Blogger showdown at Brainstorm TechJuly 22, 2008: 1:51 AM ET
By Yi-Wyn Yen
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. - Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference kicked off Monday night with sharp-tongued bloggers ripping into each other and the companies they cover.
Moderator and Fortune senior writer Adam Lashinsky discussed the competitiveness of the blogosphere with Om Malik of Gigaom.com, Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal's (NWS) AllThingsD.com, and Robert Scoble of Scobleizer.com. He asked the trio what made their sites unique, which quickly devolved into a trash-talking session.
"I'm like Fortune, but only in real-time," quipped Malik, which made the audience roar with laughter at the confab dinner. Malik said his Gigaom blog was interested in the "tech industry." Goaded by Lashinsky, Malik said he was not interested in covering "tech yesterday" -- companies like software giant SAP.
For her part, Swisher admitted that she's spending most of her time covering Yahoo (YHOO) and its revival efforts. She dissed Lashinsky's post early Monday about Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang being a "goner" now that Yahoo's board has given activist investor Carl Icahn three seats on its 11-member board. Swisher griped that Lashinsky and others covering the Microsoft (MSFT)-Yahoo travails say Yang will be fired soon, but don't specify how he'll be fired. "These things require logistics," she said. "There's no real leverage except [Yang] himself to move on." (Several top Yahoo veterans were in attendance at the dinner, including senior VP of communications and communities Brad Garlinghouse, who will leave the company in August, and Jeff Weiner, the former executive VP of Yahoo's network division who departed last month.)
Swisher wasn't afraid to openly rebuke top tech blogger Michael Arrington, the Silicon Valley star of TechCrunch. Swisher, a former longtime reporter with the Wall Street Journal, whose AllThingsD blog is a subsidiary of Dow Jones, said she and former colleague Walt Mossberg created the site because it was "really important to bring standards to blogging from the Wall Street Journal and give full disclosure." The comment was viewed as a slap at Arrington, who has been criticized for writing about companies he invested in. (See correction at end of story.)
Lashinsky questioned if Swisher was being fair by constantly picking on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Swisher admitted she shouldn't have called Zuckerberg, 24, a "toddler CEO." She said that his handlers kept saying that because he wore Adidas flip-flops and cute T-shirts and she wanted answers on how the company earns its profits. "I wanted to look into the fact that they weren't making a lot of money," she said.
Scoble meanwhile was accused of pandering to the companies that he covered. Scoble said long before Fortune ran its latest cover story about Tesla's troubles, he spent time behind the wheel of the elite electric car with investor Elon Musk and raced blogger and entrepreneur Jason Calcanis as 850 people followed them live online on Qik. Quipped Malik: "He branded Jason Calcanis. He branded Tesla. He branded Qik. And Skype."
Scoble said that the difference between bloggers and traditional media like Fortune magazine is that the audience participation helps keep his blog honest. "This is written by the audience. People participate in fact-checking," he said.
Lashinsky, however, got the last laugh. "In the old school, we like to get it right the first time."
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that TechCrunch's Michael Arrington had been criticized for not disclosing investments from companies he covered. In fact, Arrington had been criticized for writing about companies he invested in. He disclosed those investments on TechCrunch.