NEW YORK: In response to a Yahoo Finance story scrutinizing its practices, PR platform Qwoted said it has no conflicts of interest in owning a journalism website and noted that it is not misusing reporters’ data.
Qwoted, a platform journalists use to disseminate source requests, is owned by PR firms Vested and Prosek Partners. It acquired business journalism outlet Talking Biz News in June 2019, according to the site’s founder Chris Roush.
Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief, Andy Serwer, raised the possibility in a mid-December article that there is an inherent conflict of interest in a PR company owning a journalism site. Serwer questioned in his article whether or not Talking Biz News would publish an exposé of Vested or Prosek clients.
"What we have here is a site about journalism and journalists now owned by a business site — controlled by two PR firms — which isn’t exactly transparent about that ownership," Serwer wrote.
In response, Roush said he remains Talking Biz News’ editorial head, asserting the site maintains its editorial independence. He added Qwoted has never asked the site to post a story.
Talking Biz News shares two staff members with Qwoted and Vested.
Erica Thompson, head of agency marketing at Vested, is deputy editor at Talking Biz News. Matt Kneller, MD of Qwoted, is an adviser to Talking Biz News, helping with administrative and operational duties, Thompson said. Previously, Kneller was an MD at Vested, according to his LinkedIn profile.
"We hired some freelance staff to support [Roush] and they’re the ones doing the actual work," Thompson said via email.
"That would just buttress my point that these entities are connected," Serwer told PRWeek of the staff overlap.
Qwoted cofounder Dan Simon argued there is no conflict of interest in part because 80% of Talking Biz News’ readers have a PR background, with reporters comprising about 20% of readership.
"It’s really a PR website," Simon said. He explained that the website’s stories mainly concern people moves and job postings that have been submitted to Qwoted and Talking Biz News.
"Both Talking Biz News and Qwoted are both being used by business journalists and PR people to just be more effective and more efficient in their jobs," Roush said.
After accepting a position as dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University, Roush announced he was looking for a buyer for Talking Biz News on May 15, 2019, in a tweet. He was then contacted by Kneller. Over Memorial Day weekend, Roush met Simon and Kneller in their New York offices.
The deal was finalized in late June. Financial details were not disclosed.
Qwoted said it did not try to conceal its ownership. Following the closing of the deal, Qwoted undertook various promotional efforts around its initiatives, including its ownership of Talking Biz News, according to Thompson.
"We make the affiliation pretty obvious to all of our users," Simon said.
"Talking Business News, through the porting of updates (and possibly other integrations) is a party to gathering data on reporters and monetizing it," Serwer wrote in his story. "And it’s not making that clear."
However, Simon said Qwoted does not monetize on reporter data by selling it to advertisers.
"We’re not selling data to advertisers," Simon said. "We’re not going to pass on that data to advertisers. It’s not going to be part of our revenue model."
Although Qwoted said it won’t sell journalist data, Serwer said the fact "they can change their minds down the road" still troubles him.
Operating as a kind of "Bumble" for journalism, Qwoted allows journalists to post source requests without being spammed, Simon said. PRs can respond to source requests only once. They can only follow up with journalists if the journalist responds.
"The two things we share between Talking Biz News and Qwoted are job postings and people moves," Simon said, adding both are submitted by the reporters. "All we’re doing is taking two different places where people post that information and marrying them up."
"They’re the same terms of service you sign when you get an iPhone or Android device," Simon added. "They’re the same terms of service you sign when you get a Google account."