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Newsweek
May 24, 1999

MARKETS
Gold-Plated Typewriters
Stop the presses! Some reporters are getting rich.
By Adam Bryant

Money and journalism aren't supposed to mix. It's a tension, after all, that's been part of newspaper lore since "The Front Page.'' In the 1994 movie "The Paper,'' for example, Robert Duvall, playing the gruff editor in chief of a New York tabloid, scolds Glenn Close, his managing editor, for griping about her contract: "If you try to make this job about the money, you'll be nothing but miserable, because we don't get the money. Never have, never will.''

Well, get me rewrite. Journalism is suddenly emerging as a rather unlikely rocket to riches. Just last week, TheStreet.com, a financial-news Internet site, went public and watched its shares zoom from $19 to $60. Dave Kansas, its editor in chief and a former rank-and-file Wall Street Journal reporter, saw his stockholdings roar to $9 million. All the other ink-stained wretches at TheStreet.com have options, too, but the only stains they had to worry about last week were from spilled champagne. (Kansas urged editorial staffers not to let the IPO distract them.) TheStreet.com is part of a small parade of unprofitable Web ventures going public these days. CBS Marketwatch, another financial-news site where the entire staff gets options, went public in January, shooting from $17 to $97.50 in its first day. Salon, the general-interest online magazine that may be a tougher sell because it doesn't traffic in hard-core trading info, is planning an IPO as well. A lot of traditional media companies see the sky-high valuations of Internet siblings and are noodling over ways to spin off operations into cyberspace, where the only presses needed are to print stock certificates.

Journalists have always griped about their pay, and rightly so. Starting reporters at smaller papers make about $20,000. But that was supposed to be the price of pursuing a higher calling. Legendary columnist Walter Lippmann once said: "As the free press develops, the paramount point is whether the journalist, like the scientist or scholar, puts truth in the first place or in the second.'' Now the math is a little more complicated. Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor of new media at the Columbia Journalism School, said that a lot of Internet companies use stock options to lure students. They, in turn, are asking aloud whether they can be idealistic about journalism and get a piece of the pie at the same time. One reporter-in-training, Dan Maccarone, chose to go to IXL, a Web-site developer, as an "information architect.'' The company offered "money I should not be making,'' confessed Maccarone, who is 22. Plus options. IXL plans to go public soon.

If nothing else, the rush to repackage journalism into a jerry-built Internet business model is the latest sign of just how infectious the current stock-market fever can be. And just think, come the day these and other Internet stocks go into the tank, the reporters who work for them can write with firsthand understanding of what it means to have a truly bad day at the office.

sree's lowercase world | stuff | newsweek on stock options