Kudos to Rafat Ali & Co.

For many years, I have been saying that Rafat Ali’s PaidContent.org (and the company, ContentNext) will be the first business-to-business media empire that started on a blog. I’ve cheered Rafat and PaidContent.org editor Staci Kramer for doing so many things right. First, they are great journalists. They develop sources. They break stories. They (and now others on their staff) work weekends and nights to have the story first and right. Their readers have grown to depend on them for being the go-to source on the business transactions and trends that fall in the blurring lines between emerging technology and traditional media. But they are also great bloggers as they have long done something that “old media” reporters and editors have been slow (if at all) to figure out: They serve their readers by guiding them to breaking stories wherever they appear.

Second, early on Rafat recognized that serving as the nexus of a then unrecognized business community was the key to building a brand — and a business. A “blog” served as the foundation of that brand in the way that a trade magazine would have served as the heart of such a brand in the past. I’ve had the privilege of being a fan in the bleachers cheering on as the PaidContent.org “brand” grew into what I thought it would be. I’ve attended mixers that ContentNext held in New York and in Northern Virginia. Both were not only well attended — jammed — they were filled with the crowd you’d want to show up if your brand was at the crossroads of the new kind of tech/media fusion “deals” taking place.

Today, in the first “conference” (see photos) organized by Rafat & Co. (including Jimmy Guterman, who helped program the event), the “brand value” of PaidContent.org was clearly on display. A mix of Hollywood and Silicon Valley and New York players were gathered together to dissect the economics of social media. It was the type of gathering where the people in the audience are as knowledgeable as the people on the panel, and everyone knows it. So, the panelists — and moderators — bounced it out to those in the audience if a question arose about a specific topic on which there’s some expertise under-roof that could be called upon. That seems natural for those of us who have participated in “bloggercon unconferences.” However, in a room with 500 people from every tech and media firm you can think of, it was a refreshing experience.

For example, if the topic of a Google acquisition came up, Rafat would call on a person in the audience who he knew was a part of the deal. The role “journalist as moderator” was on display. That happened in nearly ever session. The message was clear: The people who read PaidContent.org are the ones who matter in a fuzzy business category where Yahoo! and HBO and the Wall Street Journal all are doing deals that could potentially overlap.

Bottomline: PaidContent.org and the company ContentNext are heading to some impressive places. They’ve used blogging software and approaches, but their journalism and business model are time-tested and true. Great products. Great community. Content that matters — information and knowledge that is “mission-critical” to the people who depend on it.

I’m glad I knew them when…

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