Ken Kurson, editor-in-chief of the New York Observer, confirmed to Valleywag that he has hired Ryan Holiday, author of the book Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, as the editor-at-large of its tech blog, Betabeat. In a statement, printed in full below, Holiday described the website as a "client."
Betabeat was launched in March, 2011 to cover New York City's burgeoning tech scene. Full disclosure: I worked at Betabeat from June, 2011 to April, 2013, first as a senior reporter and then as a senior editor, running the blog. For a few months I edited some of Holiday's freelance pieces; while Kurson edited the others. Holiday has continued to write a column for the site called "Off the Media," from the perspective of an insider in the marketing and advertising industry.
However, the reasons to question Holiday's credibility as an editor are all there in the title of his book, where he describes tricking reporters for the financial benefits of his marketing clients. Holiday has also worked as the "media strategist" for two men of ill repute—Tucker Max and Dov Charney—best known for their misogynistic and legally murky actions and attitudes towards women.
It went like this: I would grossly exaggerate the size of my book advance in a press release and let the gossip mill take this number and run with it. I would encourage bloggers and reporters to speculate that it was a celebrity tell-all about high-profile clients of mine like Dov Charney and Tucker Max. In effect, I'd be using the media's weakness for sensationalism to get them to expose their weakness for sensationalism (and give coverage to my indictment of them, something they'd otherwise be reluctant to do).
In response to questions from Valleywag, Kurson offered the following statement:
Ryan's knowledge, insights, integrity and work ethic are all beyond reproach. He'll be called editor at large so it'll be more like an expansion of the great stuff he's been doing for Betabeat since before I arrived. He has already written great stuff and attracted excellent writers. Won't be in office every day and if he has any biz conflicts, he will disclose, same as any writer in the whole co.
In a statement to Valleywag, Holiday said the site was a "client," just like any other:
I'll actually be editor at large, which is just a step up from my role as contributor and contributing editor (as its been on the masthead for some time). It means I will write considerably more but also help grow the site as I've done with lots of clients over the years. I have access to all sorts of thinkers, writers, potential contributors and sources that the average blogger does not and we'll be growing Betabeat with those contacts.
Look, this is a world where the average blogger—including yourself—has a financial stake in every story they write by nature of pageview bonuses. Because of my books and other businesses, I don't have that motivation. I write and think about these things because I enjoy it and I'm working with Ken because I have a great deal of respect for him and the team he is building.
Just last month, our sister site Lifehacker interviewed Holiday about juggling his jobs as director of marketing at American Apparel and partner at marketing agency StoryArk. The bio at the bottom of his latest column for Betabeat says:
Ryan Holiday is a best-selling author and adviser to many brands and writers. His newest book, Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising, focuses on the untraditional tactics behind a new class of thinkers who disrupted the marketing industry.
"Growth hacking" is a popular term in the tech industry used to either aggrandize traditional strategies for acquiring more users and traffic, or as a euphemism for shadier tactics.
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