Circle The Wagons: What Everyone Is Thinking But Nobody Will Say

breaking-glass

This article is written to highlight a systemic problem in our ecosystem and to create a conversation around the solution. 

The Raleigh-Durham (Triangle) region of NC has a goal of becoming a top 5 city for entrepreneurship and innovation. The community needs to be on the same page in order for this to be accomplished.

The journey won’t be easy. Frankly, it will be much harder than most people anticipate. Cities all over the world are aiming to accomplish the same goal. From San Francisco to London and Boston to Las Vegas, there are plenty of smart people who are passionate about winning. Keep in mind – Las Vegas has $350 million to play with!!

The Triangle community’s efforts must be synced in order to stand a chance of competing. If someone doesn’t pull their weight, it is the community’s responsibility to hold them accountable.

“The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack”

I’m writing this to hold members of our community accountable. We are not all on the same page but we must be.

Whether we like it or not, local media is our main voice to the world. Social media is powerful but nothing can top a well-written article by an unbiased, respected journalist. While the Triangle is saturated with a number of amazing writers, many of them are not reaching the audience they deserve.

The reason will surprise you….

Paywalls are preventing the spread of information. A paywall is a system that prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content without a paid subscription. In layman terms – paywalls prevent the free dissemination of information. Most local media paywalls seem to include a range of topics but one particular paywall stands out.

The idea that we must “tell our story” has been identified and reiterated at many local events. The tech / entrepreneurship community is exploding and accomplishing some awesome things but no one is successfully telling the stories to a larger audience. Success stories include 5 IPO’s and a total of $200+ million raised in the first 6 months of 2013. Big time stuff!

There are a number of options when it comes to getting local tech / startup news. The News & Observer is notorious for leveraging opinion pieces from entrepreneurs and investors, with the occasional long-form, traditional journalism article. Unfortunately, tech and startups are not a main focus for the N&O and it shows in volume and quality.

ExitEvent is a gritty platform that I consider to have great story-lines and boots-on-the-ground reporting. If you are looking for the local TechCrunch, this is your best bet. Joe Procopio has done a fantastic job building the audience from scratch but has limited resources and writers to cover everything happening.

The Triangle Business Journal has made a huge push lately to focus on tech, startups, and entrepreneurship. While the volume has drastically picked up, they are still the new kid on the block. Being new is hard but they have a solid team of journalists that are ready to tackle the challenge. I expect their audience to continue growing if they keep up the current trajectory.

(UPDATE: Bill Spruill sent me the following quote that I felt was worth adding for context and relevance: “The Triangle Business Journal has been a great and venerable supplier of news and features about local companies since I started following the community back in 1995. Even when implementing payment requirements they only did so based on number of page views per month and thus did not overly restrict access to valuable content and information.”)

This leaves me with WRAL TechWire. Most entrepreneurs and investors feel that Rick Smith and TechWire are the most trusted source for local (and Southeast) tech / entrepreneurship news. This reputation has been built from a solid record of professional journalism that includes great angles, interesting exclusives, and early scoops. Nobody can dispute the past performance but I believe WRAL has made a grave mistake.

WRAL TechWire is the only news site in the region to place tech and entrepreneurship news behind a paywall. Yes, our best voice is being silenced by a focus on monetization. Ridiculous – A pure slap in the face to the entrepreneurs and investors who are working hard to create stories of success.

Instead of making wild claims, here is some data that highlights the problem. Of the last 20 articles written on TechWire with the tag “Startups”, 14 of them are hidden behind the paywall. Of the 6 that are “unlocked” from the paywall, only 3 articles have more than 50 words and contain any substance. Making matters worse, 2 of the remaining 3 were interviews conducted by CED as part of an on-going series they run. The final article is a self-serving piece that promotes the work of WRAL’s parent company (Capitol Broadcasting) at American Tobacco Campus.

This is a huge problem. In fact, this may be the single biggest problem that the Triangle entrepreneurship ecosystem is facing. Outside investors have no idea what is going on with Triangle companies because most of the stories are hidden. This is such a problem that CED heavily invested in building Triangulate NC in order to help give more insight to these people. Want to increase access to capital in the area? How about we unleash the stories of past success that are currently being hoarded and pimped out for pocket change.

This not only affects the dissemination of information to those outside of the region. Earlier this year Justin Miller of WedPics raised $1.1 million and TechWire wrote an exclusive article. The article was hidden behind the paywall, which caused majority of the Triangle ecosystem to remain in the dark about this awesome accomplishment. TechWire also wrote an article about Anil Chawla and ArchiveSocial. Anil hadn’t been able to read the article about his own company when I spoke to him two months ago.

This practice is ridiculous, damaging, and must come to an end. While WRAL is trying to monetize the story-lines of Triangle success, they fail to realize that they are systematically preventing success to breed more success. Are a few dollars (paywalls historically make very little money) worth potentially sabotaging the momentum of local entrepreneurship and innovation? Not in my mind.

Each one of us has a voice in the issue. You voice your opinion in the currency of your actions. Every time you click on a TechWire article, you are encouraging this behavior. Every time you agree to give TechWire an interview that will go behind the paywall, you are encouraging this behavior. Every time you give TechWire an exclusive scoop, you are encouraging this behavior. Every time you agree to write content for TechWire, you are encouraging this behavior.

It is about time we stop the madness and hold WRAL TechWire accountable. I am calling for a boycott of TechWire until they remove the paywall, align their interests with the community, and acknowledge that we are all stronger together. I understand that they are a for-profit company that needs to make money. However, there are numerous ways to accomplish this and I’m willing to spend time to help them set a strategy to accomplish this at no charge. I doubt they will accept the offer.

As a community it is time we stand up for what we know is the right thing. The status quo is disrupted when a group of individuals passionately advocate for what is right. If you want to join me, I’d love for you to take 15 seconds and sign this petition to have WRAL TechWire take down their paywall.

Please share this with anyone and everyone you know. By posting it to social media and sharing with friends, we can rally the passionate group of individuals that is needed to create the necessary systemic change. Thank you!

The petition can be found here as well: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/wral-techwire/

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Circle The Wagons: What Everyone Is Thinking But Nobody Will Say

  1. We didn’t see any paywalls around all the articles on the downtown homeless fiasco recently. Another one of those things that can make or break us as a “top 5 city”. The sad part is, I’ve met quite a number of them (homeless people) who want to start their own businesses. Writing about real solutions of all kinds is what we need to propel us forward – and stop treating entrepreneurship as something that “those poor unemployed people do because they can’t find a job”. Entrepreneurship IS what creates jobs! It should be noted and publicized as such.

  2. I actually really disagree with this. Media coverage is definitely not the problem. What would media coverage gain? In SF and the valley (where I moved to from the Triangle 1.5 years ago) — Press coverage is widely considered useless and simply a waste of time. It makes it seem to the world like you are winning when maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. Is the goal to have more people interested in tech? Is the goal to have more people fund startups? Be a part of startups? Try out new products? What actually is the goal?

    • Jeff – Thanks for the comment. I wholly agree that random coverage is useless. Let me use an example as to how the paywall is an issue – WedPics raised $1.1 million. The founder, Justin Miller, can’t use WRAL’s exclusive article as a press link to send to potential investors for future rounds. He has also been contacted by people who found the article online and were interested in them but couldn’t read the article. While the press coverage will not make or break his company, it could definitely be one less barrier he has to combat.

      Let me know your thoughts on how we could potentially solve this issue. I’m open to others thoughts and I believe WRAL is as well.

      • You opened up the blog post talking about how we can make the triangle a viable tech-hub in the US. That’s a great goal – and a really interesting and rather complex issue.

        Sure, paywalls on local news sources’ coverage of local startups matters. However it is a complete tempest in a teapot. There is a *long* list of things that matter way more. And I worry that by unifying the community around something that matters very little- you will distract from real issues and even worse – possibly dishearten people when changing the paywall changes next to nothing.

        Things – that in my estimation are more important:
        1. Investor support – We need 5-10 angels willing to write 2-3 50k checks per year for a total of 500k-1.5M per year. This means companies can get started locally instead of moving away. Every VC in NC basically only invests in super safe growth equity rounds – risk and “early-stage” is hardly in their vocabulary.
        2. University support – CS professors and professors in general need to challenge their students to work for or start a startup instead of working for Cisco or IBM. NC State, UNC, and Duke paying lip service to entrepreneurship helps no one. It was my experience that being involved in these programs did next to nothing to actually change my startup’s outcome. Not. One. Thing despite ~80+ hours of time spent on them.
        3. Cultural support – we need a common meeting point – a watering hole – where serendipitous connections and ideas can grow and teams can be formed. It takes a village to build a startup.
        4. Be real about our position. When I was starting my startup in Raleigh – I was literally being invited to conferences to speak – and we didn’t have a line of code written yet. WHAT?! We need to put the Triangle in perspective. We need to be realistic about what the community can support currently. And if a company needs to move – they need to move. If they are consumer internet – GO TO SILICON VALLEY NOW. Also – we need to call out the completely spineless group of organizations that supposably support entrepreneurship. I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

        I had so many conversations with people who are optimistic yet entirely have their “head in the clouds.” Government won’t fix it. Media won’t fix it. It’s about the community. It’s about risk-taking entrepreneurs – risk-taking investors – and risk-taking engineers — and laser focus on solving a big problem for what is originally a small group of customers. It isn’t that hard.

        People look at Silicon Valley and think it is the way it is for many many reasons. “It has Stanford”. “It has great engineers”, blah blah blah. But really – that’s all BS – and those are not causes but effects. So what is the CAUSE?

        NC needs to be good at:
        1. Identifying potential great entrepreneurs — the Ron Conway sniff test
        2. Get the REAL part of the community (not the LONG LIST of posers) to circle around them. That includes engineering support (if they need it) – that includes investor support (if they need it), that includes intros to customers (if they need it).
        3. Tell them to do nothing but Ship Code and talk to customers and all work out of 1 co-working spot. No BS drinkups, no lame conferences, no listening to how the guy that built a real-estate empire did it, no talking to the freaking local press, no trying to get local leaders to pay lip service to entrepreneurship.
        4. The community grows and wins.

        Is it a pretty, sexy, easy solution? Heck no. It’s dirty, it’s messy, but it’s the only thing which is actually to change anything.

      • Jeff – Gotta respect someone who can articulate thoughts the way you just did. Kudos.

        As for your points:
        1 – We have the investors who are willing to write big checks. I know guys who have multi-millions of their personal money invested in multiple seed stage companies. Your view of VC’s is generally correct – they love a safe bet.
        2 – The university system is completely insulated. Students have no clue what is happening outside of campus. While this is improving, it is nowhere near the position it needs to be. Professors are important but I think the students who want to get shit done find their way.
        3 – Not sure if you are familiar with American Underground but thats one of the most impressive places in the country.
        4 – Too many people have unrealistic thoughts about the area. Completely agree. The real companies aren’t paying attention to all the hype though. Let the government and media do the talking, while the companies are increasing revenues.

        If you ask successful companies in the area what the number one problem for them is, you will hear “exposure” over and over again. They have funding, they have a great product, but nobody knows about them. I continue to hear it. I predict we will continue to hear it moving forward.

        The media is a free, easy, and initial way to attack the problem. It is not the final solution but moves us closer.

      • Exposure? If you are relying on the mainstream media to get to your customer – you are doing it wrong.

  3. Anthony,

    First let me say “thank you” for trying to make the Triangle more startup friendly, we need more like you.

    I understand why you are calling for the boycott. However, I feel that it’s a very aggressive first step. As someone who supports both free knowledge and capitalism I understand why you see this as an obstacle. Though, PayWall’s are an industry norm and I don’t believe in bullying companies via “petitions”. I do however believe in capitalistic approach:

    1) Support a competitor who does not use a PayWall
    2) Start your own media outlet (pompliano.org)
    3) Sell TechWire on the idea. For instance: Keep the PayWall but provide an “Startup Board” which features full articles about local startups without a PayPall. Hybrid Solution.

    Just my two cents!

    Take care and keep hustlin’.

    • Griffe – Awesome input. This is not the first time I have written about the paywall. I also spoke on the issue in front of 100+ people with WRAL’s Chief Innovation Officer in the crowd.

      Extreme steps are needed when the status quo ignores you and feels too comfortable. I love your proposed solutions. There is definitely a few win-win solutions that will hopefully be deployed!

  4. Hi Anthony, I agree that we don’t have a central site that is really the all inclusive startup news, technology, investors, events and communication resource that we need. There is a perfect model of what we need already out there that covers the Seattle startup community and also the major industry players like Microsoft and Amazon. Geekwire.com has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last several years and does a great job. It was started by a couple of local tech guys out there. If you want to know what is happening in Seattle, just follow Geekwire like I do. We need a version of Geekwire in the Triangle. Who is willing to step up to the plate and create it? It will not be hard to find financing to get it up and running. We could probably crowdfund the site and get the whole community involved.

  5. I think you nailed it, Anthony. TechWire is great but Jim Goodmon’s vision has not been passed on to his sons. Poor leadership and bad decisions has produced the problem you have eloquently described. Thank you for posting this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s