Break with WSJ could be opportunity to think bigger for AllThingsD team
It started with a conference, but its real media property is its online presence. AllThingsD is a brand that remains owned by News Corp and its Dow Jones division (the Wall Street Journal), but now its founders, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, will apparently be leaving the nest and setting up shop elsewhere. Things won’t be the same, and maybe that is good.
The AllThingsD property is a bit of an oddity within Dow Jones. Covering a basically liberal industry, with most of the staff in San Francisco, AllThingsD doesn’t really fit in Murdoch’s new WSJ. Yet is is very successful, both from a financial aspect, and when considering its influence.
And it is not just Mossberg and Swisher that are the influencers. John Paczkowski, Peter Kafka, Ina Fried and others are widely read, followed on Twitter, and seen at big tech events. While most media observers are wondering about the fate of AllThingsD’s founders, there is still a lot of talent that now will either remain at News Corp or move on to whatever new media entity is created by Mossberg and Swisher.
AllThingsD, though, remains owned by News Corp, and doubtless this was the leverage that the Dow Jones folks thought they had over its founders. No one likes the idea that they have to start all over again, plus possibly face the fact that they will be competing against the brand they established themselves.
If I were at News Corp I would have already figured out the strategy and would begin implementing it, picking off staffers with the lure of promotion at AllThingsD.
For Mossberg and Swisher it won’t be the end of the line – it could a great new opportunity. They will get good offers to set up shop some place – Yahoo, Comcast, AOL, their own company. The question will be what is their vision for the new company? They probably already know.
“Then, starting Jan. 1, 2014,” Mossberg and Swisher wrote today, “we will still be Web-siting and conference-producing and much more, albeit under a new corporate structure with new partners and investors. While we can’t give any details yet — and there are details — you can assume that this new independent business will be laser-focused on continuing and extending Web journalism and conference journalism with the highest standards. Plus, we will finally be able to have added resources, so we can grow in new and exciting ways, including hiring more journalists and doing much more video.”
This last sentence seems to be to be one of the most important. It may be that adding resources to what has been one of the company’s most successful and important products may have been just too much of a corporate fight for Mossberg and Swisher.
AllThingsD does fantastic tech reporting – on a wide range of topics within tech and outside it. But the team is constrained within a set number of products – its events and its website. Now Mossberg and Swisher will be able branch out, if they want. So picking the right partner, either a media property or investors, will be vitally important.
One thing News Corp will learn soon is that things are different in digital media. While Murdoch could pick up the WSJ and add it to his media empire with ease because of its brand value, in tech reporting much of the audience follows the writers, not the URL. For me, the value of AllThingsD is not Mossberg and Swisher, despite their pedigree and continued work, it is with the staff. Staff is everything, something few media executives understand – or if the do, they try to deny it.
I follow many of AllThingsD’s writers through Twitter, this won’t change just because they no longer worth for Dow Jones.
If I had any free advice for Mossberg and Swisher, it is to determine how important events will be to their future. If they will be, partnering with someone that can help in this area will be vital (or at least is willing to invest money right away to build up this enterprise).
But the founders have a big advantage over other would-be new media ventures: access to west coast investors rather than being limited to the conservative, pretty much out-of-touch east coast PEs. There is a lot of money in tech, and very little in media. Mossberg and Swisher would be wise to consider themselves tech first, media second.
Update: Bloomberg has a post up about the break-up and how important the events side of AllThingsD is versus the online side. The takeaway is that News Corp won’t be losing much income from this break-up as the terms of the existing deal are very much in favor of the founders, one good reason for News Corp to let the contract expire. On the other hand, any new venture by Mossberg and Swisher may again lean heavily on events versus media based on past performance.