Blodget and Salmon on Blodget vs. Salmon: The Last Word

Last week, a war of words broke out between two fairly notable New York media presences. It was started after an editor was fired last week, the news of which we broke here. And we thought we'd try to end it here, too, by speaking with both about the spat.

Though after reading some of the shots they took at each other, that...probably won't work out.

Recap: No more than an hour after we broke the news of John Carney's firing from Business Insider last week by B.I. editor-in-chief Henry Blodget, media and business columnist Felix Salmon of Reuters had a column posted about it. In short, Salmon noted a key tenet of what we learned regarding Carney's firing: that some of the conflict between Carney and Blodget reflected the separation between a media owner who wanted pageview-grabbing content (Blodget) and his writer, who wanted to develop longer stories that might not be as sensational to readers (Carney).

What followed was one of the better media "beefs" New York's seen in a while.

Reaction: Blodget took to Business Insider to note that Salmon's backed by a massive corporation, Reuters, and he doesn't have the burden of keeping a company afloat on his back. This was after Blodget and Salmon had already taken to Twitter to have it out. Gawker Media publisher Nick Denton and founding editor Elizabeth Spiers chimed in; Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic just threw in his two cents.

Even Vanity Fair weighed in, on their website. The most hysterical and astute observations, however, came from The Awl, where Choire Sicha called it a "snippy little girl-spat," and where Awl contributor Christopher Conklin's numbers-oriented column on the affair ran. Conklin's piece is probably the most comprehensive (and sensible) account of both sides of the argument to date, and probably the most conclusive guide to what you're watching them argue about. If you need to catch up, I'd highly suggest reading it.

So: this thing over? Smoke cleared? We got answers from both Blodget and Salmon on the entire affair. Granted, they've done a pretty good job of speaking on it themselves, but we figured it'd be worth it to throw them a few questions regarding less the argument's subject matter, but more on the argument itself. And, of course, we got far, far more than we asked for:

Have you seen an increase in traffic because of John's firing/the "discussion" between the two of you?

Henry Blodget: No. We're large enough now that dust-ups only generate meaningful traffic when they're with really high-profile folks. Felix is well-known and well thought-of in New York media circles (including at our shop), but most people in the real world have never heard of him.

With respect to John, he's a good writer and a great guy, and we'll miss him.

Felix Salmon: I don't actually look at my traffic figures, so I don't know the answer to that. But if I did get an increase in traffic, it probably wasn't the core business-and-finance readers I was hired to write for. I should imagine that most of them sensibly ignored the whole thing. I did get a couple of hundred new Twitter followers, though.

Do you have any personal animosity towards Henry/Felix? Do you think he has any towards you?

Felix Salmon: No, and no. I don't know if it's germane, but I have *not* spoken to Carney about all this. Yet.

Henry Blodget: I was annoyed a few days ago when Felix insulted our entire staff, but I'm over it.

Henry, you're clearly not of the mindset that writing for an audience and writing "good" content are mutually exclusive terms. But do you think there's any difference between writing what people want to read and writing high-quality content?

Blodget: I absolutely think people want to read high-quality content, and our goal is for everything we produce to be top-notch. Where I think I differ with some traditional media folks is that, online, high-quality content takes many forms.

Online, high-quality can be everything from a 3,000-word essay to a 300-word analysis to a 9-word quote. It can be a single image with a telling headline. It can be a video, or a series of well-chosen links. It can be a well-organized multi-page presentation composed of graphics, images, and text.

All of those types of content can be produced well (high-quality) or badly (awful.) And whether they are high-quality or not will make all the difference in whether readers flock to your site or ignore it.

Felix, Henry seemed to imply that you think writing for an audience and writing "good" content are mutually exclusive terms. If you were given B.I. and were told to make it profitable now, how would you go about doing it? What's the better way for Henry to do it? Is there one?

Salmon: Right, as I said about Politico today, if you write good stuff that a small insidery elite needs to know, mass traffic is likely to follow -- no need for hot babes kissing or endless listicles. Meanwhile, your brand value when it comes to other monetization strategies will be vastly improved -- it's a lot easier to imagine people paying to go to a Politico conference than it is to imagine them paying to go to a conference organized by someone who's proud to be "the Hooters of the Internet".

More generally, if Henry has a need to be profitable now, that only confirms what I speculated in my original "Blodget fires Carney" post about a cash crunch at TBI. He has a VC-funded business model, and as such ought to be willing to lose money now if he's building brand value for the eventual exit. If he isn't being given the freedom to do that, that's a sign that his investors have run out of faith and/or patience and/or money. And no, I don't really have advice for a VC-backed CEO in that situation.

For fans of old-school New York media wars, this was fun. But is it "too insidery" for anyone outside of New York media to care?

Probably. That said, sure, it's obviously making-of, behind-the-scenes action taking place in public, but it's not irrelevant. Backroom accounts of the fights that yield the manner in which Washington, D.C., and Hollywood function become bestsellers often because they're stories of how things we let affect our lives and consume come to be, and the insanity behind them from which they're produced. The entertainment value of a widely read writer and the owner of a network of sites having a public war of words aside? It was a fairly educating experience, about a perpetually topical struggle -- what makes "good" content and what makes "cheap" content -- seen through two wildly different media perspectives. There're worse, more pointless spats we could've watched. This one yielded decent results, and maybe a few people's minds were changed on the way they view these issues after hearing opposing perspectives on them. Maybe everyone learned something. Maybe we all moved forward.

Not likely. But still. Maybe.

This is what Biggie and Tupac sound like on the same track. Pretty dope. Guys, don't shoot each other.

Next up: Pat Sajak vs. Frank Rich. BEEF.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

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