Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A report from New York city: Jim Finn moves up at IBM; Salon's comeback; the media industry moves to Silicon Valley (imho); Yahoo preps a new content channel; Trippi denies he received multi-million dollar payment; Jason Pontin's last weeks of freedom.

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 19, 2005

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

Report-from-NY.jpgMy apologies for the scarce posts lately but I've been out and about the past week, collecting some interesting stories from New York City and last week's Impact '05 media conference organized by Plesser Holland Associates.

Here is a brief report on my trip with a nod to the three-dot style of the late Herb Caen, SF Chronicle's master columnist. More detailed reports are on the way too...
. . .

Jim Finn's new job

It was good to see a lot of familiar Silicon Valley faces out in New York. It sometimes feels like Manhattan is a suburb of Silicon Valley.

Among the familiar faces was Jim Finn, who until late last year was the head of communications at Oracle. Jim went back to work at IBM earlier this year, and is doing very well. He was recently appointed head of comms for the IBM Americas group, representing about a third of the company.

Jim says he intends to get out to Silicon Valley on a regular basis to keep his contacts fresh. Right now, he says IBM only has one person in San Francisco.

I said he should definitely come out here on a regular basis because IBM doesn't have much of a "mind" presence in the Silicon Valley area. It is seen very much as an East Coast company, even though it has more researchers and a longer historical connection with this area than almost any local company. The hard drive and many other breakthroughs were made at IBM's labs on the West Coast,

Microsoft, for example, is doing a lot these days to strengthen its image in Silicon Valley. A lot of Redmond gold is being distributed. And if IBM isn't careful, it might become increasingly seen as an outsider while Microsoft becomes one of the West Coast gang...

. . .

Salon is back on track

Salon.gifIt was good to meet Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon. The last time San Francisco based Salon came onto my radar screen was last year when I was at the Financial Times and writing a story that the online magazine was quickly running out of money.

Things have changed and Salon is doing well and growing again, hiring journalists. Joan is a hard-boiled editor with newspaper ink in her veins. She can sniff out a great story even when thousands of other journalists are covering the same event, such as her coverage of the Katrina disaster.

Unfortunately, Joan and I decided to have just one more drink, on the basis it was just 9pm in San Francisco. We didn't think to consider the fact that we needed to be up by what would be 3am San Francisco time the next morning. . .


. . .

A blogger at the Yale Club

Yale Club.jpgI was staying at the Yale Club just next to Grand Central station in New York because hotel rooms were scarce and incredibly expensive. There was a big United Nations meeting and the Fashion week trade show was in town.

It was $500 for a single night at a Best Western, while other hotels were able to collect $900 and more per room.

Andy Plesser arranged my stay, and it was interesting staying at the club. Yale, as many know, is the alma mater for the Bush family.

Along the corridors leading to my room were photographs of groups of Yale classmen from the early 20th century. The photos were an interesting study. They had been taken over several decades, and although the dress of the Yale classmen differed, the look on their faces stayed the same. It was one of extreme confidence; the images almost swaggered.

That's what a good school will do: set you on your way in life with an extraordinary amount of self-confidence...and great personal connections too.

. . .

A media industry in decline

Whenever I'm in New York I feel like I'm in the coolest city in the world...this time it also felt like the hottest and most humid city in the world.

The warm, moist air stirred up by hurricane Katrina, made me melt into a walking puddle, especially when drenched by occasional torrential downpours.

New York is very cool partly because of its large media industry. The largest news and magazine companies have a heavy presence in midtown where I was staying. You can't avoid seeing their ticker tape news headlines whirl around their buildings, and their giant logos at night.

My alma mater, the Financial Times US HQ is there, and so are large offices of Reuters, CNN, Time-Warner, Hearst, etc.

But it's a shame that the center of the media industry has moved to Silicon Valley and nobody told New York :-)

I should write Mayor Bloomberg a letter about that. It would point out that many Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Ebay, are in fact media companies. They are technology enabled media companies.

They publish digital rather than paper pages but they carry content and advertising just like a newspaper or magazine paper page.

And our media industry is growing like gangbusters while New York's is not. Our media industry is hiring like crazy (Yahoo has 700 new positions to fill, Google a similar number) while New York's media industry continues to cut jobs and budgets.

. . .

Trippi denies multi-million dollar payment (again)

trippi.jpgI was on a panel with Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's political strategist. He masterminded an incredible political campaign that leveraged the power of the Internet and blogging to raise large amounts of money and mobilize millions of supporters. In the process, he changed all future polical campaign strategies.

I mentioned that in the political blogging world, there seems little concern about using the correct facts. Those communities prefer strongly partisan positions rather than factual discussions.

Joe Trippi said that he is a good example of that problem because it is often said that he was paid millions of dollars by the Dean campaign, yet the fact is that he did it all for free. And he is unable to completely set the record straight despite many attempts.

Also on the panel was Elizabeth Spiers, formerly of Gawker, and now editor of Media Bistro. She talked about how she and her friend Nick Denton started Gawker, which has become one of the most successful commercial online publishing ventures using the blogging platform. The moderator Brad King, web editor of Technology Review, kept things rolling and lively.

. . .

Yahoo plans content

Patrick Houston was at the Impact '05 conference. I hadn't realized that he had left Cnet five months ago and was now at Yahoo. He wouldn't say what he is working on except that it will move Yahoo towards some content creation in the tech space, along with aggregating content as Yahoo knows how to do very well.

Patrick, who also used to work at Business Week, said he couldn't resist the chance to build something new and try out some new ideas too. Look for an announcement of the new service in early 2006.

. . .

Oxford University's Google connection

After the conference, Patrick and I popped into a small reception at the club for a gathering of communications directors of the world's most prestigious business schools.

I had a fun time chatting with people from Paris, Barcelona, Dartmouth, and Oxford University's business school, and many others. Everyone was fascinated by the blogging phenomenon and how they might be able to use it to raise the profile of their business schools and top professors.

But I also pointed out that this phenomenon, combined with other factors, is part of a larger event that will fundamentally change the business environment for every company and result in what I call a "new rules enterprise." These are the dotcoms of this next stage of the internet and this time they do eat the lunch of larger competitors...

Interestingly, I found out that Oxford University will soon announce a ten million pound sterling (about $18m) innovation center. No word on where the funding is coming from. And the school wants to strengthen its connections with Silicon Valley further with guest lecturers and other events.

BTW, there is a strong Google connection here. Raymond Nasr, one of the senior execs on Google's communications team was made an honorary fellow of the Oxford Business school earlier this year.


. . .

Jason Pontin to wed

Bride&Groom.jpgJason Pontin, the former editor-in-chief of Red Herring, was in good form and looking forward to his honeymoon. Yes, ladies, he is taken, and taken with a lady from Iowa.

Nuptials are set for the end of October followed by a honeymoon in India, for which he has contracted the services of a Indian "honeymoon consultant."

Anybody that wishes to offer Jason honeymoon consulting advice or best wishes, can reach him at MIT's Technology Review magazine in Boston.

Jason was recently made publisher of the venerable tech magazine, and he remains editor-in-chief. Jason was excited about having two jobs and the changes that he was going to make at the magazine.

I asked him how he liked living in Boston? He said it was "a bit like living in Leeds." [Leeds is an almost featureless industrial town in the UK].

. . .

Other familiar faces included Caroline Hacker from the Horn Group, Kent Holland, and Martha Papalia from Cnet.

And a big thank you to Andy Plesser and his wife Kathy, who shared their home with me, a lovely renovated farmhouse in a wood on Long Island. It was nice to be out in the country yet still be so close to such a large urban center, I slept like a log.

. . .

I'm still very backed up on my email messages, my apologies if you are waiting for a reply. I hope to get through the thousands of messages by the end of this week. Please don't hesitate to call my cell if it is urgent, 4 one 5 three three 6 7547.

Also, the newsletter has not been going out, I'm looking for a newsletter editor, sorry about the interruption.

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