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Valleywag's demise shows Silicon Valley ain't Hollywood

November 13, 2008 | 11:50 am

Valleywag's first writer, Nick Douglas, in April 2006

It's more than a rumor: The great Silicon Valley gossip-rag experiment has come to a humbling conclusion.

Two-and-a-half years after launching Valleywag, blog magnate Nick Denton has decided to fold the site into Gawker, which covers the media business. For the past month, Denton has been saying to everyone who will listen that online advertising is undergoing a sharp slowdown as the economy continues to tank, and Web publishers are going to get nailed.

After recently paring the Valleywag staff down to two, Denton is now keeping only one -- Editor Owen Thomas, who will write as many as a dozen daily posts about Silicon Valley gossip as a Gawker columnist. "Valleywag's traffic isn't enough to pay for two writers, even with Ketel One ads on every page," writer Paul Boutin wrote in a post explaining the move. Boutin's last day is Dec. 1. Thomas' explanation is here.

The Valley can be a very serious place, full of self-importance and the I'm-gonna-change-the-world attitude that says you can be entrusted with million to show that you can do better Web searches or chip design than anyone else. Valleywag went after those folks, needling start-ups, venture capitalists, journalists and high-tech giants it thought needed to be knocked down a peg. It dug up dirt, pushed rumors, scooped the traditional media on many occasions (it also got things wrong) and ...

... relentlessly harangued the new-media elite, including uber-bloggers Michael Arrington, Jason Calacanis and Robert Scoble. In other words, for a certain crowd, Valleywag was a must-read.

And yet, that doesn't mean it was self-sustaining. Denton launched the site as part of his Gawker Media empire in early 2006, when the Web 2.0 movement was in full swing, and installed young Nick Douglas as its lead writer (he was later canned and replaced by Thomas). I profiled Valleywag in April 2006 and wondered at the time whether Silicon Valley was worthy of the Hollywood treatment.

Valleywag is backed by Nick Denton, the new-media publisher behind such Gawker Media blogs as Defamer for show business, Gawker for publishing and Wonkette for politics. If Google, Yahoo and Apple Computer Inc. are the media companies of tomorrow, why not cover them like the media companies of today?

That Valleywag even exists is a sign of the tech industry’s recovery from the dot-com bust. Silicon Valley is flush with money and energy again. Just a few years ago, there weren’t many inflated egos left to puncture. ...

But by giving software programmers, bloggers and marketers the Brad Pitt treatment, Valleywag has touched off a debate: Does Northern California need or want the same kind of gossip coverage as Los Angeles, New York and Washington? More importantly, does it warrant it?

Guess not. It's tough trying to take techsters down a peg when they're already as low as they've been in years. Venture capital funding is scarce. Hiring freezes and layoffs are everywhere. Yahoo has been humbled with a stock price hovering around $10, and Google and Apple also have seen their stocks take huge haircuts in the past year, diminishing the companies' clout as the broader financial crisis powers on.

So it's looking more and more like Denton was right when he started calling a blog bust and cutting staff last month. Guess it's not just us old-media types who should be bracing for a very long, cold winter.

-- Chris Gaither

Photo: Nick Douglas, Valleywag's original writer, takes notes at an Internet industry event in April 2006. Credit: Jakub Mosur / For The Times

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