Media money fixation

Another day, another IPO, another media lament on how today's Silicon Valley is all about greed, greed, greed.

Published October 4, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Money, money, money: Judging by the media's current fascination with silicon riches, you might think most journalists had never seen a greenback before. These days it's impossible to pick up a magazine or newspaper without happening upon a story about some lucky technology executive who now has coffers full of valuable stock. The Net is no longer all about passionate geeks changing the world with technology, journalists write over and over again -- these days, it's all about the IPO.

Take, for example, last week's Time cover, blatantly headlined "," which profiled dubious new enterprises like (hawking prepackaged dates for the beer-and-babes set) and their slickly money-grubbing founders. "This summer Silicon Valley was flooded by the Second Wave: fast-talking business-school grads whose interest in technology is limited to how it will make them money," Time lamented. "This is Silicon Valley in the IPO age. Geeks are history; they're all capitalists now. Netscape founder Marc Andreessen stars in a Miller Lite ad."

In a similar vein, Fortune's "Young and Rich" cover story last month profiled the 40 richest executives under the age of 40 (all were male, and most were in technology industries) and offered its own sad assessment. "People with money ooze self-esteem. People without it have a panicked look in their eyes," Eryn Brown wrote in a poignant piece. "Intangible benefits -- having a fun job, creating exciting technology -- don't stand on their own anymore, no matter how often people say, 'It's not about the money.' (And they say that a lot.) It's all about the money."

News publications are now stretching ever harder to find new angles on the same story. On Friday, for example, the San Jose Mercury News featured an article about a 17-year-old boy who suddenly discovered that he's $100,000 richer, thanks to stock options he earned last summer as an intern at Alteon WebSystems. Same story, new punch line: "When Hans told his friends his potential net worth, they were impressed. A friend punched him a couple times on the shoulder. Then they went to Advanced Placement calculus class."

Similarly, on Friday, Wired News featured a story on the Web's
newest billionaire,
Bobby Johnson, whose router company, Foundry, had an immensely successful IPO. It's difficult to tell what the point of the story is, other than the fact that Johnson is now yet another very, very rich man.

Yes, a quick drive through the BMW-strewn streets of Silicon Valley can be bleak for those who aren't Net millionaires -- but there are plenty of old Fords and used Hondas littering those roads as well. Not everyone is rich in the valley, and, in fact, there are plenty of people who have no interest in becoming rich, either. But those stories are mostly being relegated to sidebars -- everyone knows that readers could not possibly be interested in stodgy old values like altruism or fuddy-duddy middle-class lifestyles. The old media adage of "Sex sells" has been shoved aside by an even uglier '90s truth: Money sells.

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Janelle Brown

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Silicon Valley