The Next Web imploding, PandoDaily in shame… yes, technology journalism still needs to be fixed

Monday, 22 July 2013

July has been a rough month for tech blogs. Robin Wauters, a talented startup reporter, announced just now that he has been let go from The Next Web. Brad McCarty is also out the door. But they’re not the only ones.

Wauters wouldn’t be drawn on the subject and I don’t know McCarty, but I am told by those in the know that both Alex Wilhelm, who posted obliquely on the subject last week, and one other (very senior) person I can’t name yet are leaving the site, too.

They join Matt Brian, Jamillah Knowles, Anna Heim and Amalie Agathou as people who either left or were fired from TNW already this year. If you spot a trend there, you’re right: all the good reporters are going or gone.

“I have no clue which direction they plan to go,” says one source. “They’re clearly not profitable nor able to keep talent. [TNW] is going to stop covering news though, that at least I know.”

Meanwhile, PandoDaily has been humiliated in the most abject manner, immediately after having to deny claims that it has already burned through all its funding.

Let me be clear: I take no pleasure in any of this news after my own horror story earlier this year. If anything, it’s simply another cautionary tale about how hard it is to make a media business work.

I believe it comes down to quality, integrity and strong editorial direction. These sites aren’t turning a profit because they aren’t providing a good enough overall product.

If there’s any light on the horizon here, let it be more media entrepreneurs betting the farm on quality, rather than rehashed press releases and made-up news.

Because, if you ask me – quite aside from various financial woes – readers are getting pretty sick of the sloppiness, contempt for basic journalistic ethics and downright terrible writing that has plagued technology journalism for so long.

 

Second chances

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Kernel2Suspending publication at The Kernel in March this year was a painful and humiliating process. I’d been too arrogant about my ability to run a business and allowed a combination of starry optimism and financial incompetence to bring the company to its knees. In the end, it caught up with me and I had to admit failure.

But though the business behind it was a commercial disaster, I am enormously proud of much of the journalism The Kernel published. All things considered, it was a terrific editorial success, thanks to the hard work of our brilliant writers.

That’s why I’m thrilled to be getting a second chance at making it work.

I’m delighted to announce that BERLIN42, parent company of the Axel Springer-backed hy! event series, is relaunching the magazine with fresh investment and a proper commercial team. I will at last have a proper CEO overseeing me, so I can concentrate on writing, editing and commissioning the best technology journalism in Europe.

There won’t be a Nutshell. There might be some ads. There will be a lot more video and picture content. And the vindictive excesses of the editorial (I’m talking to myself here) are going to be quite severely curbed – without losing The Kernel’s unique sense of humour.

But, yes: The Kernel is coming back.

The last two years have been an emotional rollercoaster for me and those involved with the project – many of whom, I am delighted to say, are returning as staff writers to the new and improved version 2.0. At the time of writing, six of the previous contributors are signed up to Kernel 2.0.

I’ve learned a lot about my own limitations and weaknesses. (To answer the inevitable question now in readers’ minds: I settled The Kernel’s outstanding debts personally in April.) It’s time to concentrate on my strengths, and I now have a team that will enable me to do just that.

You can read the full press release, which contains more details about what’s coming, below. The Independent on Sunday covered the relaunch in today’s paper. Their piece includes an interview with me and the new CEO. It’s online here.

The new and improved Kernel goes live on Monday 15 August 2013. In the meantime, I’m hiring. So drop me a line if you’re up for making some mischief.

 

Broadening horizons

Sunday, 14 April 2013

View from the office

I’m in the south of France, on a post-MIP creative retreat with a hand-picked group of technology entrepreneurs, television commissioners, network producers, actors, entertainment professionals and, later this week, a media-minded MP. We’re discussing TV formats, trends in media and ideas for new media business models in a villa nestled in the beautiful, mountainous French countryside above Tourrettes-sur-Loup.

And it occurs to me how dramatically the technology industry would be transformed, were founders to shake off the limitations of self-regard and spend their downtime with great minds from other worlds. The number of thrilling new business ideas discussed casually over Bordeaux and pâté is remarkable. It’s a testament to the organiser, my friend Robert Loch, that such catalysis is going on.

Then again, the space for this sort of thing is still wide open, because the entertainment industries are crying out for innovation and expertise from technology. The posers in the TechCrunch beauty parade haven’t the faintest idea how to interface with such enormous and lucrative industries and markets, so consumed are they by photo-sharing, by social networking and by congratulating themselves at shoddy conferences and laughably amateurish awards ceremonies.

Not least among the many reasons for start-up failure, it seems to me, is this utter lack of imagination, ambition and, yeah, sex appeal. We can do better. A little modesty is called for: rather than the frankly desperate cult of “disruption” and its systemic disdain for the content industries (and just about everyone else), entrepreneurs would do well to take a moment and try learning from those they arrogantly suppose their platforms and APIs are set to displace.

The future is more complex – and collaborative – than you think.

 

I’ve just seen Moonstruck

Monday, 1 April 2013

Not only the best sex scene in all of cinema, but:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed.

 

Who is bankrolling Johann Hari?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Johann Hari, in a hastily-written and poorly spelled blog post has announced his decision not to return to the Independent. Instead, he will be jetting around the world to write a book “on a subject I believe is important and requires urgent action”. What scandal is he about to uncover? The pimping of underage boys by their incestuous older brothers, perhaps? We can only guess.

The other thing we don’t know is who is bankrolling this vanity project by a liar and suspected pornographer who has yet to apologise personally to any of the people he viciously libelled. Because, if Johann Hari is actually at Columbia “retraining”, as he claims, he will have needed to conjure up $50,000 just for the tuition fees.

The only celebrity currently associated with Hari is Sir Elton John. The singer should be warned: this act of “gay solidarity” may come back to haunt him.

Years ago, Sir Elton was grossly libelled by The Sun newspaper, which accused him of using the services of rent boys. He should ask himself: does he really want his name to be linked with that of a self-confessed character assassin – and one suspected, moreover, of writing repulsive dirty stories about rent boys?

If Hari had shown genuine remorse for his crimes – and they were crimes, which could easily have landed him in court – people might now feel disposed to forgive him.

As it is, his latest conceited and incoherent piece of self-promotion will ensure that his name remains synonymous with plagiarism, mendacious fantasy and outright deceit.

And that’s before we even get to the subject of Hari’s finances, which Inspector Knacker might find repay close examination.

Oh, and Sir Elton: perhaps you ought to warn your chambermaids about your young visitor’s less-than-sanitary toilet habits. The brilliant young writer is apparently too preoccupied with exposing injustice (or thinking about donkey-dicked black teenagers) to remember to flush. Wire hangers at the ready!

 

Review: The Iron Lady

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Margaret Thatcher is a divisive figure, it is true. There are normal people who stand in awe at the enormity of her accomplishment, the depth of her integrity and sincerity and the strength of her resolve as a fearless woman in a cruelly misogynistic world. Then there are the whingeing fuckwits who say they can’t stand her as a way of courting popularity with their mates.

But whatever your view of Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister – actually, let’s make that greatest ever Prime Minister – if you have an ounce of human sensibility in your body you can’t but be appalled at the callous abuse of a woman in her twilight years for such shallow dramatic purposes.

I say shallow because there is no artistic purpose whatsoever to the depictions in this film of Maggie as an aging half-wit. They only serve to reduce the time available to its admittedly sublime highlights: those moments during Thatcher’s leadership – her triumphant acceptance speech on May 3, 1979, her fearlessness and clear thinking during the Falklands conflict – that the film manages to re-enact with almost their original grandeur.

 

Stephen Lawrence: a spectacular victory for the Daily Mail

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The guardians of Britain’s social conscience have had a confusing week. Two of the killers of Stephen Lawrence have been given life sentences, thanks in large part to the crusading bravery of a newspaper determined to expose the racism that inspired the crime.

Our moral arbiters have been forced either to concede, through gritted teeth, that without that other newspaper’s brilliant campaign to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice that all five of the thugs would still be swaggering around south-east London or, perhaps worse, shut up entirely and miss the best opportunity in a decade to trash the working classes they despise so much and take up their harps for the causes of diversity and multiculturalism.

Had the paper not published that front page, and taken up a ferocious campaign thereafter to bring the killers to justice, the extraordinary chain of events that followed would never have come to pass. Stephen’s parents would never have had justice for their son’s brutal stabbing.

It was, of course, that paper’s valiant gamble on 14 February 1997, when it branded Gary Dobson, Neil and Jamie Acourt, Luke Knight and David Norris as murders, that gave the case a new lease of life after an initial failure by the police to secure a conviction.

And, as the paper’s editor said this week, it was an enormous commercial and editorial risk. Had the any of the five won a legal action against the paper, it could have landed him in prison and cost the owners vast sums of money. So, under normal circumstances, the paper would now be the toast of Fleet Street.

 

The pitiful cult of ‘data journalism’

Friday, 30 December 2011

Originally posted at Blottr.

Times were that you could pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and be simultaneously educated and entertained by their informative infographics, which were lovingly crafted from authoritative data and accompanied by judicious analysis. The key to success with these graphics was that they explained something about the data you might not have gleaned simply by looking at a column of numbers. The Economist, too, was pretty good at revealing trends and interesting correlations with clear, unfussy graphs.

Then something odd happened. The nationals started getting a taste for these fancy ways of explaining data. But in imitating the method, they forgot the purpose, and began to drizzle their pages in useless, stupid pie charts that added nothing to the written stories beside them. Were they just filler, to paper over declining ad sales? The question was asked at the time, and continues to be pertinent.

More likely is that the hubris of the newsroom – the “Who can do me one of those?” you so often hear from editors – led to generalist publications over-reaching themselves. Pick up any newspaper today – particularly, in the lst half-decade, the Independent, and you’ll see that the results can be gruesome.

The apotheosis of the trend toward explaining everything as if to children is seen on the BBC, particularly during elections. You might think it normal that a broadcast medium would rely more heavily on visual help, but, apparently, the population of the United Kingdom is now so breathtakingly stupid that they cannot digest even the simplest percentage or set of figures without a gaudy illustration of it looming over the presenter. The visuals are rarely instructive, and usually distracting.

 

Introducing The Kernel

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

From an in-depth examination of how technology is reshaping our lives, to rumours on the entrepreneurial social scene, The Kernel will take on every question in business and technology.

On Monday, the first issue of The Kernel will go live. I say “issue”, but as a digital magazine we’ll be publishing articles throughout the month. Our big pieces and many of our features – the flagship essay, interviews and our digital “agony aunt” column – will, however, appear monthly. In the intervening periods, you can look forward to sharp, entertaining analysis from guest experts, who will attempt to explain how technology is changing our lives, and pieces by our regular columnists. Don’t expect a packed publication schedule right away: we’re about quality, not quantity.

Breaking news isn’t really our thing, which is why you won’t see a news section on the site. We think that market is crowded enough already. Instead, The Kernel will offer comment, reports, analysis and thoughtful and amusing writing about technology, media and business: long-form, high-quality content that gets people thinking. Some of our content is for those in the technology industry; other pieces have more general appeal. You can help us as we find our voice by letting us know which pieces you’re enjoying and which you’re not.

We’re big on entrepreneurs. Not just those in the Silicon Roundabout beauty parade – though we’re certainly covering them too, with tongues planted appropriately firmly in cheek – but the businesses and inventions you don’t hear so much about that promise to revolutionise industries, and the social, political and personal ramifications of technological innovation. We’re also about the people, places and ideas behind the headlines, which is why you’ll find a cheeky and irreverent Scene section about the individuals and events helping to usher in those disruptive ideas and products. There’s also an Editors’ Blog – a place for snappier, short-form content which will be updated more regularly by our senior writers.

The Nutshell

But the website is only half the story. Our email bulletin, The Nutshell, is where much of the action will happen. What were the biggest stories this week? Who’s had a good week? Who’s had a week they’d rather forget? Who was spotted where, and with whom? The Nutshell comes out every Friday afternoon and contains intel, rumours, tips, sightings and speculation, as well as a round-up of the best content on the web, our own and from other blogs, newspapers and magazines.

There’s nothing else like The Nutshell in Europe. We think it’ll rapidly become the must-read weekly bulletin for anyone working in or interested in technology in Europe – which is why, in the future, The Nutshell will be a paid subscription. But if you sign up now, you’ll get it for free for the first three months and you’ll get the option of a discounted rate when we switch to a paid subscription model. We’ll also keep you posted on developments back at The Kernel. There’s no obligation beyond your first three free months, so go ahead and pop your email address in the box below.

You’ll be able to submit tips for inclusion in the newsletter if there’s something you’d like to see appear, whether it’s a brilliant article you’ve read this week or something juicy you’ve overheard at the office. Look out for the tips box on the website on Monday. Of course, everything you submit to us will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.

Mission statement and values

We believe that much of the purpose of journalism is to hold the powerful to account and to reveal facts and express opinions about which those in authority may be apprehensive or uncomfortable – not to act as a mouthpiece for others or a redrafting service for corporate press releases. We will scrutinise those in power, fairly and without fear or favour, but always with a consideration of public interest.

We will be transparent about our methods and honest about our mistakes. Our deep and excellent connections in the emerging technology industry mean that writing about people we know will be unavoidable, but we will disclose relevant conflicts and let readers decide whether our opinions are trustworthy. We encourage you to write to us, to comment on what we publish, and to write responses of your own, which we will point readers to if we consider them valuable contributions to the debate.

We also believe that scepticism and rigorous enquiry are central to the practice of journalism. Some of our writers hold very strong opinions. We see no shame in occasional contrariness when it is thought-provoking and well-argued, so we will encourage them to make their case forcefully, but with care, supported by appropriate evidence. No single writer or column should be interpreted as reflecting the opinion of The Kernel, and no writer is exempt from our exacting editorial standards and processes.

That doesn’t mean The Kernel has no opinions of its own: where there is consensus among our editorial board on a particular issue, we will use leading articles and editorials to express our view.

Finally, we believe that having a sense of humour is important. You can expect send-ups, satire, gentle teasing and even the occasional bit of coarse language from our columnists and on the Editors’ Blog. Technology is often not, in itself, a particularly enlivening subject, but we aim to make our writing entertaining as well as informative. As Kingsley Amis put it, “There’s little point in writing if you can’t annoy somebody.”

What you’ll see at kernelmag.com on Monday is a snapshot of the kind of content we think is lacking elsewhere. Much remains to be added and we look forward to soliciting the advice and contributions of our readers. Over the coming months, we will be adding new columnists, more staff writers and we will be listening to readers’ responses to our content. We are open to critiques of all kinds and we will be responsive to them.

So dive in on Monday, take a look around, and let us know what you think. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook to be kept up to date. And if something inspires you to write an article of your own, do get in touch.

Stephen PritchardManaging Editor
Milo YiannopoulosEditor-in-Chief

The Kernel

 

My new magazine launches 19 December

Friday, 9 December 2011

My new online magazine covering technology, business and innovation from a European perspective will go live to the public on Monday, 19 December 2011. We’ve assembled an excellent set of writers and commissioned some fascinating and thought-provoking content from entrepreneurs, investors and academics.

We’ll be in open beta until January, at which point more content will drop, we’ll announce the full line-up of columnists, the design will be finalised and we’ll have a party. That’s all for now. See here and here for background.

 

Competitive Daily Mail hating: the most tiresome game on the internet

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In offices up and down the country, there is one newspaper that invariably goes missing long before the others. It’s the one you hear people asking after; the one you see secretaries stuffing into their handbags on their way out the door. It’s not the Express, the Mirror or even the Sun. It’s the Daily Mail.

Now, you might say that the Mail appeals to the worst side of human nature. That it plays on our jealousies, our insecurities, our most antagonistic impulses. But that, of course, is precisely what makes it so fabulously readable. That, and the fact that the comment pages are packed with some of the best writers in the country. Who in their right mind would sneer at a full-page op-ed by Max Hastings, one of Fleet Street’s most distinguished editors? Or the eminently readable Stephen Glover? Who can resist a glance at Ephraim Hardcastle? And who can read one of Quentin Letts’ fantastically bitchy Commons sketches and not quiver with delight?

It is, by a considerable margin, the best serious newspaper in the country. (Indeed, one of the reasons the Telegraph’s news coverage is so good these days is that the paper is run almost entirely by ex-Mail executives.) And yet, if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ll know that this marvellous organ, this brilliant commercial product, this superbly well-crafted and expertly targeted editorial proposition is the subject of the most appalling daily abuse.

 

Is Simon Kelner throwing a lifeline to Johann Hari with his new journalism foundation?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Even though I made fun of it in my last post, I’ve heard there could be a serious purpose to Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation. Unbelievably, it seems that Kelner’s new enterprise may be Johann Hari’s route back into British journalism. The Independent has not sacked Hari, despite steadily growing evidence of his malicious lies, fantasies and character assassinations.

Current Indie editor Chris Blackhurst would like nothing better than to sack Hari – but his hands have been tied by Kelner, who apparently promised Hari that he would be welcomed back after “retraining”. Matters weren’t helped by Andreas Whittam Smith’s geriatric “inquiry” into Hari’s behaviour, which appears to have overlooked any piece of evidence that might force the star columnist’s dismissal.

Kelner’s foundation could well be in a position to employ Hari, thus allowing Blackhurst to quietly let him go. It’s no secret that, if the editor does welcome Hari back, he’ll have a newsroom mutiny on his hands. The real mystery is why figures as self-regarding as Baroness (Helena) Kennedy would allow themselves to be associated with a venture run by someone as discredited as Kelner.

Let’s see how long this silly venture lasts – and what use Johann Hari makes of it.

 

Revealed: The first ten lectures to be given at Simon Kelner’s new journalism foundation

Monday, 5 December 2011

Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation. Sorry, yes, let me repeat that. Simon Kelner, the editor who so shamefully covered up Johann Hari’s lies, has launched a journalism foundation – with money from the Lebedev family.

I guess you’re wondering about the principles and philosophies behind this esteemed new organisation. Well, thanks to my trusty spies at the Independent, I can exclusively reveal the first ten lectures to be delivered to lucky grant winners:

1. Covering up for sociopaths: an editor’s perspective

2. How To Succeed In Left-Wing Journalism Without Ever Really Telling The Truth

3. A Rose by any other name: choosing your sock puppet

4. They’re coming to take me away!: How to work the crowd for sympathy about your fragile mental health

5. Rose-tinted spectacles: how playing to the gallery over Israel and gay rights gets you off the hook for serious breaches of professional standards

6. The Liar, the Witch and the Orwell Prize: calling on influential friends in times of need

7. Gone with the Wind: basic sanitation for recently suspended hacks

8. Black Beauty: spice up your day off by penning racist gay incest porn

9. Headless: how to create harrowing but falsified narratives from war zones

10. The Joy Of Sex: how to seduce imaginary Nazis and Jihadists

Seriously, though: do Baroness Kennedy, Lord Fowler and Sir John Tusa – all listed as trustees of this new foundation – realise what they’re getting themselves into here?

 

More information about my new publication, and a call for submissions

Monday, 14 November 2011

I’m delighted to share with you today a bit more information about the editorial vision behind my new project. I’ll be revealing who’s behind it in the coming weeks: we are adding new team members all the time! And I’d like also to invite those people who want  to contribute to the magazine to submit their pitches this week.

So here’s our boilerplate.

******* is a quality online magazine that publishes the best writing about complex contemporary issues: principally, the way technology is rapidly changing our lives. We commission long-form reviews, comment pieces and essays from the best writers and thinkers we can find. Our focus is on the people, places, events and ideas that are refashioning the world around us.

We embrace controversy and unpopular opinions provided they are thought-provoking and well-argued. We are enthusiastic about software and the internet but we realise there’s a lot more to technology than just web and mobile.

Our writing is authoritative, sharply argued, thoroughly edited and often funny. We love discovering and nurturing new writers and sharing intelligent views and inside information gleaned from our deep and excellent connections in the industry. 

Our favourite phrase is: think bigger.

 

It’s time to fix European technology journalism

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Because the emerging technology industry is small, there’s a shortage of brilliant, opinionated writers with the wit and intelligence to make people smile, and, more importantly, think. The ones who are out there, for whatever reason, are not getting jobs. Instead, we have a glut of rather embarrassingly illiterate bloggers who, in their competitiveness for pageviews, feel pressurised into churning out rewrites of press releases and other people’s posts, occasionally over-reaching themselves to pen opinion pieces.

Start-ups have become conditioned to this cult of the mediocre, but it’s time to snap them out of it. Entrepreneurs who aspire to refashion the world around them deserve writing just as audacious and thought-provoking as their own ambitions. Unfortunately, as the technology sector in Europe has expanded, the quality of commentary around it has failed to keep up.

Depressing, isn’t it. Where are the columnists, the brave iconoclasts? The people who can make insightful links between technology and other disciplines, draw distinctions, see revealing connections? Why aren’t they being given platforms? And who is providing founders and venture capitalists themselves with a platform to share their expertise in pieces whose appeal reaches beyond the tech blogosphere? (Such an endeavour admittedly requires a patient editor. I’ve tried to do it once before, and it went down exceedingly well, but it was for a one-off project.)

Where, too, are the sketch-writers, the gossip columnists, the people writing about the people, places and events that shape the headlines? Fundamentally, people are interested in people, and we don’t hear nearly enough about the faces behind the technology that is so rapidly changing our world.