Earlier this week, PandoDaily founder and CEO Sarah Lacy announced the tech publication had raised a Series A funding round of $1.2 million, led by “an unconventional group of investors in Tennessee organized by Nashville-based Jumpstart Foundry,” as well as adopting a new tagline, “Speaking truth to the new power.”
For a blog birthed from the founder’s connections to Silicon power, the tagline — like the content — sends a conflicted message.
Pando’s acquihire of NSFWCORP late last year officially brought ‘Internet tough guy’ Paul Carr — a frequent collaborator of Lacy’s — under the Pando umbrella, along with Carr’s crew of irascible journalists/Vegas exiles who seek to “f*ck with power,” in the words of contributor Mark Ames. NSFWCORP’s commitment to capital-J Journalism did not seem to be an immediate fit for Pando’s tech-positive editorial voice, which many — most frequently Valleywag’s Sam Biddle — have criticized as cheerleading rather than reporting.
Pando’s new investigative focus — juiced by the NSFW staff — seems to be reaping more page views than the traditional funding and tech-opinion pieces, with recent hits including a highly-shared exposé on billionaire John Arnold’s massive efforts to slash public employees’ retirement benefits. With the new hires have also come quick exits; between December and January, Pando lost multiple high-level staffers, including general manager Oni Rovatti and executive producer Kym McNicholas, as well as reporters Erin Griffith (who went to Fortune), Hamish McKenzie (whom Elon Musk personally recruited for Tesla’s PR department), and Nathaniel Mott (who is now living in Brooklyn and working as a freelance journalist).
In her blog post, Lacy says that Pando will reach profitability in 18 months, with ad revenue and sponsorship/ticket sales from the Fireside Chat series remaining strong. However, she also noted that $2.5 million seed funding was “evaporating by the day,” and insinuated that, without the $1.2 million Series A, Pando would’ve been toast.
Very few relevant media organizations are untouched by conflicted money — whether from advertisers or venture capitalists — so critiquing Pando for its rich connections is pointless. And as Business Insider, BuzzFeed, Upworthy and other sites begin setting roots as the New New Media Elite, Pando seems to be slowly morphing from giddy insider to aggressive outsider. From a journalistic perspective, this is exciting. But investigative journalism never kept on the newsroom lights in the print era, and there’s still no proof it will do so for digital.
Having raised more money than 99.9999% of blogs would even think (or have the opportunity) to raise puts Pando in a privileged position to lead by example, to actually prove that non-spammy headlines + high-powered investigative journalism = positive ad revenue. Glenn Greenwald and former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller (now with The Marshall Project) are just two of the journalists trying to crunch the same equation. And there’s a good chance the math won’t work.
To Pando, we’re asking them to a) prove they are not beholden to the interests of their investors, and b) prove they can reach some semblance of financial independence. A hard task, to be sure, but Lacy has spent enough time courting the elite — now is time to show her own.