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/