Everyone in the startup ecosystem will tell you that the most successful entrepreneurs surround themselves with people who are better than them. So I know I’m on the right track, when I hire someone who makes me wonder how on earth I have managed to get him.
And I have been wondering that since last Wednesday, when I shook hands with our new Editor, Adam Penenberg.
Penenberg is a folk-hero in journalism circles, most known for his role in outing Stephen Glass for fabricating stories at The New Republic. Penenberg’s wily reporting was not only the subject of the movie “Shattered Glass”, it was one of the first big examples that online journalism wasn’t some bastard stepchild of the old media world. It could actually be the watchdog of the old media world.
Since then Penenberg has written everything from books to investigative features to cover stories, profiles, essays, and columns. His work has appeared in magazines like Forbes, Wired, Fast Company, the Economist, Mother Jones, and Playboy, and newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Online he’s been a columnist at Wired, Slate, and FastCompany.
Penenberg’s first book “Spooked”, which looked at corporate espionage, was excerpted in The New York Times magazine, and his second “Tragic Indifference” — about the Ford-Firestone debacle — was optioned for a movie by Michael Douglas. His third “Viral Loop”, dissected some of the fastest growing companies in history and was excerpted in The Financial Times, Fast Company, and Wired UK, and republished around the world.
Currently he is working on a book on ways that game mechanics are being layered into life and business, which is due in October. And in his copious spare time he’s written and released two novels: “Virtually True” and “Trial & Terror.” He also wrote a chapter in our first ebook “Buy This Book Before You Buy Facebook.”
Penenberg also teaches at NYU’s journalism school, where he’s known for being somewhere between a warm, avuncular mentor and a drill sergeant, not afraid to send stories back for re-write after re-write, with pages of feedback.
Put another way: Penenberg doesn’t fuck around. He’s known for holding reporters’ feet to the fire on ethics and holding himself and anyone he edits to an almost impossibly high bar. He’s also incredibly creative. Two of my favorite features — PandoHouse Rock and Dear Startup Genius — were both Penenberg’s ideas.
And now, he’s the editor of PandoDaily. Nathan Pensky will remain the managing editor and I will remain the Editor-in-Chief, but Penenberg will add a crucial layer in the middle, helping push our editorial standards even higher. He will work closely with our writing staff on story development, sourcing, and writing, making each and every piece the best it can be in the time-pressed world of blogging. And his first job will be writing our ethical code, so you, as readers, will know where we stand on everything.
It’s not only rare to find someone this talented who is willing to gamble on a small startup. As an entrepreneur, it’s rare to find someone who is so aligned. Penenberg and I became fast friends, because we view the world, technology, and journalism in very similar ways. We both have reverence for what worked in old media, but believe the future of journalism is about tearing down what doesn’t work. We both prize good reporting above anything else. The holes he sees in our site are the same holes I see. And we also see the same big opportunity. As he wrote in his first email to the staff last week:
“Trust me, opportunities to help build unique, influential, and important media companies don’t come around often. For me, the last time was in 1997, when I joined Forbes.com, one of the first Web-based news outlets. I was hired because I was the only one with online news experience, which consisted of four months covering breaking news for Wired.com. Here we are 15 years later and I sense a similar chance to make a difference.”
I am already incredibly proud of what we’ve done in the last six months. But with Penenberg’s help, PandoDaily will be leagues better in another six months’ time.
I’ve always wanted this to be a site that is a dream job for a smart reporter who simply wants to do great work. That’s why we pay competitive salaries and benefits and free reporters up to do far fewer posts per day than most blogs. That’s why we’ve had a copy editor and an art director to help make good stories even better. But more than anything, great writers love having a great editor.
Welcome to the team, Adam. I’m still a little stunned– but thrilled– that you’re here.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]