UK tech journalists who made millions via the Internet


I read today that UK online auction site QXL is closing down after 11 years. And it reminded me of how a couple of Brit tech journalists made their fortunes in the early years of the last dot com boom.

Those with long enough memories will remember that QXL was founded in 1997 by former Financial Times journalist Tim Jackson. I knew Tim from before this when he was with the Independent. I kept in touch with him when he went to the US to research his book on Intel. I also remember meeting up with him on his return and his enthusiasm for a then nascent start up over there called eBay. Shortly after that, he went ahead and founded QXL. Tim did approach me about handling PR for his new venture. But he had no money at that point and my then employers were not comfortable about working in lieu of future shares in what seemed a highly risky venture at the time.

Clearly hindsight is a wonderful thing. QXL later went on to float on the Stock Exchange, and at one point, was valued at £2bn. Tim’s own shareholding was (briefly) worth £272m at this time. Although, he didn’t cash out at this point, he certainly made enough later to not to have to worry about his future financial security.

But Tim wasn’t the only tech journalist to make it big. Perhaps even more remarkable was the story of Richard Jones. I knew Richard from his early days at VNU’s now long defunct Personal Computer Magazine (there was clearly something about this magazine – Richard replaced Drew Cullen on the title, who went on to co-found The Register. Their then boss, editor Ben Tisdall, is somewhat of entrepreneurial talisman). Richard ended up moving to EMAP and launching Network Week. But around 1996, went off to set up a new Internet venture. Richard was a quiet, unassuming individual – so it was somewhat of a surprise to get e-mails from him saying he was in New York, sleeping on friends floors, trying to get VC investment for his business. The rest of course is history. Richard’s venture was Fortune City, one of the early success stories of the Internet years. The company floated on the Neuer Markt in Germany in 1999, and achieved a valuation of several hundred million dollars. Richard was able to cash in on this and moved to Monaco.

So where are today’s would be Web 2.0 millionaire entrepreneurs amongst the UK’s tech journalist fraternity? As Nick Denton commented after the last Internet bubble burst:

Business success, in the internet as much as in financial speculation, is down to timing as much as any other quality. In the go-go years of the new economy, commentators talked incessantly of the first-mover advantage that accrued to the entrepreneur first into a particular market. They forgot to mention that the virtue of being, not just first in, but first out.

PR is “deader than the journalistic trade”: Mike Magee


Mike Magee, founder of The Inquirer, co-founder of The Register and one time editor of PC Business World, has penned a rather amusing departing shot from Incisive Media. In a self described “final act of ennui”, he gives us the definitive Guide to Modern 21st Century Journalism.

He has seven rules for the budding tech hack (reproduced in full below). As Peter Kirwan says, it’s a sensible rant against Google-driven hackery.

Rule 1 did get me thinking though:

Totally ignore PRs. The PR profession is deader than the journalistic trade. What place is there for an agency PR person when all the vendors throw up press releases instantly copied by serried ranks of “data gatherers” so cutting out the middle bunnies?

Amidst the satire, there is a serious point about the role of a PR agency today. Clearly there is a role to be played, but it almost certainly doesn’t resemble the PR stereotype of yesteryear. Sadly for Mike, it will involve knowledge of SEO, analytics, etc – but should still include the basics of good content skills and media relationship talent. And personally speaking, I don’t see why booze needs to be cut out of the equation.

Finally, as Intel and AMD’s PR departments break open the champagne, Mike says he will be “at his wit’s end at the end of the month at what to do”. I think the Coach and Horses beckons – for old time’s sake.

Those rules in full:

Rule 1 Totally ignore PRs. The PR profession is deader than the journalistic trade. What place is there for an agency PR person when all the vendors throw up press releases instantly copied by serried ranks of “data gatherers” so cutting out the middle bunnies?

Rule 2 A Modern Journalist never leaves the office, never has a drink, unless it’s a non-alcoholic Pimms, never double checks a story, never takes a chance, and has a pathological fear of a telephone unless the Health and Safety Inspectors clean the mouthpiece and earpiece every morning before the tidy world begins.

Rule 3 Google is the robotic news editor which rules the roost towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A Modern Journalist can do nothing except spur Adsense sales by endlessly re-writing stories that appear on Google News, which may never have actually been broken by anyone but first processed by the more important class of “data gatherers” who get early access to the er, press release.

Rule 4 The Modern Journalist never “breaks a story”. That would court the ire of the serried ranks of news management spinners and would breach Rule 2 to boot. Plus, even if a story fell into her or his hands, it would have to be “gathered” and then “processed” through the serried ranks of lawyers who act as an expensive filter to ensure that no boat is rocked.

Rule 5 The Modern Journalist must have gone to “journalist school”, where she or he will be taught all the tricks of the trade, such as sitting in serried ranks, never going out, never using the phone, re-cyling the endlessly re-cycled, and shamelessly cohorting with legions of other “professionals” such as people that went to “PR school” and those that drink non-alcoholic Pimms. They must be taking other stuff to get them high, surely? An old-fashioned hack would never do that. We think.

Rule 6 Show your adherence to 21st Modern Journalism standards by mouthing marketing slogans in your copy at every turn. If you have a news editor, and she or he wants you to “break stories”, complain through levels of the organisation that you’re being pressured and abused because she or he is complaining that you’re just recycling either press releases or re-cycled chunks from Google News.

Rule 7 Make sure you ignore this so 20th century saying: “You cannot hope To bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But seeing what The man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to. – Humbert Wolfe, Over the Fire” Accept bribes gracefully.

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