When I lived in New York City in the late ’80s, I thought I was a hotshot DJ. I spun records (yes, vinyl) at a restaurant in Queens that had a special dance night catering to flight attendants. More people started showing up, the owner started charging for entry, but I was still being paid $125 per night as the DJ.
I demanded my pay be increased to $175 per night, figuring I was partly responsible for the boom in business. The owner thought differently, and when I walked away from the job, he hired another DJ probably for $125 or less. I took heart that the popularity of the dance night quickly faded after I left, but my next job DJ’ing wasn’t as popular despite the raise in my pay.
I had thought that I wasn’t replaceable, but the owner thought otherwise. That’s what comes to mind when I think about the high-profile split between Amanda Congdon and Andrew Baron at the leading video blog, Rocketboom. Congdon says that she was fired as the host, and Baron says Congdon wanted to move to Los Angeles and basically quit.
What happens next is a question of replaceability and moving on. Can Congdon find another video blog where she can shine? Will she go into acting for TV or movies? She now has a big-time talent rep, the Endeavor Agency, for doing just that. And Baron has apparently hired a Congdon look-alike, Joanna Colan, to serve as interim host of Rocketboom.
The recent history of replacing high-profile hosts or anchors or even bloggers has been mixed. Brian Williams has replaced Tom Brokaw pretty well if you go by the ratings for “NBC Nightly News” (it leads the pack). Infinity Radio has had a dreadful time trying to replace Howard Stern after he skipped out to Sirius satellite radio. Gawker Media has pushed the envelope with letting talent go, but its flagship Gawker blog has seen steady traffic despite a rotating cast of writers, while Wonkette has never really recovered from the loss of Ana Marie Cox.
(UPDATE: Gawker Media honcho Nick Denton disputes this, showing traffic going up since Cox left in January. However, the site’s traffic has swooned considerably since the 2004 presidential election, when it peaked at 4 million page views.)
The always outspoken Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs Inc. (later sold to AOL), has a philosophy of treating his talent like stars, letting bloggers keep intellectual property and paying them fairly. Calacanis quickly offered Congdon a cush video blogger position with Netscape:
You’re a star baby… it’s time to be treated like one. Ask the other stars who work with me how I treat my talent and I think they’ll all tell you that I fight and fight for my people like a rabid dog.
That might be true, and bully for Calacanis for treating talent right. But would Congdon recapture her Rocketboom success with Calacanis at Netscape, a portal whose very name conjures up the mid-‘90s Web 1.0 world? So far, she hasn’t taken him up on that very public offer.
The whole drama of the Rocketboom split has played out in a very public, very new age way for media. Baron made his announcement on the blog. Congdon made her announcement with a video clip on her personal blog, and then refuted Baron’s view with a lengthy rebuttal to his email message.
I asked Baron to tell me about the way this whole drama has played out through blogs and the media. He responded to me via email last week (I never heard back from Congdon):
I’m not sure what I think right now. We have both invested so much into everything, I was surprised to learn that Amanda would depart this way. It’s not just me here but a pretty big team and we are all trying really hard to make it all work for everyone.
I am not sure why she had to go public with everything. It’s not really a single issue. I decided not to get into much online and have just sucked it up. I have my head down working on the show…because right now, I have ahead of me the biggest challenge of my life.
No doubt. So now let’s consider the variables for how replaceable Congdon is. On Baron’s side, he has the Rocketboom brand and domain name — where other blogs have linked so many times over the past couple years. He has the online archives for all the past Rocketboom shows. No matter who the host is, the audience will know the style of what they’re getting when they check out Rocketboom.
Blogging pioneer Dave Winer says he supports the idea of Rocketboom more than the people involved. “The unenlightened folk who say Amanda takes it all with her, well they don’t get what Rocketboom is,” Winer wrote recently. “Amanda’s heart is in the right place, she got it and she did it, but she isn’t it. And neither is Andrew, but he’s sticking with it, so I’m sticking with him. If Amanda, in her new gig, does the sending them away thing, then she will have my support too.”
For her part, Congdon has had an outpouring of support from fans, who say they’ll watch her show no matter where it goes. Her version of Rocketboom combined wit, charisma, and just plain goofiness. That’s not always easy to replace. It might well depend on who Baron decides to employ as the host going forward. Today was supposed to be Colan’s first try, but as of late afternoon Pacific Time, the show hadn’t posted yet. (UPDATE: Colan’s premiere was put off to Tuesday, July 11.)
If you can think of a good replacement host, sound off on the Your Take question. Otherwise, share your thoughts in the comments about whether you think Congdon is replaceable and what factors are at play here.
For more reading on the Rocketboom brohaha, check out these links:
BusinessWeek’s Heather Green gets both sides on the record — including their moderator.
New York Times’ Felicia Lee compares the split to Star Jones Reynolds leaving “The View.”
Blogger Robert Scoble says the acrimony reminds him of his divorce.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer blogger Brian Chin compares Congdon leaving Rocketboom to Scoble leaving Microsoft.
Canadian Press’ Jocelyn Noveck said Congdon achieved “a kind of fame unique to this Internet age.”