I didn’t know until this week’s Howard Kurtz kerfuffles that I was even listed as a member of the advisory board to his Daily Download. I did indeed give some advice to Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn a few years ago, before the site’s launch, in a half-hour phone call as I headed to JFK one day. I can’t even remember the topic. Since then, I think I was asked one question and emailed an answer. I know nothing more about the site.
The same thing happened to me at Patch. Before it launched, I was asked to come in and give some advice. I was offered remuneration to join the advisory board but refused because I help many hyperlocal ventures — being a believer in the cause — and did not want to be beholden to one. They asked whether they could say I advised them and I said sure, because I had. I found myself prominently displayed as a member of a board of advisers. I constantly had to make clear to other hyperlocal folks — and people who had complaints with Patch — that I had no formal relationship with Patch. I asked often to be taken off the list for clarity and that has happened.
Were either entity to call and ask for advice on a particular question, I’d be happy to give it to them, for what it’d be worth. I do this often. It’s what startups do — and what I advise my entrepreneurial students to do with their startups: answer questions and solve problems through reporting.
Formal advisory boards are odd. The only one I’m on that involves actual advice is Digital First Media’s and that’s because the company’s CEO, John Paton, keeps and encourages a constant discussion about issues and opportunities. Other advisory boards are mostly window dressing that add no value unless they are used. So my advice to startups is: Don’t create advisory boards. Go to people who can give you advice whenever you need it. If some are particularly helpful, create a formal relationship (which may involve an NDA or options). But nevermind the drapes.
I try to keep my disclosure page here on Buzzmachine current with my business relationships.
Now as to Kurtz: I like Howie and have long followed and liked his work because he at least tries to report while most of us in mediaville — I include me in this — tend mainly to blather. I’ve appeared often on his CNN show and he quoted me now and then when he wrote for the Washington Post. I believe coverage of his departure from Daily Beast has focused too much on his now-retracted post this week. There’s more to the story and I hope he tells that story in the spirit of openness and disclosure.
I also hope someone can explain the business models of both Daily Download and Daily Beast to me.
LATER: Just to be clear given some of the comments I’ve seen on Twitter and on Politico, Daily Download didn’t do anything sneaky or trick me. That’s not my point. They, like Patch, wanted to be able to say that I’d given them advice and since I had and I’m open, I said ok. The fact that I ended up on an “advisory board” was pretty much meaningless because no advice followed. My larger point is about advisory boards. Michael Oreskes of the AP put it better than I did:
— Michael Oreskes (@MichaelOreskes) May 3, 2013