For TechCrunch's MG Siegler, temptation came from the clubby world of venture capital. For the New York Times' Nick Bilton, the lure was in the blindingly lit studios of a TV network. The writers made different choices—one took the money, the other turned it down—but the scope of their offers alone is the sign of a world gone mad.
Siegler, a prolific tech-biz writer, will become a general partner at CrunchFund, the venture capital vehicle run by TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington and seeded by AOL. He'll continue writing for TechCrunch as an outside columnist focused on Apple.
Siegler has been fielding offers from VCs for months, his editor wrote. We heard he was already planning to leave AOL in early September and that his suitors included Andreessen Horowitz, the Menlo Park firm with investments in Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, among others. But he almost certainly would not have joined any top tier firm as a general partner, as he will at CrunchFund.
Also eying a jackpot in recent days was the Times' lead Bits blogger Nick Bilton. According to one source quoted on Arrington's new blog Uncrunched, Bilton was offered $500,000 per year in salary for a gig that involved TV segments for CBS and frequent blog posts for its subsidiary CNET. The deal was also said to include a $1 million+ book advance for Bilton's online privacy treatise "Owned." A CBS source told Uncrunched the yearly salary was closer to $300,000 than $500,000 and that the book deal was never sealed.
Well, sort of. Our understanding is that Bilton was going to be pulling down $300,000 per year for the TV and web writing, but more than $200,000 in additional annual incentives to embark on other ventures with the media conglomerate. Even without getting into the unsigned book deal, that's a ton of money; it would have put Bilton into the rarefied company of tech writing godfather Walt Mossberg, who reportedly pulls down $1 million+ annually .
But Bilton ended up sticking around at the Times, with a salary estimated below $150,000. He did get a promotion, earning a weekly technology and business column in the paper and a greatly reduced blog workload. That decision is arguably gutsy, arguably dumb, and definitely expensive.
Two writers, two different decisions. But the fact that two chroniclers of the tech bubble were themselves able to surf said bubble to such potentially lucrative heights is a pretty good sign that the bubble end is nigh. Not that we begrudge anyone's payday; prolific Siegler has repeatedly been called TechCrunch's best writer, and Arrington called Bilton, who put a combined 400 stories into the print and online editions of the Times last year, "our number one most desired hire while I was at TechCrunch." (Disclosure: Bilton introduced me to my current book publisher.) Nor do we weep for Times editor Jill Abramson, who is losing writers to the web left and right even as she makes retention a higher priority. This is just crazy, is all we're saying. Just ask any seasoned journalist outside the tech world.