Over the weekend, Pando fired two of its hardest-hitting editorial staffers, David Sirota and Ted Rall, both nationally syndicated veteran journalists. Sirota recently broke a big story about Chris Christie's administration awarding pension contracts to hedge funds, private equity groups, and venture capital firms whose employees donated to the governor's reelection.
In February, Pando raised $1.2 million in financing from some powerful venture capitalists, including Accel Partners and Founders Fund, both of which invested in prior funding rounds.
Sirota's scoop about Chris Christie breaking anti-corruption laws was shared and liked 10,000 times on Facebook. According to Quantcast, Pando is only pulling in 859,000 monthly uniques globally and 579,000 uniques in the U.S.
An anonymous source alerted Valleywag to the firings. Neither Rall nor Sirota would comment on why they were fired. But there was a consensus among sources that the decision was not related to budgetary concerns. "It was completely from Sarah Lacy. Paul was the executioner. Apparently it came from complaints from investors in Pando," according to one Valleywag source. "Sarah basically said there was not enough tech and too much politics."
I am not certain about the terms of their departure, but I heard Rall was fired without severance but will be compensated through the pay period.
In response to questions from Valleywag, Sirota said: "I had an amazing time working with Pando to break huge stories and never once received any negative feedback from my editors, including when they let me go."
Rall is a popular political cartoonist. His tenure at Pando lasted less than a month. Within those few weeks, he broke the story that some Uber drivers made less than minimum wage contrary to the company's claims.
He told Valleywag the decision was "really truly out of a clear blue sky. I literally never got anything but A++ reviews." Rall had recently attended Pando's Southland conference, where Sarah Lacy, the site's founder, conducted nearly all of the interviews, including a panel with Al Gore. Despite her dominance over the softball tone of conference, Lacy's Twitter bio makes no mention of Pando or link to the site. She describes herself as "a reporter/author in silicon valley." Paul Carr's bio, on the other hand, says "I edit Pando."
Both Rall and Sirota were hired by Carr. Sirota joined Pando as part of its acquisition of NSFWCorp, Carr's failed journalistic enterprise. As part of the deal, Sirota was supposed to anchor a long-form investigative unit at Pando.
"I loved working for Paul Carr. I had complete editorial freedom," said Rall. "When I wrote stuff that he disagreed with, he not only posted them without comment, he promoted them. I thought, 'Here's a guy with a lot of integrity.'"
That complaint about the lack of tech coverage seems tenuous considering that Sirota and Rall both cover the intersection of tech and politics, taking a broader perspective than your standard press release reblog, which is what the NSFWCorp acquisition promised. The flow of tech money into politics is an increasingly vital topic. Earlier this month, for example, Chris Christie traveled to Silicon Valley for fundraising.
Both journalists were arguably the most visible writers on the site, next to Mark Ames, who also joined through NSFWCorp. "A lot of people followed me to Pando and would follow me anywhere," said Rall.
Sources did not specify which of Pando's investors allegedly objected to their work or the direction the site was taking. Previous investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Menlo Ventures, and more.
If that was the impetus for the decision, the lack of transparency around the firings would run counter to what Pando has claimed to stand for.
When Lacy launched the company in 2012, she clearly stated her ambition to become the site of record for Silicon Valley, insisting that financing from those same Silicon Valley insiders would not alter the nature of the reporting. At the time, TechCrunch was mired in the scandal over Arrington's conflicts of interests and its internal battle with AOL. Despite some breaking coverage from good reporters and occasionally combative pieces, Lacy's dream withered as her bombastic and self-congratulatory style, interspersed with fawning coverage of some of the techies in her orbit, dominated public perception of the site.
At the time of the acquisition, Lacy said:
"The NSFWCORP brand and voice will be going away, and everything will now be under the Pando brand," PandoDaily Editor-in-Chief Sarah Lacy writes. "The old NSFWCORP team will adapt to our audience and style, at the same time as our voice expands to cover more of tech and startups' impact on the globe."
I just reached out to Paul Carr and will update the post when I hear back.
Update: Carr offered the following statement by email:
I'm not going to comment on specific editorial changes which, as a startup, we make all the time. But any decision to hire or fire writers would be mine. Sarah doesn't run the newsroom, I do. Investors have zero say on editorial hiring or firing and I hope my track record of critical coverage of Pando investors shows how laughable the idea of them having input on my decision is. We don't have VCs on our board for this exact reason, and no investors owns any stake that would allow them to make that kind of call.
To be clear: any suggestion that investors have any impact — ever — on which writers we hire or fire, or what we write, is 100% false. There's plenty of both politics and tech on Pando, and there will continue to be. I'm about to hit publish on three intensely political pieces by John Dolan, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine later today. Sounds like your source has an agenda. But then I suppose they all do.
When I asked Carr whether he disputed that Sirota and Rall were fired without notice or cause, he responded:
I'm not commenting on specific personnel issues but, yes, I'm disputing the entirety of your story including that. Your source is just flat wrong. I don't know how much clearer I can be.
To clarify, I spoke with both Sirota and Rall before publishing, who acknowledged that they were let go.
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[Image via Pando]