Tech news publisher The Next Web continues to innovate in new and terrible ways, this time pushing the boundaries of how conflicted a tech news service can be by quietly setting up its own tech PR startup. That’s right: a tech startup news publisher is asking for money to help tech startups with their PR.
WHOIS information for PR.co, a paid service that helps companies draft and distribute press releases, reveals that TNW co-founder Patrick de Laive was responsible for registering the startup’s domain, and “The Next Web Holding BV” is listed as the registered organisation behind the domain in every section, including billing, along with de Laive’s official TNW work email.
There is next to no mention of de Laive’s involvement in the company on the internet, with only a handful of tweets and replies to people featuring links to the site, without disclosing his relation to the firm. There is also no mention of the business on TNW’s website, and it does not appear on the “TNW Brands” page. And on PR.co’s site, there is no mention of The Next Web. PR.co charges as much as €3,000 per year for advice with drafting and distributing press releases.
TNW, which suffered a wave of layoffs in 2013, is generally tight-lipped about its inner workings. The site is thought to be bankrolled by its sister operation, the annual TNW conference in Amsterdam. A few years ago, the site claimed it would “stop covering news” before getting rid of the majority of its writing staff.
TNW still in fact covers technology news, but the outlet has been trying to expand into more profitable territories ever since the layoffs. Former writers have been known to demand vast salaries when sniffing around jobs in PR, running into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now it seems TNW is simply expanding into PR at the same time as publishing journalism.
Asked about the apparent conflict of interest between these two operations, TNW founder Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten denied that there was any pressure on writers from his sales teams or from staff at PR.co. He insisted that the financial relationship between the two companies was above board.
“It is slightly more complicated than [you suggest],” he told Breitbart Tech. “I’m a shareholder in a company called TNW Holding that holds shares in pr.co and TheNextWeb.com. I think we often mention that in articles and posts and whenever we get the chance since we are very proud to be connected to them.”
He added: “TNW and PR.co share a shareholder but aren’t connected beyond that. There is no communication or business between our editorial team and the PR.co team. Our writers are very independent.”
Of course, Patrick de Laive holding a position at both companies suggests otherwise. Asked why de Laive does not disclose his dual role in any online profiles, van Zanten responded: “We just don’t see it as a conflict of interest.”
Seasoned tech blog-watchers won’t be surprised by this brazenness. Conflicts of interest and low standards plague technology journalism, which is overdue a consumer uprising like last year’s GamerGate, when consumers started to voice their dissatisfaction with the sloppy standards and rampant politicisation of the similarly hopeless video game press.
Eyebrow-raising antics aren’t restricted to tech blogs. Wired UK, the British equivalent of Wired, boasts several PR executives as prominent, regular writers, and its editor, David Rowan, travels the world being paid by the same companies his magazine covers to deliver dreary speeches about flying cars.
Unlike Wired, which is at least a glossy lifestyle magazine with — at least judging by its editorial decisions — no serious journalistic aspirations, TNW breaks financial news about startups and venture firms that readers will now be asking questions about.
Via email to Breitbart Tech, Van Zanten even bragged about the other startups TNW owns shares in: “TNW Holding also owns shares in Twittercounter.com and TryMila.com by the way. We’ve often written about them as well, just because we like those companies and their products, and we always mention our relationship to those companies as well.”
Breitbart Tech will be returning to the ethical and professional lapses of the tech press in the future.
Additional reporting by Charlie Nash