heard of him.
With respect to John, he’s a good writer and a great guy, and we’ll miss him.
Felix Salmon: I don’t actually look at my traffic figures, so I don’t know the answer to that. But if I did get an increase in traffic, it probably wasn’t the core business-and-finance readers I was hired to write for. I should imagine that most of them sensibly ignored the whole thing. I did get a couple of hundred new Twitter followers, though.
Do you have any personal animosity towards Henry/Felix? Do you think he has any towards you?
Felix Salmon: No, and no. I don’t know if it’s germane, but I have *not* spoken to Carney about all this. Yet.
Henry Blodget: I was annoyed a few days ago when Felix insulted our entire staff, but I’m over it.
Henry, you’re clearly not of the mindset that writing for an audience and writing “good” content are mutually exclusive terms. But do you think there’s any difference between writing what people want to read and writing high-quality content?
Blodget: I absolutely think people want to read high-quality content, and our goal is for everything we produce to be top-notch. Where I think I differ with some traditional media folks is that, online, high-quality content takes many forms.
Online, high-quality can be everything from a 3,000-word essay to a 300-word analysis to a 9-word quote. It can be a single image with a telling headline. It can be a video, or a series of well-chosen links. It can be a well-organized multi-page presentation composed of graphics, images, and text.
All of those types of content can be produced well (high-quality) or badly (awful.) And whether they are high-quality or not will make all the difference in whether readers flock to your site or ignore it.
Felix, Henry seemed to imply that you think writing for an audience and writing “good” content are mutually exclusive terms. If you were given B.I. and were told to make it profitable now, how would you go about doing it? What’s the better way for Henry to do it? Is there one?
Salmon: Right, as I said about Politico today, if you write good stuff that a small insidery elite needs to know, mass traffic is likely to follow — no need for hot babes kissing or endless listicles. Meanwhile, your brand value when it comes to other monetization strategies will be vastly improved — it’s a lot easier to imagine people paying to go to a Politico conference than it is to imagine them paying to go to a conference organized by someone who’s proud to be “the Hooters of the Internet”.
More generally, if Henry has a need to be profitable now, that only confirms what I speculated in my original “Blodget fires Carney” post about a cash crunch at TBI. He has a VC-funded business model, and as such ought to be willing to lose money now if he’s building brand value for the eventual exit. If he isn’t being given the freedom to do that, that’s a sign that his investors have run out of faith and/or patience and/or money. And no, I don’t really have advice for a VC-backed CEO in that situation.
For fans of old-school New York media wars, this was fun. But is it “too insidery” for anyone outside of New York media to care?
Probably. That said, sure, it’s obviously making-of, behind-the-scenes action taking place in public, but it’s not irrelevant. Backroom accounts of the fights that yield the manner in which Washington, D.C., and Hollywood function become bestsellers often because they’re stories of how things we let affect our lives and consume come to be, and the insanity behind them from which they’re produced. The entertainment value of a widely read writer and the owner of a network of sites having a public war of words aside? It was a fairly educating experience, about a perpetually topical struggle — what makes “good” content and what makes “cheap” content — seen through two wildly different media perspectives. There’re worse, more pointless spats we could’ve watched. This one yielded decent results, and maybe a few people’s minds were changed on the way they view these issues after hearing opposing perspectives on them. Maybe everyone learned something. Maybe we all moved forward.
Not likely. But still. Maybe.
This is what Biggie and Tupac sound like on the same track. Pretty dope. Guys, don’t shoot each other.
Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair:
Their disagreement was perhaps the apotheosis of the perennial page views vs. ethics debate: Salmon accused Blodget of resorting to slide shows and photos of attractive women to lure in readers; Blodget responded that Salmon was being naïve. When S.E.O. deity/Gawker overlord Nick Denton stepped in and endorsed Team Blodget, the Tumblr-ing and Twittering masses were torn asunder. Now, after the fog of war has cleared, both Blodget and Salmon have weighed in on the controversy.
“[The Village Voice]: Do you have any personal animosity towards Henry/Felix? Do you think he has any towards you?
Felix Salmon: No, and no. I don’t know if it’s germane, but I have *not* spoken to [recently fired Business Insider reporter John] Carney about all this. Yet.
Henry Blodget: I was annoyed a few days ago when Felix insulted our entire staff, but I’m over it.”
Despite the lack of (public) personal animosity toward one another, both men still affirmed their original positions. Blodget defended his attention-grabbing editorial style: “Online, high-quality can be everything from a 3,000-word essay to a 300-word analysis to a 9-word quote. It can be a single image with a telling headline. It can be a video, or a series of well-chosen links. It can be a well-organized multi-page presentation composed of graphics, images, and text.” Salmon still condemned overly click-friendly content: “[I]f you write good stuff that a small insidery elite needs to know, mass traffic is likely to follow—no need for hot babes kissing or endless listicles.”
The truth, as it is wont to do, probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes—which is why this post about two journalists arguing about ethics is accompanied by a photo of a naked Gisele on a horse.