Last week’s ouster of John Carney from financial news site The Business Insider set off a wave of debate among several big players in New York’s new-media scene this weekend, eventually spilling off the sites of major publications onto Twitter and Tumblr. The spat, largely waged between Reuters blogger Felix Salmon‘s and Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget, reflects a larger debate about the kind of content that can be profitable on the Web.
Blodget stands firm in his stance that ad-supported Web sites need first and foremost to cater to the desires of their readers and create as many pages of reader-friendly content as possible. Salmon contends that Carney created the kind of high-quality scoops that build a news outlet’s brand over the long term. It’s an age-old journalistic question: Breaking news or bikini babes, or both?
Blodget wanted more sensational, pageview-grabbing posts and click-friendly features like galleries, while Carney wanted to put forth breaking news scoops that told a longer narrative. It was also speculated that Carney, one of the highest paid members on the Business Insider staff, wasn’t bringing the traffic numbers to sufficiently satisfy Henry Blodget, given his high profile within the financial reporting world, but that Clusterstock’s homepage had the highest traffic of all the verticals at Business Insider during Carney’s tenure, and that his own stories generated “tons of [unique visitors].”
Following the news, Salmon posted to his Reuters blog, suggesting that Business Insider’s short-term interests don’t gel with the notion of building a valuable long-term news operation:
TBI is a venture-backed company, and its investors want a highly-profitable exit: that kind of business model has always been hard to square with building a strong franchise for the ages.
There was clearly already some emnity between Salmon and Blodget; in his post, Salmon ridiculed Blodget for posting Salmon’s tweet about crashing his rental car on The Business Insider Web site.
Blodget fired back at Salmon in a lengthy post, saying Salmon “attacked Business Insider for, in effect, producing content that readers want to read.” He pointed out that Salmon’s blogging efforts are subsidized by Reuters’ profitable terminal business, which is geared toward Wall Street financiers and has little to do with Salmon’s reporting.
Salmon then retorted that Blodget had “grossly misrepresented” his argument and perhaps worse, failed to link to Salmon’s piece during his rebuttal:
This is important, because Henry talks about how I “seem to feel” and about how “Felix’s criticism of our content is grossly unfair”. It’s simply wrong to blog such things without linking to the criticism in question and allowing your readers to make their own minds up about whether you’re characterizing it accurately — especially when Henry doesn’t even bother to quote me directly in his piece.
Friday evening, the fight culminated in a 28-tweet thesis by Blodget on the economics of Internet news (it starts here).
On Saturday, Elizabeth Spiers agreed with Blodget in a Tumblr post titled “Post That No One Will Like: Sorry, Populists.” Nick Denton retweeted Spiers’ support of Blodget. Kamer replied, “Of course @nicknotned has so much “Team @hblodget” spirit: Having someone else to lower the bottom line for you is pretty convenient.”
Spiers then followed up Sunday.
Things appeared to have cooled down today. The Atlantic Wire has a great play-by-play of the Salmon-Blodget bout. We’re not sure who the big winner is here, if you don’t count self-referential journalists and insidery reporting.