On any given day, beneath the hype cycle of startups threatening to launch, then getting their VCs to blog/tweet about their launch threats, then pre-launching, then fueling PR/hype about their pre-launches, then putting up a special access code on select blogs, then their official launches,* some darker aspects surface.
Sometimes it’s one startup stealing another’s idea, sometimes it’s a VC bullying a founder to get in on a deal, and sometimes it’s the blatant abuse of power by some of our industry’s most visible “heroes.” Or yesterday, a founder threatening our writers.
Other times an executive is fired, yet the tech press covers it as them “leaving the company” or “stepping down.” Or a startup fails and sells itself for scraps to its old CEO friend who takes pity, and Twitter is filled with congratulations. Yet, tech blogs — yeah even us — turn a blind eye.
It’s dangerous how embedded we are in what we cover. These founders, these VCs, these employees being laid off, are some of our closest friends and sources. Our community is so tight-knit that you could be writing about a CEO getting fired at 2 p.m. and then sitting next to her at a demo day at 4 p.m. Or you have to ask her to speak at your event. Or she is literally your investor.
These entanglements have made my ilk squeamish about any forms of coverage that might reference the darker side of business, or anything that skirts the “personal” line. Neither ATD nor TechCrunch referred to a documented harassment incident at Stanford when covering Keith Rabois leaving Square for alleged harassment. While it would have totally made sense to do so from a background perspective, neither publication did it.
We as an ecosystem need a watchdog with enough independence and daring to call it as it is. Right now the closest thing we’ve got to anyone who writes from a relatively outsider perspective is Dan Lyons, and the biggest problem there is that he’s unnecessarily mean-spirited. This watchdog would need to be a savvy, ballsy type of person, and all of their posts would need to transcend mere gossip.
The new Valleywag would also need to be organized such that there would be no quota for articles per day, as forced, low-signal posts killed the site last time around. Some days nerds just aren’t that juicy — but that doesn’t mean you should make stuff up, be spiteful or make Julia Allison famous again.
Tech news is largely driven by what’s working and what isn’t, what has traction and what doesn’t, what is making money, and what isn’t — So when a piece of information is surprising in any of those ways, it’s relevant news, even if it’s iffy or personal. Scamville was a form of that: If so much Zynga revenue depended on scams, then Zynga’s success was at risk. The same with the Airbnb apartment-trashing story, which major tech blogs resisted covering for a month until Mike did.
Our libertarian-leaning community doesn’t necessarily care who is getting naughty with whom in the privacy of their homes. But they do care when personal greed and corruption undermine the fair play that our aspiring meritocracy, um, aspires to.
TechCrunch, and other sites, shouldn’t be averse to exposing the seedy personalities behind the game or covering a few interesting Jack Dorsey outfit choices, but we often fail to because it is not our primary function: We flourish when we write pieces on corporate intrigue and M&A rumors, but there seems to be some unspoken rule that we stay away from the personal stuff. “If I wanted to read US Weekly, I’d read US Weekly,” our comments sections cry out when we fly too close to the gossip sun.
We often fall short of the messy truth because sometimes it is just too messy to be a pure “industry” story, and because we’re entrepreneur-friendly at our core. But the flaws, foibles, silliness and mistakes we humans make as we navigate the tech business are learning experiences, and shouldn’t be shoved under the blog rug.
*To the person who tweeted this apt characterization earlier today, please contact me so I can credit you.
Image via Thomas Hawk