Ugly.


Paul Carr
June 28th, 2014

I’m going to be blunt, because I don’t want to spend another hour on this, let alone another day.

Over the past few days, following my decision to terminate (a horrible word, I know, but the correct one) two members of our editorial team, Pando has been the target of a smear campaign, the intensity of which I’ve never experienced before. The campaign began with a post on Gawker which  falsely claimed, without a shred of evidence, that I had been ordered to make the staffing changes by Pando’s CEO — my best friend and business partner, Sarah Lacy — on orders from her investors.

After that, the conspiracy theories began:

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 9.38.35 PM  Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 9.39.15 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 9.40.06 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-28 at 9.45.44 PM

I’m not going to get too deeply into the actual reasons for the firings, because I told both employees I wouldn’t comment on them publicly. I’m also not going to comment on specific severance payments or notice periods, except to say that reports the departing employees received neither are flatly untrue.

I will say this: As editorial director of a startup publication, I often have to make the difficult call to let go talented writers and reporters who, for one reason or another, are not a good fit at Pando. I have never been ordered (or even asked nicely) to fire someone, by anyone else at Pando, by any investor, by any lawyer, by any advertiser, by any subject of a story, government agency, man in black, or leprechaun. If I fire someone, it’s because I have decided — myself — that they are no longer right for Pando. That’s never an easy call to make, and we’ve had to say goodbye to some phenomenal reporters and writers. But if I learned anything from the failure of NSFWCORP, it’s that failing to make tough decisions at the right time can tank a company very, very quickly.

I understand why that reality is hard to accept for someone who has lost their job. It’s strangely more comforting to think that your dismissal was ordered by powerful, unseen forces. I also understand an attempt to stir up drama to secure new gigs.  That’s fine, we’ve all done that.

What isn’t fine, and needs to stop immediately, is the lie that Sarah, not me, is secretly responsible for the recent editorial staffing changes — and the vile abuse that is stemming from that lie.  I’ve said on dozens of occasions that I’m the only one to “blame” here: That both of the writers who are leaving the company were managed by me, and it was me who negotiated the terms of their employment, and termination. Sarah’s only involvement in the firing came when I told her what I intended to do. Her reply, verbatim: “It’s your newsroom, it’s your decision.” Any writer who has actually worked with Sarah at Pando will confirm her unwavering support of our editorial team.

I have been watching, utterly dumbfounded, for three days, while someone (or a group of someones?) spreads a lie that I am utterly blameless in the recent firings and that Sarah is the real villain who must be brought to justice in the court of social media.

I watched that narrative spread by anonymous sources, Twitter trolls and even — far more hurtfully — by one of those former employees, a person who I agreed to hire at Pando a very short while ago on the strict understanding that he was very likely not a perfect fit but that I was willing to take a risk so long as either of us could decide to end the arrangement at any time. The employee in question has spoken to Sarah a total of twice: once when I flew him to San Francisco at Pando’s expense to meet her in person and once when we flew him to our Southland conference to hang out with the rest of the team.

I’ve contacted him privately to ask why he is angry at Sarah and not me, but he hasn’t responded to the question. On Twitter he said he was not interested in discussing the subject, publicly or privately.

On Gawker:

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 10.35.10 PM

By email (after termination):

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 10.40.02 PM

 

But on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 9.46.40 PMScreen Shot 2014-06-28 at 9.49.13 PMI’ve asked friends and colleagues if they can help me understand what is going on. If the object is to smear Pando, why not turn both barrels on me? A narrative about us being corrupted by investors works just as well against me, doesn’t it? Especially when I’ve attacked publications like First Look for their clear conflicts.

What more do I have to say to make clear what happened here? Why are others so willing to repeat the lies about Sarah as fact? I feel like a kid brother with a mouth covered in chocolate, watching his sister be screamed at for stealing the cookie. Except in this case, Sarah isn’t just getting screamed at, she is being called a “whore” by anonymous Gawker commenters.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 10.44.45 PM

It took me until late last night to come to a conclusion, and it’s not one I share lightly. The Internet is often far too quick to suggest that gender and misogyny plays a part in disagreements which actually have nothing to do with either. In this case, however, I’m struggling to think of any other explanation for what’s happening here.

The fact is, I’m getting a total pass for something I have repeatedly said was my responsibility, while my female business partner is receiving the full blame. It seems to me that either the person or persons spreading the smears about Pando has decided that a female employer is deserving of abuse and scorn in a way that a male boss isn’t, or they’ve cynically concluded that a female boss presents a much easier target for an Internet hate campaign.

I don’t meaningfully care which of those two possibilities is correct. All I know is I feel angry, and sick to the soles of my feet, watching it play out. And it’s made all the more sick that someone who I brought into our company  —  and about whom Sarah trusted my decision, as she has done with all of my hires — is one of the people helping to lob the grenades.

In the past 72 hours, I’ve come to truly realize what female founders and CEOs in our industry deal with every day of their lives. That it took me this long to understand is another of my many failings.

The ugliness has to stop.

Uh huh.


Paul Carr
April 17th, 2014

Without further comment, here are two statements by the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, one from last month, the other from this.

“…the same Pando writer previously claimed without evidence that the ACLU received a $20 million donation from the Koch Brothers” - Glenn Greenwald, March 1st 2014

 

vs.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 6.34.35 PM

- Glenn Greenwald, April 16th 2014

Showing our workings


Paul Carr
April 1st, 2014

If you’re a regular Pando reader, you might notice something missing from the bottom of our article pages. That “recommended articles” block that used to point to other Pando posts and “related” links from around the web? It’s gone.

I want to explain our reasoning for the decision, not least because a few of you had complained about ads appearing recently in the block. But first, some background.

(And, no, none of what follows is an April Fool joke.  Those are banned on Pando.)

Three weeks ago, or so, we had a bit of a reshuffle here at Pando. More like a straightening of papers, really. The TL;DR version is that I became the company’s Editorial Director, with responsibility for setting and directing the news agenda on PandoDaily, but also for developing our overall editorial “product” across all the various Pando sites and services (more on that soon). Sarah will remain as Editor in Chief and CEO while Adam Penenberg becomes Editor at Large, allowing him to focus on the kind of big investigative stories for which he has become rightfully famous. You’ll be seeing a lot more of those from him in 2014.

Not before time, we also promoted David Holmes and Michael Carney to East and West Coast editor respectively.

We announced the changes internally to the team a while back (I’ve copied the relevant section of the “all hands” email below, if you’re into that kind of inside baseball stuff) but we decided not to make a big deal about it publicly, preferring to show rather than tell.

And yet. Over the next weeks and months you’re likely going to detect some subtle (and not so subtle) changes at Pando.

With our mission to “speak truth to the new power” well underway, I’m all too aware that power is going to start fighting back. That’s absolutely to be expected, and we’re ready for whatever counterattacks may come. Still, for all that others might throw at us, we should always be our own fiercest critic. Which is to say, we should be quick to identify anything about Pando that isn’t working as it should, or which might lead to even the appearance of ickiness.

You might have already noticed some of the steps we’ve taken, editorially, to improve transparency: for example, we now clearly state the number of hours we gave a subject to comment on a story, with a minimum of two working hours for all but the most breaking of news.

With Sarah’s blessing (and in large part at her insistence) I’ve also started a complete audit of every area in which the commercial side of Pando intersects with editorial. That includes obvious things like ad placements, sponsored posts and sponsored content series, but also anywhere where accidental commercial conflicts might slip in too, like unpaid guest posts, or news articles mentioning companies with which we have investors in common. My goal isn’t to remove ads from Pando — I’m told we’ve sold more ads and sponsorships already this year as we did in the whole of 2013. Rather, the aim at every point is to ask: “are we going out of our way to ensure readers understand how this message came to be on Pando, and why?” Our editorial/advertising divide is already strong but, by the time we launch our new site design later this year, I want us to be strides ahead of our media peers in terms of transparency and openness with readers. In most cases, that’s just a question of ensuring clear disclosures are in place — but if, along the way, anything we’re doing doesn’t pass that ickiness test, we need to either figure out a way to fix it immediately, or kill it dead.

And so it was with the recommended articles block. Over the past few weeks, since Gravity (which powers the block) sold to AOL, the external articles being suggested to Pando readers have gone from good to bad to hideous. A few days ago, reader Simon Craven sent me a particularly egregious example: an ad promising “dating tips that will get you any woman”. Then on Friday, I noticed a Gravity ad promising to “reveal” exactly “how people are paying LESS than $24 dollars for new Michael Kors purses” right next to the headline: “How to pick up any woman! This will shock you. ”

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 4.35.11 PM

I admit, that did shock me. There’s no amount of money that justifies that crap appearing on our pages. Within a couple of hours (with help from our tireless dev team, working on a Saturday night) it was gone.

(In fairness to Gravity, CEO Amit Kupur was mortified when he heard about the ads. We’re going to talk on the phone later this week and see if there’s any way to fix the problem, and guarantee the quality of future recommendations. If we can figure that out, then maybe we’ll bring Gravity back in some form. But that’s a gigantic “if”.)

The point in explaining this is partly so you know what happened to the Gravity block, but also to give me an excuse to share with you some of the efforts we’re making at Pando to continually improve the product we put our every day, and to solve some of the ethical and commercial challenges every media company is wresting with at the moment. We can’t promise to have all the answers, but we can at least promise to show our workings as we try to figure them out.

Here’s the relevant section of the email Sarah and I sent to the team a couple of weeks back…

Hi all,

Later this week, we’re adding yet another new face to our reporting team. Dan Raile will be joining us in San Francisco with a special focus on the “infrastructure” beat — that is, transportation, housing, fiber and anything else on the intersection of cities and technology.

As Team Pando continues to grow, we figured this was a good time to step back and assess how the newsroom works, and how best to use all of the talent we now have under our roof. Also, as we continue to break scoop after scoop, we have more eyes on us than ever before. This means more people relying on us to understand what’s really going on with the New Power, but inevitably it also means more competitors and critics waiting for us to screw up. With that in mind, this also seems like a perfect time to tighten up some of our processes, and make sure we’re giving you the support and time you need to do your best work.

You’ve likely noticed some of the changes already this morning (sorry we couldn’t get this email to you last night — we wanted to make sure everything was set before we did). Over the next few days, Paul will be setting up one on one calls with the whole editorial team to share some more specifics on this next phase of Pando’s development. In the meantime, though, here are the headlines….

— Effective today, Paul will take over the running of the newsroom. For those who work out of the SF office, you likely won’t notice much difference as he has already been taking on more of a day-to-day role in driving the editorial direction of the site in recent weeks. Hopefully the move won’t come as a surprise to anyone, though:  in a company like ours, it’s almost impossible to distinguish editorial from [how our website looks and feels] and it makes perfect sense that the same person have responsibility for both. Paul’s focus in the coming weeks and months will be continuing to develop the kind of reporting that is increasingly seeing Pando set the news agenda, locally, nationally and internationally. Again, he’ll be setting up calls with everyone over the next few days to explain more, and also to understand what stories you’re excited about covering: The goal is to ensure that you all have the resources and focus you need to do your best work. (To be clear, Sarah will remain as EIC, and she and Paul will continue to share a brain.)

— Having worked tirelessly to build the newsroom into the powerhouse it is today, Adam is shifting gears to become Pando’s Editor at Large. Paul’s new role frees up Adam to focus on the kind of HUGE investigative stories that he really wants to work on, and that have made his name legendary in journalistic circles (and on the big screen). Of course he’ll still be available as an invaluable senior editorial resource in the newsroom and at events, but his main focus will be on writing and reporting. This is, of course, fantastic news for our readers  — and we have a feeling he’s pretty happy about it too.

— David Holmes has been promoted to East Coast Editor, and Michael Carney to West Coast Editor. With Paul running both editorial and product, Sarah spending much of her time focusing on the business, and Adam working on flagship stories, we wanted to make sure the newsroom is in strong hands, no matter what hour or on what coast news breaks. As you already know, both David and Michael have a huge amount to offer in terms of mentorship and support to the editorial team and it’s long overdue that we formalized their position in the newsroom. On a practical note, this means that — most days — before 10am Pacific David will be the senior editor on duty in the newsroom, and there will be other times when Michael is on deck. At those times, they’ll be the ones making all editorial/scheduling calls, including spiking or delaying posts that they feel need more more work[.]

The above announcements are just the first steps in a larger plan to start acting more like the serious, robust news organization that we’ve been for a long time….

Because I know you’re dying to know: here’s how I’d have handled the Bitcoin story


Paul Carr
March 7th, 2014

Newsweek could have had the best magazine relaunch in recent memory today. Instead, no matter whether they turn out to have found the creator of Bitcoin or not, they fucked up the story. AP is the hero of the hour now, and Newsweek is the villain.

I get it. They panicked. They had what they were sure was the story — but they couldn’t quite lock it down. The guy wouldn’t confess.

But relaunch date is this week. This is it: their big splash. The story that puts Newsweek back on the map.

Unless it’s wrong.

But it can’t be. This is the guy. Has to be. He near as dammit admitted it.

It’s an agonising decision for an editor to have to make: hold the story until it’s locked down and risk losing the scoop of the year, or run what you have?

Here’s what I would have done: I’d have held the story.No question.

I’d have held the story, and then encouraged the reporter to send Nakamoto a registered letter. In it, they’d lay out our evidence. We’re publishing in a week, the letter would say, but we don’t want to get the story wrong. We know you value your privacy, so how about this: I’ll come to your home at a time that suits you, we’ll go for lunch to a safe, public place and you can tell me the whole story. I’ll then publish the first exclusive interview with the real man behind Bitcoin — let the world understand the man behind this remarkable invention. But what I won’t do is publish any information that might lead to you being identified. Won’t describe you in any distinct way, won’t even say what state you live in. Deal? Here’s my number, please give me a call. Otherwise I’ll try you in a few days.

And then we’d have waited. No one else was close. This guy wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t going to run. There’s every chance, if he’s the guy, he’d agree to the sit-down. You can always publish later.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is a hell of a scoop. And this relaunch issue is really important for Newsweek. But I’d still have held the story. Not because Pando has only ever published stories that are locked down. Not because we’ve never taken a risk, or made a mistake.
I’d have held it for two very simple reasons…

1) If the story is wrong, or even if it’s right, a guy could be killed. At the very least, his quiet life is ruined. No cover splash is worth that risk. You’ve got to give the guy a chance to stay anonymous. It would still be a gigantic scoop. Now, best case scenario, Nakamoto is the Bitcoin guy and Newsweek is embarrassed. Worst case doesn’t bear thinking about.

2) This is the Bitcoin community you’re dealing with. Hacktivists, Redditors, doxxers. Whatever the truth of the story, you doxx the guy who invested Bitcoin and your week is about to get very, very annoying. I genuinely feel bad for Newsweek’s Leah Goodman who said earlier that she had only just learned the meaning of the word “doxx”. I fear she’ll be much more familiar with it soon. Newsweek just hung their reporter out to dry because they needed a big relaunch splash. Whoever Goodman’s editor is should be ashamed of his or herself tonight. You just don’t put a reporter in this position.

Relaunch issues fuck with editors’ brains. When the New Republic relaunched, Chris Hughes lost his nerve at the last minute and canned Steve Brill’s incredible “Bitter Pill” story in favour of a presidential handjob.  Time got all the glory, and the circulation boost. At least no one got hurt. This time it’s Newsweek who handed a rival — the AP — a huge story (the first interview with Nakamoto!)  while covering themselves in ten tons of shit.

Tomorrow’s grand Newsweek relaunch party at SXSW is going to be interesting.

Pierre Omidyar’s fog of transparency and the Miranda rights of journalism


Paul Carr
March 6th, 2014

I’ve pretty much made a career out of admitting, and learning from, my mistakes. Some of those mistakes have been huge and potentially unforgivable, others minor and probably understandable.

On Sunday night, while talking to Erik Wemple from the Washington Post, I made a mistake that I hope falls into that second category.

Wemple had called to ask some follow-up questions about Mark Ames’ story on Pierre Omidyar, published on Pando last week. One of those questions was exactly how long we had given Omidyar Network to comment on the story.

That’s where I made my mistake: Breaking my general rule of never starting an on the record reply with “I think” or “probably” rather than actually checking the facts before speaking. I told Wemple I couldn’t give him an exact time but I thought it was probably a “small number of hours.” I also added a (perhaps too honest) caveat that we’d deliberately given First Look less time than normal to comment on the story. Wemple quoted me accurately in his post, including my caveat…

“Honestly, I was thinking, ‘I don’t trust [First Look's Glenn] Greenwald one bit.’ He would have a response up before we even post our thing,” says Carr.

It wasn’t until the next day, when Wemple emailed to ask for a follow-up comment, that I actually checked my sent items and realized I’d screwed up. For a dull technical reason (short version: I cannot operate basic technology) the request for comment I was certain I’d sent to Omidyar late on Friday morning had actually left my outbox at 12:22pm, only about ten minutes before our story went live. Still prior to publication, but not the “small number of hours” that I’d originally told Wemple. Mea maxima culpa.

Since quitting drinking, 1600 days ago, I’ve worked very hard to always be honest and fair in my dealings with people. And when I screw up, even in small ways, I take pains to admit it. So, duly embarrassed, I spoke to Wemple, admitted my error, apologized and gave him a couple of quotes to use in his follow up piece. He was very  decent about the whole thing. I even tweeted at Omidyar, acknowledging that we’d given him less time to respond to this particular story than I would have liked.

Unfortunately, my correction and apology came too late to prevent Omidyar and First Look staffer Glenn Greenwald from seizing on the error as an example of Pando’s gross unfairness to them. Despite the fact that this was four whole days after Mark’s story was published, and they previously hadn’t said a word about the time they were given for comment, suddenly First Look was outraged at Pando giving them such a short time to respond. Omidyar sent a dozen or so Tweets about it, while Greenwald shared the Wemple correction with his 338k followers as an example of our lack of “journalistic honesty“. Omidyar tut tutted to Sarah on Twitter that First Look was “Happy to discuss substance with any reporter that actually wants to talk while they’re working on a story, not after it’s done.”

To say that Omidyar and Greenwald were acting disingenuously is a a towering understatement. Omidyar and First Look have never, ever, responded to any of Pando’s requests for comment before publication, no matter how long we’ve given them.

Here, just for fun, is a breakdown of Pando’s reporting about First Look and the amount of time before publication we gave the company to respond…

By my reckoning, that’s an average of five hours per story. The response every time: silence. Not so much as a “no comment.”

Meanwhile, on First Look’s Intercept blog there are numerous stories by Greenwald in which there is no mention whatsoever of him having requested comment from his own subjects. It’s clear that First Look frequently chooses not to ask for comment before publication. But don’t take my word for it: Greenwald himself twice wrote on Salon that he was exasperated by claims that journalists should always ask for comment pre-publication…

“[W]hat [a subject] would have said to me had I called them are all totally irrelevant.  As I have told the multiple establishment journalists over the years who raised the same “you-didn’t-call-me-first” complaint:  with media criticism, what a journalist claims after the fact about what they published doesn’t really matter…

(Here’s an amusing irony: one of the people Greenwald was being criticized for not contacting pre-publication was Pando’s Mark Ames.)

The right not to remain silent

“Reaching out for comment” has become American journalism’s version of Miranda rights. Like Miranda, the practice of a reporter formally requesting a response from the subject of a story is a way to help ensure that subjects are treated fairly, in accordance with established procedure. Yes, in some cases, those subjects are hostile, and there’s always a chance that by tipping them off to an upcoming story, we’ll give them chance to issue a spoiler or (even more frustratingly) to leak the whole thing to a rival publication. But, as with Miranda , that’s the whole damn point: we ought to be fair with bad guys, even if we suspect they won’t be fair with us.

There’s a more important comparison to Miranda, though, and it’s one we saw play out this week as Omidyar and Greenwald — despite never, ever having commented to Pando on a story — suddenly claimed that they were all ready to spill this time. If only we’d given them the chance.

Lawyers just love it when cops don’t read suspects their rights, and rightly so. It’s a really effective way to suggest bad faith on the part of investigators and, in many cases, to get damning evidence suppressed. Likewise, in journalism, not giving sufficient time for comment, even if you know there’s zero chance of getting a response, hands a gift to subjects with something to hide. Suddenly, rather than responding to the damn story, they can cry “journalistic [dis]honesty” and then continue to stonewall. (Note: Omidyar hasn’t disputed a single fact in our reporting on him.)

To the best of my recollection, only twice in Pando’s history has someone involved in a story complained that we didn’t give them sufficient chance to respond. The first was Lanny Davis (a man who defends murderous dictators and perjuring presidents) and the second was Pierre Omidyar this week.

So what to do?

Shortly after I’d spoken to Wemple, Sarah and I talked about the Miranda rights comparison and came to a decision. At Pando, we  want want to hold ourselves to an even higher standard than that to which we hold others. And so it’s time for us to formalize our previously ad hoc approach to requesting comments: To draft our own journalistic version of Miranda, and to put it on the record for subjects, sources and readers alike. Our hope is that it will not just allow readers to decide for themselves if we’ve played fair with subjects, but will also provide a paper trail to avoid giving an easy smokescreen to folks like Omidyar and Greenwald.

Here’s what we came up with…

Pando will give any subject of a story at least two full working hours to respond to a story before publication. At the end of each story we will not just say if we requested comment, but we’ll also give the exact amount of time before publication that we did so. As ever, we will continue to update stories after publication as we receive additional comment.

The only exceptions to this will be in the case of short Ticker posts which simply link to others’ reporting, fast breaking news, or when there is no clear way to contact the subject of a story in a timely manner. In those last two cases, though, we will make clear to readers what attempts were made, and how long prior to publication they were made. If a subject tries to spoil our story by leaking it elsewhere, we’ll reserve the right to publish early — but, again, we’ll disclose that fully at the end of the piece.

You can see an example of how that will work on my latest piece about Greenwald…

I reached out to both Glenn Greenwald (~10hrs ago) and Pierre Omidyar (~2hrs ago) for comment about the contents of the video. Neither had responded at press time. I’ll update this post if they do.

We’re implementing the policy straight away, and it should be evident on all relevant stories published from Thursday morning.

As far as I can tell, this timestamping of comment requests isn’t something that any other publication — in old or new media — does.  But we’d love to see other publications adopting a similar policy.

To that end, yesterday afternoon I decided once again to try to get a comment from Omidyar. Specifically I asked him for clarification of First Look’s current policy on requesting comments, and whether he would pledge in future to always make public the amount of time that First Look reporters give their subjects to respond.

Given we’d never once had an email response from First Look, and to make absolutely sure that our emails weren’t going missing, Sarah asked Pierre to clarify the best contact address for the company. Omidyar confirmed on Twitter that the address we were using was correct.

Honestly, I was pretty sure that I’d get a response this time, if only because Omidyar would want to make a point that First Look was acting in good faith. Sure enough, two hours later, I received a reply: my first ever from Omidyar Network!

It wasn’t quite what I expected…

From: Christopher Keefe
Sent: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 18:40
To: Paul Carr
Subject: Re: First Look’s comment policy

Hi Paul –

Thank you for your email. Omidyar Network is a completely separate organization from First Look Media.

You may email the First Look Media team directly with your inquiry at media@firstlook.org (contact email is on their website).

Best regards,

Christopher Keefe
VP, Marketing & Communications
Omidyar Network

Yep, Keefe was claiming that the email we’d been using —  the one Omidyar himself had given us for First Look questions — was wrong.

No matter. Despite being pretty sure that the founder of eBay was trolling me at this point, I duly resent my request to the new email address. As, it seems, did Keefe — because almost an hour later, I received a second reply, this time from First Look’s Sarah Steven.

Before I share that reply with you, remember that Pierre Omidyar had himself insisted on Twitter earlier that day that he was “Happy to discuss substance with any reporter that actually wants to talk while they’re working on a story, not after it’s done.” Remember that Omidyar and First Look had told us to “try again next time,” insisting that they would have be delighted to talk to Pando if only we’d given them the chance.

Here, then, is Steven’s response…

From: Sarah Steven <sarah@firstlook.org>
Subject: Fwd: First Look’s comment policy
Date: March 4, 2014 at 7:29:21 PM PST
To: paul@paulcarr.com

hi Paul, Christopher Keefe from Omidyar Network forwarded me the email below as it doesn’t look like FLM made it onto the CC line. At any rate, I wanted to write and thank you for the opportunity to comment on the story currently in progress and mentioned further below. We don’t have anything to add so we’ll decline participation. Thanks for getting in touch.

Kind regards,
Sarah Steven

So there you have it.

From NSFWCORP to Pando


Christopher Goscinski
February 26th, 2014

Hello, Pando!

A few months ago Paul called to tell me about Pando’s imminent acquisition of NSFWCORP. He didn’t actually name Pando at the time, and looking back I’m surprised he called at all given the amount of information he wasn’t able to tell me. All I knew when I hung up was I would still be the contact for NSFWCORP’s subscribers, and I’d know more in the coming months.

As of last week, I now know more, and today I am incredibly pleased and excited to share with you that I’ll be joining Pando full time as Community Manager. I’ll be continuing much of the work I began at NSFWCORP, as well as taking a leading role in helping grow Pando’s subscription base.

As NSFWCORP’s Editorial Assistant, I had the opportunity to talk to many NSFWCORP subscribers. At our Conflict Tower events, I was fortunate to meet many more. I’m confident in saying that readers of NSFWCORP are going to love the new Pando, and I’m excited to introduce potential readers to what is an absolutely fantastic publication.

As Paul and Sarah have said previously, Pando’s most exciting times are ahead of it. I look forward to working with the team and cannot wait to begin the next chapter in what has been a truly great adventure.

Hello again (Thoughts on returning to Pando)


Nathaniel Mott
February 25th, 2014

Leaving Pando at the end of last year was a really tough decision. It was my first writing job and one I really enjoyed. But maybe because it was my first job, I felt an itch to take some time off, to go to college, or freelance for a variety of publications, or end up panhandling on the streets.

My departure lasted two whole months. Right before I left the company Sarah announced that Pando had acquired NSFWCORP, and would be bringing some of my favorite journalists into the fold. That was followed by the announcement that Pando would be publishing a quarterly magazine; that Al Gore would be the keynote guest at Southland, Pando’s annual business-and-barbecue conference; and that the site was shifting its focus to “speaking truth to the new power.” Suddenly my idea of trying something new seemed ridiculous — Pando was something new.

So I called Sarah and told her that I would like to come back, if she’d have me. But instead of writing about phablets, I’d like to shift focus to National security, a subject that’s becoming more important by the day.

Pando doesn’t need a full-time national security reporter so, after conferring with Sarah, Paul and Adam, we came up with a compromise: one that would allow me to write about national security while also covering breaking news stories like the WhatsApp acquisition or the Comcast-TWC merger. Besides allowing me to explore my passion while playing to my strengths, the gig would also let me influence and experiment with Pando’s breaking news coverage. I would have been a fool to decline the offer, so I am pleased to announce that, as of yesterday, I’m back at Pando.

There’s still a lot that we don’t know about my role in the company; we have some interesting concepts for Pando’s breaking news coverage in mind, but nothing is concrete. (I imagine that we’ll be writing about this process fairly often on this blog.) To be perfectly honest, that uncertainty has only stoked my excitement for this job. Pando has made some big changes lately, and I hope that I’ll be able to help its continued evolution.

I joined Pando back when it was a simple WordPress blog run from Sarah’s home. I watched it go through a significant redesign, many changes in its staff, and the shedding of its vestigial syllables. Now that the company has left the living room — both figuratively and literally — I’m excited to be here for the long term.

A weekend of celebration, fear and self-loathing


David Sirota
February 18th, 2014

IMG_2074The above photo is what most of my weekend looked like. For self-evident reasons, I was beat after all the events that went down last week in our “Wolf of Sesame Street” investigation. For me personally, it was at once exhilarating, exhausting and a bit depressing.

The exhilarating and exhausting parts should be fairly obvious, especially when you appreciate what it takes to dig out and ultimately report a story like this.

This story developed the way most do – from a tip. Late in the week before last, a researcher friend that I’ve worked with before emailed me to let me know he had heard that the Arnold Foundation may be funding the new “Pension Peril” series airing within PBS NewsHour. I clicked around a bit to look into the story and found one reference to Arnold funding the series, but I then got pulled away on something else. Only later in the weekend did I go back to the story and notice that the WNET press release announcing the series didn’t even mention Arnold (and amazing, still does not mention him). That’s when I suddenly got the sense that this was a much bigger story, and the next three days were a blur of frantic phone calls, transcript searches, interviews, document dives – all the stuff that investigative journalism is all about.

The night before we published, I was spent, and the fatigue started talking when I dejectedly told my wife I wasn’t sure anyone would care about the piece, or read it. That wasn’t the point in reporting it, of course. However, any reporter who tells you with  straight face that they don’t care at all if anyone actually reads their work is lying.

Within eight hours, of course, our scoop was atop the Huffington Post and both the Arnold Foundation and WNET were responding with statements chock full of bluster, but no proof that we had gotten a single fact wrong. Clearly, we had struck a nerve and over the next three days, we reported the hell out of the story. Those three days, in fact, are a good lesson on the advantages of the blog/online format – since we were able to publish more than once a day, we were able to stay on top of every twist and turn of the story.

When Friday afternoon came, I was already starting to wind down. I happen to be finishing up an interview with a source on another story when my email box started going crazy with a wave of messages from friends and professional colleagues. It was a blur of congratulatory subject lines, but I still didn’t know what was going on, until I clicked a New York Times link and learned about WNET and PBS officials reversing course, admitting wrongdoing and sending the $3.5 million back to John Arnold. I told the source I would have to call him back, and he understood.

As I noted on Twitter, I felt like I was having an out of body experience, not from self-satisfaction, but from disbelief. I’ve worked so many years in politics and journalism and seen so many stories simply come and go without any response at all, I was genuinely shocked that our reporting had compelled a powerful institution to say no to a billionaire financier.

Most of my weekend, as noted above, was spent trying to get some rest. I had been on the journalistic equivalent of a sugar high for a whole week, and I crashed hard. And truth be told that crash eventually included some trepidation and gloom.

Journalism is a business of “what have you done for me lately” – a business which, if you take the profession seriously (granted a big “if”) your value is defined by your ability to find and report out real news or connect dots that haven’t been put together; generate attention for that work; and then make that work relevant to the larger conversation. Trying to accomplish that feat – and fearing you can’t – is a daily stress for most of us who do this work.

I say “most” because if you happen to be one of the few who works on television or in a legacy media outlet, much of your success is already built in for you. If, say, you have a cable talk show, or if you are a reporter at the New York Times, you don’t have to be ahead of the news, you don’t have to worry about your story getting attention, and you don’t have to think about relevance. You get to go on TV and simply repeat talking points or write a “news analysis” article summing up those same talking points, and with no effort on your part, you already have an audience and relevance even if you are late to a story. You have it because your position inherently provides you that almighty thing called “platform” no matter what you do.

That’s great for you, but that’s not the way it works for most of us, which was on my mind all weekend. I had about 24 hours of good feeling, and then the next few days of dread that the week’s big scoop and even bigger result set the bar impossibly high for me and for Pando. Is the expectation now that most or even many of our stories will have such impact? Is that my expectation of myself in my own work? And if it is the expectation, can I meet it?

The answers are scary, because while part of me will expect that of myself, most of me knows that there’s no way every week can be like last week. Many reporters go through most of their careers without a story and attendant impact like the one Pando was at the center of last week. So I know it’s not possible, and that bummed me out. Yet the aspiration is still there – the aspiration to keep investigating more big stories, breaking more news and finding the signal in all the noise. That aspiration is stressful because you just never know whether you will be able to fulfill it.

After breaking a big story, you tend to get a lot of new leads from folks who see you as a person who can break news. That’s fantastic, but also another stress. In the last few days, sources have sent me scores of unreported stories, each of them better than the next. Do I have the bandwidth or even the time to report them out? Am I up to the task? Not knowing the answer to that is a cause of anxiety – a cause to pull the sheets over the head and not get out of that bed.

Of course, I (and my dog Monty) did get out of bed – and I did so because I had a long talk with my editor, Paul, who reassured me that there’s a difference between aspiration and expectation. We can aspire to do great journalism, and we will do great journalism, but a lot of days that involves just grinding out base hits, rather than hitting towering home runs. It means following up big stories with iterative reports that only push the news ahead a few proverbial inches. It means spending a lot of time wading through all the information sources give us to find the tiny newsy nugget. It also means a lot of waiting around – which conflicts with the need to keep producing.

That balance between regularly producing stories and taking the time needed to report out deeper stories is something I and so many others struggle with. As journalist Erik Vance summarizes in a terrific essay about his recent reporting trip to Mexico:

Our trip makes me a little sad. In the amount of time Dominic sat around, another journalist could have churned out 40, maybe 60, mindless, forgettable news hits. Good journalism takes time, it takes patience, and it take a lot of time on your butt.  And in today’s underpaid, high speed media world, who has the time to do that kind of work?

I’ve discussed this constantly with Paul and there is no one right answer about how to create balance that allows for both deep reporting and regular content production. Pando has given me all the freedoms I need to report out the deep stories like the “Wolf of Sesame Street” investigation, but like any publication, it also needs content on a regular basis. Balancing that will always be a stress – and I think looking back at my work over the last few months, I’ve found a decent balance. It’s not perfect, and my eight-months-pregnant wife will certainly attest that it has come with some of the negative work-life balance issues most recently highlighted in this new Pew study. But it’s been OK, all things considered.

I’m back at work now, and done with this particular post-sugar-high crash. I’m onto another series of stories that I’m excited about, but I’m sure when we break those, I’ll go through the same manic cycle and same stress about balance.

My guess is that’s a pervasive occupational hazard in this line of work because ultimately, if you aren’t regularly struggling with that stress between the demands of doing deep reporting and the demands of day-to-day iterative reporting, then journalism may not be your calling. You may want to look like a journalist, but not actually be one, with all the shit that entails. In short, you probably want to be a TV host and not a reporter.

That said, if reporting, researching and writing is your true calling – if it that thing you just have to do – then perhaps it is best to simply accept the curse that comes with that. Accept that there will inherently be highs and then post-climactic lows right after that. It’s OK. Reporting real news,  breaking serious stories, going deep on longer reports, and finding the signal in the noise – doing all of that is well worth a weekend of fear and self-loathing.

The new Pando: “Speaking truth to the new power”


Sarah Lacy
February 17th, 2014

[Cross-posted from Pando.com]

Two years and one month ago, I officially founded PandoDaily. I had $2.5 million of investor money, an incorporated company, and a business card showing my job title: CEO. But it wasn’t until the last six months of 2013 that I really felt like I’d earned that title, with all the emotional scars to prove it.

Elon Musk wasn’t kidding when he said you should only become an entrepreneur if the idea of “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death” sounds appealing. By year end, my mouth was scarred and full of blood.

When I started PandoDaily, friends, investors, and readers who had followed me from BusinessWeek or TechCrunch or from reading my books seemed confident I could put together a good editorial team and product. But there was no reason to believe I could actually build a company. In the media business, editorial is necessarily shielded from the business world, so it wasn’t just that I lacked experience. I’d been actively protected from anything that might possibly prepare me for this role. In fact, if I hadn’t had people as varied as Kevin Rose and Dick Costolo insist that I could do it, or at least learn to do it, I would have probably hired an experienced CEO — my own personal Heather Harde — out of sheer terror.

Although I’ve said many times I wouldn’t ever want to go through the hell of building another company from scratch ever again, year one was comparatively painless. We’d raised a good amount of seed funding and all we had to do was put together something people would actually want to read. By the end of our first year, we were clear that we were well on the way towards that goal.

It wasn’t until year two — last year– that I had to step massively outside my editorial comfort zone and learn what it mean to be a real CEO to prove we could make this thing into an actual company. With our $2.5 seed investment evaporating by the day and a series A crunch looming, the clock was ticking.

What followed was a frantic 12 months of hiring and firing and experiments — both editorial and commercial — and at least six months of negotiation hell of one type or another, all while I was pregnant and giving birth to my second child. It was brutal. I made a ton of mistakes, some dumb, some (hopefully) understandable.

When all was said and done, 2013 was the year when we laid most of the important foundational pillars that we will build on in the coming years, months, and decades. Along with the scars and the unforgettable taste of blood and glass, we began 2014 with a company that’s in great shape, commercially and editorially, and is poised to have a breakout year.

As Paul wrote in his post last week, I’m not normally a big fan of bragging about what we’ve achieved or publicly wailing about our failures. I’d rather just focus on the work. That said, Pando wouldn’t be in business without the growing army of readers who take time out of their day to visit Pando.com, attend our events, watch our videos or — as of this week — read our new print magazine.  Most likely aren’t interested in the behind-the-scenes specifics of what we’re doing here, but I know many of you are — and I figured you’re well overdue a post details on how Pando is doing and what’s coming next. Paul’s post gave some hints at the product side of things, but I wanted to lay out the whole picture.

The glass was worth it

Let’s start with those strong pillars. Here are the headlines:

– We have just finished raising our Series A round of funding. We have raised $1.2 million from a range of new and existing investors. It was lead by an unconventional group of investors in Tennessee organized by Nashville-based Jumpstart Foundry. I got to know and respect many of these investors through our work on Southland and, as we expand beyond the Valley’s echo chamber in coverage and events, I felt our investor base should reflect that. Also new are Base Ventures and Vegas Tech Fund, which were also two of the largest investors in NSFWCORP. It’s a testament to what Paul built that they wanted to continue backing our two combined companies. Returning investors were Accel Partners, Founders Fund, and angel investor Zach Nelson.

$1.2 million is more than we initially set out to raise, and we are still wrapping up a few last conversations, so the final total may tick up to $1.5 million before it’s all done (I’ll update this post and our disclosure page if that happens). We were lucky to raise that money at a healthy valuation, which I won’t disclose, because no entrepreneur ever does if she can help it. The new investment brings our total raised to date to $4.2 million.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the mega-rounds raised by content companies this past fall. For all of the attention that Pando gets as a VC-backed company, we’ve raised far less than most all of our rivals and have strategically raised it from a wide variety of sources. None of our venture capitalist backers sits on our board, and none owns close to 10 percent of the company. This structure has made it monumentally harder to raise capital. Most series A investors require 20 percent and a board seat, or the deal isn’t worth their time. But we think it’s important that no investor is ever in a position to influence how we do things.

The other reason we haven’t raised more money is that I believe it’s vitally important that a content company with a long-term strategy get in control of its own destiny as quickly as possible. It will take five to ten years to build the brand and audience we envision, and I worry that investors’ excitement around content will wane over that time. Many startups running off of venture cash are bloating their staffs to a dangerous level. They’ll need more venture cash to keep going. I’m not sure that cash will be there for content companies in the long term.

Pando is too important to me to put us in the position of falling victim to investing fads. Maybe that means we grow slower. That’s okay. I’ve got time, and so has the entire senior team who are all as committed to the long-term as I am. I want to be running Pando for the rest of my career. We only get one shot to do this right.

– Our traffic continues to increase, and our editorial team is stronger than ever. Having already breezed past our previous one-day traffic record last week, February is on pace to be our best month ever, following an already near-record setting January. We’re being read by more people and in more places and have the resources to make more pivotal hires, many of which are already in negotiation. (If you’d like to join the team here at Pando, email Sarah(at)PandoDaily.com for specifics on who we’re looking for.)

How we’ve grown is equally important. My goal early on was to make Pando’s editorial as little about me as possible, and I’ve mostly handed over the keys of day-to-day newsroom management to Adam Penenberg. In fact, I haven’t run the newsroom day-to-day since last April when I went into labor. Adam and the team deserve the lion’s share of the credit for Pando’s traffic growth since then.

Frankly, at this point, editorial is the part of the company that needs me the least. Reporters we hired as fresh blood two years ago, like David Holmes and Michael Carney, have become leaders in the newsroom and newer hires like Cale Weissman and Carmel DeAmicis are already rising stars. Newcomer James Robinson has hit the ground sprinting. The arrival of the former NSFWCORP team has bolstered everything immeasurably. (More on this in a minute.) And of course the art department Hallie Bates and Brad Jonas have kept developing that signature Pando look– now in print as well as online.

– Our revenue is growing substantially year-over-year. Over the last six weeks we have booked almost as much ad and sponsorship revenue as we did in the whole of 2013. We have finally reached the point when it’s easier for us to get $100,000 in revenue than $100,000 in venture capital. As a CEO that’s a huge milestone and a huge relief. We understand what works and how to sell, and are thrilled that many of our early advertisers and sponsors who ran test campaigns over the last two years, have reupped for significant six-figure campaigns this year. It won’t be easy, but we are confident that this latest investment will get us profitable in the next 18 months.

So how did we get here? A lot of it was the same unsexy, heads-down hard work our team has been doing since the beginning. But there were a few crucial opportunistic moves last year that helped. None was a no-brainer at the time and they involved risk, upping our burn rate, and months of negotiation. Each could be its own story.

The big ones:

– Acquiring NSFWCORP. Huge assets here: Amazing investigative reporting unit, Paul Carr, product team, and a fiercely loyal base of subscribers.

– Our joint venture to co-produce Southland. An astoundingly mutually beneficial partnership with LaunchTN that allows us to build a distinct national event franchise, profitably. We are already sold out of major sponsorships and ahead of plan on Southland revenues.

– Buying the Pando.com domain. We needed a brand that could extend beyond a daily blog. We finally got the domain we needed to achieve that.

– That series A to help fund all this. Companies fail for one of two reasons: They run out of cash or the founder gives up. The series A guarantees that neither will happen to Pando.

The story of our time and a new tagline

So given these moves, where is Pando going and how is it a different company than it was a year ago?

It starts with our mission. When Pando launched we described ourselves as “the site-of-record for Silicon Valley.” We realized early on, though, that wasn’t a great tagline. Yes, the blog, combined with the PandoTicker, does a great job to telling you everything you need to know about Valley-style entrepreneurship while respecting your time and intelligence. But we quickly understood that wasn’t the real reason readers come to Pando. Yes, you come to us for scoops, but also for context. For the story behind the headlines and for answers to the hard questions that other tech and business publications aren’t asking.

So at our last editorial retreat, in Las Vegas, we scheduled a long brainstorming session to come up with a more fitting tagline, one that explained what we were, but also what we were aiming to be. I blocked out two hours for the conversation on our last morning and loaded the team up with McDonalds breakfast, coffee and mimosas. The previous 48 hours of the retreat had been a series of fierce debates about almost every aspect of the company, and I expected another long, drawn-out process. But in the end it took just twenty minutes for us to agree on a tagline that encapsulates everything we aim to do here at Pando:

“Speaking truth to the new power.”

The technology industry has long ceased to be a niche. In fact it is taking over the world, in good ways but also in bad ways. Startups are taking on old-world industries like transportation, logistics, and manufacturing. Every old world company is rapidly becoming a software company. Netflix is nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes alongside HBO. Tech money is aquiring legacy news organizations or buying up state secrets to kickstart new ones. And technology and the billionaires behind it are playing greater roles in public policy than ever before.

Power in America is shifting from New York and DC to the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley. And that shift of power from old to new is being reflected across the globe, creating both opportunity and threats, excitement and anger. Dig into any controversial issue from government spying to income inequality and you’ll find the tech industry lurking in the shadows. Tech is without a doubt the economic, social, and political story of our generation.

To tell this story well, you need a reporting team that understands the four major centers of power: Technology, finance, media, and politics (loosely concentrated, in the US, in Silicon Valley, New York, LA, and Washington DC). We already were strong, and getting stronger, in those first three areas — but, before the NSFWCORP acquisition, we utterly lacked any real authority or expertise in the forth. This despite Quantcast numbers that showed our audience was more likely to be interested in politics than almost anything else — even technology, astoundingly. That’s why it was so important for us to acquire a strong a political team including heavyweights like Mark Ames, Yasha Levine, and David Sirota.

I should say, in general, we believe the power shift from old to new is a positive development. The more fluid power is, the less abuse there is for it. As we pointed out with our Tectopus story, wage collusion has its limits in the Valley because here tech titans don’t stay on top for forever. And the fascinating thing about tech billionaires is that they look at a world without gravity. They aren’t beholden to the way things have been done. They are frequently idealistic. That’s not all bad.

But it’s also not all good.

That same Techtopus story is a reminder of why just having a slogan that you won’t be evil isn’t sufficient. In a Twitter exchange with Pando editors, Pierre Omidyar complained that asking whether he’d hold companies like eBay accountable for corporate spying as he did with the NSA was an “idiotic question.” We disagree. When someone has just bought access to one of the most valuable troves of state secrets ever leaked, few questions on how they plan to wield that power are “idiotic.”

While other tech blogs have taken for granted that transportation companies like Uber do background checks on their drivers, we investigated and found that the company had been misrepresenting how drivers are vetted, potentially putting customers’ lives at risk.

In one of our earliest stories, Pando asked why venture firms with “scout” programs — yes, including some of our own investors — felt the need to keep those programs a secret. Around the same time, we challenged Google for flagrantly betraying the “Ten things” it claimed to believe. We have criticized the many failures and broken promises of Facebook’s so-called platform that is both the most powerful distribution system of the international Web and the most dangerous one to build a company on. And when a collection of the Valley’s biggest heavyweights (including, again, many of our investors) took on Washington by making costly political compromises, we investigated and called them out.

We’re happy to keep asking “idiotic questions” of billionaires and the world’s most powerful companies until they give our readers, and the rest of the world, the answers they deserve. Not because we think all “rich people” are evil or all tech billionaires are hiding something, but because we don’t take for granted that they’re all good, or that none is hiding anything. Silicon Valley already has enough publications that blindly republish press releases. That’s not what we do here.

Another reason for us dropping “Silicon Valley” from our strapline is that it gave the false impression that we only cared about what was happening on the West Coast of the United States. In fact, we always considered the Valley to be a convenient shorthand for a style of entrepreneurship particular to the tech industry.

The rise of the “new power,” driven by the tech industry, is increasingly a global story. This is a big reason we are producing our first annual conference outside the Valley. In the future, I hope to expand our international presence as well. Reporting my book on emerging markets was a life changing experience, and producing TechCrunch Disrupt in China was one of my proudest professional achievements. There is a lot more we can, and will, do to bring Pando to those outside the US and even the English speaking world.

But, as I said about Google, just having a slogan isn’t sufficient. This year, you can expect three concrete things from us: Continual improvement of our editorial team, the launch of a phenomenally better product, and a profitable business to make sure we can keep doing this for years and years to come.

We — I and the entire Pando team — truly appreciate everything you have done to support us this far. We are only now getting to the fun part.

[Disclosure: A full list of Pando's investors can be found here.]