The cognoscenti of new media were gathered not-terribly-early beneath the soaring, molded plaster ceilings of Balthazar’s, a famous, French-style bistro with heavenly croissants and great big masses of flowers in vases, perched at the corner of Spring and Broadway.
It was 9:30, and the vibe was laid-back-about-to-inherit-the-power-from-those-big-money media-moguls-uptown-we-can-wait-a-month.
Betsy Morgan, the CEO of Huffington Post, was wearing a faded T-shirt under a suit jacket, having a breakfast meeting (a grapefruit and fried bacon, no bread) in a corner booth when Gawker empire founder Nick Denton — striped, untucked shirt, jeans — wandered by.
I’d only been there five minutes, meeting Rachel Sklar (formerly of HuffPo, now with Dan Abrams’ new soon-to-launch online media venture) when she plopped down and said that someone across the room had already Twittered about everybody who was here.
(Twitterer: Lockhart Steele. Apparently Richard Rushfield, the editor of LATimes.com’s entertainment section, had just left. Looking for new opportunities, perhaps?)
Sklar pulled out her Blackberry and noted her arrival at Balthazar on a new social media site she’s using called FourSquare.com. It tracks your every move — not kidding — and when you tell the site you’re at Balthazar, it alerts your network — in Sklar’s case, about 50 friends. They comment, say hi and send you advice about the menu, service, that kind of thing.
“It’s making me much more social,” she says, though Sklar does not appear to need it. (Her Facebook page, which I checked out, features photos of her and friends at New York Internet Week that looks like a page out of "Sex and the City." But I digress.)
This corner of Soho is the very heart of the kingdom of the Manhattan digerati, a new nexus of power far from the skyscraper canyons of midtown, where News Corp’s tower nudges Time-Warner’s soaring totem, and the New York Times’ new building — already sold — beckons from Eighth Avenue.
Their days as the gatekeepers of the Fifth Estate are numbered. They will give way to those lingering in the booths, and twittering, down in Soho.
Up there, the media moguls and literary brahmins eat at Michael’s. Down here, it’s Balthazar.
Huffington Post is down the street. The Gawker network started in Nick Denton’s apartment around the corner. Dan Abrams’ new site is based a block away, having just moved out of his brownstone and into an office. Indiewire is across the street.
How are things at Gawker, I ask Denton? Fantastic, he responds. Last month was their biggest traffic month ever.
He wants to know about Nikki Finke. (Everyone seems to want to know about the mysterious Nikki Finke.) Have I ever met her? Does she do lunch? Does she go out ever?
We talk about the similarly elusive Matt Drudge. Denton and Sklar agree that Matt used to be more accessible, and is now very hard to find. Someone should assign a reporter to head down to Florida to see where he’s gone, they agree.
A year ago, many of these digital media companies were flies buzzing around the big media picnic. Today, some of them are making money — Huffington Post certainly appears to be. Denton has figured out how to make it work. Abrams, like me, is new to the space and trying to figure it out. (Not quite sure what the business model is for his new media news site, Mediaite.)
The dominion of new media is coming.