Paid Content's Rafat Ali on Balancing Advertising and Reporting

Chat with Rafat Ali, founder of PaidContent, the blog that covers digital media about balancing being an entrepreneur and a writer.

Chatted with Rafat Ali, the founder of the popular media blog upstart, PaidContent, after he posted a treatise entitled "Our Essence of Being" on Friday. His post is about a big issue plenty of blogs are struggling with: how to balance advertising with remaining true to writing.

Ali is in the middle of the fray—-his three year-old blog on digital media and its three other sister sites are becoming a must read for many digital media execs. (I often hear media folks mention it.) But the higher the profile of these blogs, which are pioneering a unique combo of aggregating and breaking industry news, the more pressure Ali says he gets to bring on investors and bow to advertisers unhappy with what the blogs are writing.

PaidContent is fascinating to me because it’s a classic example of how one person used blogging to create an entirely new media entity. Ali's story is pretty interesting:

(Udated with some corrections)

While working as a reporter at the Silicon Alley Reporter magazine in NYC, he started a blog in June 2002 as a place to dump reporting he couldn't use. When he moved to London in the fall of 2002 to look for a new job, he maintained his blog—though it was a trial. Because he was broke and the aunt he was staying with didn't have an Internet connection, he would go to a local Internet café, download the latest version of his blog onto a CD floppy disk, go back to his room, write a post and head back to the café to load the changes onto the Web. Then one days, a marketer emailed to ask if his blog took ads. He said yes-- even before he knew what he should charge.

Fast forward three years: Ali is based in L.A. and has six five contractors working for him. PaidContent now does about 1 million page views a month, while the newsletter has 9,000 subscribers. This Next week, the service is hosting its first non-virtual event: a networking mixer. And, after starting out as a blog dedicated to writing about subscription services, which when Ali started the blog, were going to be the future of the Internet after the dotcom bust, PaidContent has morphed into covering, well, the business of digital media.

PaidContent's goal is to be starting point and the complete reference for everything about digital media. Blogging, with its linking, aggregation tools such as RSS, bite-sized posting, and continuous updates, is suited to help PaidContent achieve that goal, says Ali.

But while he says that he has enjoyed starting his own media company, balancing being a founder and a journalist is turning out to be tricky. Ali says he has had run ins with advertisers who were unhappy with stories or thought competitors are getting more ink . And he has to think about how to be involved with reporting when and if he brings on investors who might be running the companies he's covering. These are classic issues, but interesting to watch as it develops within the Petri dish of the blogosphere.

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