address: 1900 Eddy Street #6
San Francisco 94115
cell: 415 336 7547
Silicon Valley Watcher—Reporting on the business and culture of Silicon Valley is published by Tom Foremski, former news reporter and Silicon Valley columnist for the Financial Times.
By Tom Foremski
In May 2004 I became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time blogger. I had one of the top jobs in journalism and I had never blogged. Yet I knew in my gut that the timing was right, and that the business of online journalism would continue to improve while the print business model would continue to worsen.
I wanted to start relatively cleanly, without an already established blogging site and audience, and without the patronage of a long-time employer as many established bloggers enjoy.
I have nothing against that mode of operation it’s just that it muddies the waters surrounding the viability of online publishing. I wanted to see if there was a business model in blogging/online journalism. And nothing focuses the mind better or the business, than having to come up with money to support your family, landlords and bankers.
SiliconValleyWatcher quietly launched in late September 2004
I had taken much of the summer off, ostensibly to plan the Silicon Valley Watcher project, but ended not doing much except enjoying the summer and a break from nearly 25 years of full-time work.
Very soon summer was over and I knew I had to start blogging, personal brands can decay quickly and there was no sense in waiting until I had all my ducks lined up. I started in late September, very modestly, writing an entry or two a day. I didn’t even spam my friends or contacts about what I was doing because I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. I just let a few people know and I was thinking that I would prepare for a proper launch in early 2005. That would give me enough runway to try out the blogging software and play with the formats.
I had some money from savings and was able to pay for some help. Dida Kutz installed and configured the blogging software and did the site design and also copyediting. And I was able to pay Doug Millison, a former colleague and an online journalism professor, to contribute some blog entries.
From zero to influential in less than three months…
I was pleasantly surprised that several hundred readers became regular visitors within the first few weeks, and by the end of the second month we had thousands of unique visitors. Still, I was holding back on spamming my friends or contacts with “what’s new at the watcher” emails because I was only doing 1 per cent of what I wanted to do. I wanted to develop the site into a full-fledged online business news magazine focused on Silicon Valley—the tenth richest region in the world.
So you can imagine how shocked I was when in less than three months, in late December, SiliconValleyWatcher was named by Bacon's, the top media-tracking group, as one of the most influential and credible blogs in the US.
Ruth McFarland, senior vice president and publisher for Bacon's told the Media Post that the company had identified 250 of the most influential blogs. From the Media Post story December 27-2004:
"Bacon's is keeping tight raps on its blog list, which covers technology, politics, business, travel, and religion. The racy Wonkette, the Miami Herald's Dave Barry, and the Silicon Valley Watcher are three well-known blogs run by "reputable, credible professionals" that McFarland said will be on the list."
Wow. Wonkette, Dave Barry and….. SiliconValleyWatcher! In the same sentence, in the same breath, as the well established and very popular Wonkette, and Dave Barry, probably the most read columnist and humorist in America. I was shocked—I had no idea we had grown to be so influential in so short a time and that Bacon’s already had us on their top “watch” list!
The Year of the Rooster (and blogger)…
I started 2005 with a spring in my step and continued focus on creating a compelling editorial product. It was the year of the Rooster, another sign that the universe welcomed the blogger.
There is no better animal to represent the blogger than the rooster, crowing away (publishing widely) as loudly and as self-importantly as it can on its little patch of farmyard. I also had my long-time friend Chris Dichtel doing some copy editing and creating and inserting some graphics onto the site. And Dave Carpenter, a friend of Dida's has pitched in with spme copy editing. We copy edit for clarity and typos, not for style.
What’s the business model?
Lots of people take me aside and ask personal questions such as “what’s your business model?” To make money is my reply, but how? I wasn’t sure what the business model would be for blogging, but I knew one-half of the equation: build a compelling editorial product with professional standards.
It doesn’t matter if I have a brilliant business model if I don’t have a great product. I realized that in this Internet 2.0 phase, you have to produce a compelling product first, then monetise it. It used to be the other way around.
I already knew the traditional ways of building news readership in established media and that this also applied to the online world: scoops, exclusives, interviews, columns/opinions, and blogging added community involvement. Editorial content that can only be found on SiliconValleyWatcher is the key and that means getting out and about and being a reporter, and coming back with a notebook of scoops and exclusive content. Blogging-type content is important and fun but it is low on our totem pole. Writing about other people’s writings is interesting but rarely compelling. What compels people to visit a site is original content served freshly.
Feeding the blog or…feeding my kids, fixing my car, etc…
I soon realized I had a serious problem. I was spending so much time getting out and about and reporting that I had very little time to recruit and expand the business. Producing original content is incredibly time consuming. I had no time to figure out the best way to attract sponsors and advertisers and execute on that goal. I felt I had to concentrate on the editorial product above all else.
By early January I had run out of my meager self-financed startup capital and was unable to pay the small amounts I was paying Doug Millison, who left in January to pursue other paying projects. Dida Kutz left in mid-February. And Jochen Siegle, a journalist for Der Spiegel, the leading German business news publication, was snowed under by paying work and was unable to do much for SiliconValleyWatcher.
To top it all I didn’t have a car. It had broken down after a visit to Google in early December, massive amounts of smoke were coming out the exhaust. Not good, I thought. I’d rather put the money into the business than a new (old) engine and I left it in Google’s car park. But without easily available transport out of the city, things grew a tad more challenging. And worse of all, I hardly got to see my children Sarah and Matthew.
I was back to being a “stand alone” journalist. Fortunately, the universe abhors a vacuum.
The divine plan unfolds…
I had been speaking at various events and I met Richard Koman, a long-time journalist and editor, at the very excellent New Communications Forum conference in late January, when Dida was still working with me.
We hit it off immediately, and to show that this is all part of the divine grand plan, it turns out that Richard’s son Nathan is in the same fifth grade class as my daughter Sarah! I’m a weekend dad unfortunately, so I have very little contact with my daughter’s school, the very good Forestville Elementary. It is a 75 minute drive north of San Francisco, in the bucolic Russian River area of Sonoma county.
Richard is an excellent journalist and editor and was involved in the first search engine and other early Internet 1.0 projects when he worked at O’Reilly, the leading publisher of tech books. Richard jumped into the SiliconValleyWatcher project with great gusto. Before I even had a chance to introduce him to our readers he had posted four or five entries!
Also, in mid-February, Nick Aster joined and became our media technology architect, which was another win. Nobody but nobody has more IT experience in the commercial application of blogging software and related media technologies than Nick. He installed the IT media infrastructure for Gawker Media, based in New York. Nick Denton’s Gawker publishes Wonkette, Gawker, Gizmodo and many other very high-volume news blogs. Nick Aster also worked at Moreover, the leading news aggregator. And he lives but a 15-minute walk from SiliconValleyWatcher HQ.
In addition to improving SiliconValleyWatcher, Richard and Nick will also help establish a consulting group that can offer a menu of IT and editorial services to help others do what we do.
Our first sponsors approach…
We signed up our first sponsors in March 2005. Again, this was a surprise because Tibco Software and Infineon Systems came to us. I knew them, of course, through my 20 years in Silicon Valley, but I had not approached them. I would have, if I had the time, but I was completely swamped with work.
So we now have two Foundation Sponsors and we’d like to add four and make it into a small but exclusive group. We will have regular monthly revenues to pay for more journalists, editors and geeks! Our sponsors allow us to concentrate on producing great content instead of selling ad campaigns and we are very grateful. We have some innovative things we want to do to involve our sponsors in a new type of interactive format rather than just a static graphic icon—more on that very soon.
The killer applications of Internet 2.0...
I continue to speak to tech companies, PR firms, and corporate communications teams, and at conferences on the subject of blogging and the enterprise. I truly believe that these media technologies (which is what I’m calling blogging software, wikis and related) are killer applications and will be seen to fuel much of the Internet 2.0 phase that is developing. And there are lots of great stories to write.
I will add more in this section as things develop. You can also read about our plans for various media ventures; our philosophy about our “walled garden” approach to protecting our readers from a deluge of “phishy” commercial messages; and our willingness to challenge traditional media business models whenever the opportunity arises.
Some of this you can find by looking in the SiliconValleyWatcher categories such as “About” and “Columns/Essays” and “New Rules Enterprise”--the dotcoms of Internet 2.0.