Doing journalism out in the open

by Mathew on March 26, 2006 · 7 comments

It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the blogosphere’s reaction to the Microsoft Vista and Apple stories – both of which started out as big headlines (complete with exclamation marks) about a lot of code being rewritten in the Microsoft OS and Steve Jobs selling a bunch of stock, but evolved as smart bloggers responded to both with skeptical posts. It turns out that rewriting 60 per cent of the Windows Vista code is likely not what is happening, and that Steve selling stock is a little more complicated than it appears, and not as negative as outlets such as The Register made it seem in their initial story.

In writing about these stories, Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 makes a reference to sausage in his post about it, which I assume is a nod to that great quote from German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck about how “People who enjoy eating sausage and obeying the law should not watch either one being made.” Scott says this kind of thing is “what happens when the ‘community’ is in charge of the facts,” but I think that is overstating the case somewhat. No one was “in charge of the facts,” and in fact very few newspaper reporters are ever “in charge of the facts,” or at least rarely all of them. Facts emerged, and some things emerged that were not facts, and were (relatively quickly) shown to be not facts. In other words, sausage was being made.

More recently, there has been some backlash against Robert Scoble of Microsoft, who lashed out at the writer of the original Vista story – and at The Register (which has a bit of a history with The Scobleizer if you want to look it up). Scoble said that:

“We should now start deriding people who link to non-credible sources. I will. Anyone who links to that jerk down in Australia anymore is simply not doing bloggers any favors. Same for anyone who links to the Register.”

This got Phil Sims’ back up over at Squash, since he knows David Richards, the author of the original story on Vista – and provided a somewhat mixed (ethically speaking) description of his media colleague. Following Scoble’s rant, Phil has said he is aghast at what the Microsoft blogger is recommending, particularly since he is the co-author of a book called Naked Conversations. Domenic Jones has accused The Scobleizer of censorship, and the two have bashed it out in Scoble’s comments section – a wonderful illustration of what a comments section can be for.

Is Scoble recommending censorship? Domenic may have a point, but I think that’s going a little far. He has definitely flown off the handle, however – and is that in part because the story was about his employer? Perhaps. But while there has been noise and fury, and errors a-plenty, there has also been reasoned response and correcting of errors – although not by the original authors, which is something to note (Shelley at Burningbird has her own inimitable response to Scoble’s proposed link policy). In other words, journalism has occurred. It may not be the best-tasting sausage you’ve ever had, but there it is. And to give Scott credit, he ends his post on a reasonable note:

“Consumers will ultimately benefit from greater access to more varied and more accurate information, but they will be witness to the ugly process of the truth being made.”

Update:

Scoble has posted something like a “mea culpa,” and gets some support from James Robertson after what he sees as an attackby Nick Carr – and there are some interesting points made in the comments on Nick’s post, which Scoble takes part in, that are worth reading. Mitch Ratcliffe also has some perspective on the whole affair, and so does Rick Segal (clever headline, Rick).

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  • http://irwebreport.blogsome.com/ Dominic Jones

    Mathew,

    A couple of small things. First, it’s Dominic with two “I”s no “e.” Do people put two T’s in Mathew? I almost did.

    Is it really going “a little too far” in calling what Scoble of Microsoft wants censorship?

    He doesn’t want people he doesn’t agree with to be featured prominently on sites like tech memeorandum.

    He doesn’t want you to link to examples of what he thinks is “non-credible journalism.”

    This is either censorship or spin meistering. Both aim to control what people think.

    Isn’t this what they do in China?

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  • Mathew

    Thanks, Dominic — sorry about the spelling. I should be sensitive to that, because people put two Ts in my name all the time.

    I think what Scoble wants to do is definitely spin-meistering, and an attempt to block links to people he doesn’t like, but in order to qualify as censorship he would have to have a lot more control over the blogosphere than he does. I agree it skirts the line though.

    In any case, thanks for commenting.

    Mathew

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