I read with interest this morning Warren St. John's piece in the New York Times about the return of Silicon Alley.
There are a handful of readers of this blog who remember @NY, the weekly bible of the original Silicon Alley gold rush and one of the early experiments in e-mail and Web publishing. I founded @NY with Tom Watson in 1995 (we sold it to Alan Meckler in 1999).
@NY was created to cover a story no one believed was for real--tech entrepreneurship in New York. Since Tom and I had both been political reporters in the city, we had a peculiar perspective on that. (Very shortly after launching @NY, Tom and I were also hired to write a column about digital culture in New York for the then nascent New York Times Website.) But @NY was also founded with an editorial mission--to deflate the hype, to perform searching analysis of the real value and innovations being created here.
That kind of analysis was welcome among some of our more serious readers--guys like uber blogger Fred Wilson. But that focus on skeptical analysis also cost us money. As opposed to some of the research operations at the time, we understood our job to be to tell people the truth, not to tell people what they wanted to here. And, as opposed to a then-fledgling print competitor, Jason Calacanis, who came along with Silicon Alley Reporter, we didn't understand out job to be cheerleading but thought-leading.
For most of the media covering the story, Silicon Alley was one for the toy department. (When the NYT on the print side finally put a reporter on the beat it was the now disgraced Jayson Blair, fresh out of the Times writing program and in way over his head). It was a story about scenes and parties and cute young things with money to burn, "gee whiz" tales about boy entrepreneurs who took their dogs to work and kept ping pong tables in their conference rooms. We did our share of that kind of publishing, running party coverage in a column called @ The Scene. We were, after all, professional publishers who understood that people like to see their names in print (even if the "print" is virtual). But first and foremost we took seriously the ideas that New York could be an important hothouse for the invention of new media technology businesses and that the boys in Silicon Valley could learn something from New York's media-centered approach to technology. We also believed that media technology start-ups could have a major financial impact on a city that hadn't had a new home grown industry since movies left in the 1920s.
That's why I was so dismayed to see St. John's piece lead not the metro section or the business section, but the Sunday Styles section, complete with a photo--composition straight from a Abercrombie ad--of twenty something entrepreneurs Adam Rich and Ben Lerer playing pool in the offices of their start up Thrillist.com. I can't remember the last time I saw a John Markoff piece in the style section about what the boys are wearing around the offices of Kleiner Perkins.
It turns out that Tom and I were right, tech entrepreneurship in New York was a big story (and IS a big story). New York, with it's media focus DOES have a different and crucially important role to play in the development of digital technology--particularly consumer facing media technology. But the mainstream media still just sees how "cool" it is. If Silicon Alley's going down that road again, well, I've got a start-up to sell you, online pizza delivery, $100 million valuation. It could happen.
Listen, despite the best wishes of the hardcore techies, the next generation of computing platforms is NOT coming out of a walk-up in the Flatiron district. But the next Clearchannel Communications--in the form of a podcast and streaming audio company--just might. Last year's most talked about tech company--Google--has effectively become a media company, making millions selling low rent direct advertising. Something IS happening here, but it's not a story for the style section.