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As my Toronto blogging friend Tony Hung writes here, Mike Arrington is venting some anger over the shots that he and TechCrunch have been taking over issues of conflict and impartiality, with a long post about how he feels like he is under attack. The first thing I would tell Mike is that he should be glad he’s coming under fire, particularly if it’s coming from the traditional media — it means he is successful enough to be making people worried (Jeneane is afraid he is channeling Dave Winer).

At one point, Mike says that TechCrunch is “a new kind of publication” and that it doesn’t “fit into a neat little box like traditional media, who refrain from financial conflicts of interest with their readers and feel that they are therefore above reproach.” He says that his site is different because it’s “all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends.”

reporter

I would certainly agree that TechCrunch is different, but not in those ways. Traditional journalism is full of columnists, commentators and beat reporters who are every bit as close to their sources, friendly with them and conflicted by those relationships as Mike. As Mitch Ratcliffe notes at ZDNet, there are lots of other online journalists in the same boat too. Nothing that TechCrunch is going through is different in that sense from dozens of investment newsletters.

As with any type of publication — online or off — the relationship with readers is by far the most important thing, since that is the foundation on which the rest of the business (if it is a business) is built. Most of Mike’s readers know that he hangs around with VCs and startups and the like, and that many of them have likely become friends. Provided he discloses obvious conflicts when they arise, most people are probably going to be perfectly happy with that.

As many people have argued before and likely will after me, journalistic objectivity is pretty much a fiction — or at least an unattainable goal in most cases. What journalists and bloggers should strive for if they want to be taken seriously is fairness, balance and honesty. All else is secondary. As my friend Scott Karp said recently, trust is the only asset we have.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

26 Responses to “No, Mike — TechCrunch is not different”
  1. No, Mike — TechCrunch is not different via Mathew Ingram: mathewingram.com/work November 1st, 2006 at 20:08

  2. it provides, but I feel sometimes that Arrington and his crew become shills for companies in which they have a financial interest. What makes TechCrunch different also makes it open to question and reproach. It doesn’t strive for objectivity, which Matthew Ingram rightly notes is unattainable, but I have found that it also struggles for balance and perspective, which are critical ingredients of good critical commentary. TechCrunch is pumping up what passes for a Web 2.0 bubble, and it does so with neither apology nor restraint.

  3. think that I either need to shut down TechCrunch, or stop investing. Here’s my answer: No. In other words, caveat reader. You gets what you pays for (its free….) Of course, many people take issue with this view, for example Canadian blogger Matthew Ingram. who essentially argues that good journalistic practice needs to exist in the major blogs. Hmmm…..stones and glass houses? To quote Wikipedia: In the yellow journalism era of the 19th century, many newspapers in the United States relied on

  4. into SL, including Jonathan Cohen here at RBN, whose revealing post about his time in SL is also worth a read. Globe and Mail tech writer Mathew Ingram ‘s forays into Second Life seem to remain on his personal site so far. And on his work blog, Ingram last week begged to differ with TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington that the “insider information and conflicts of interest” on Arrington’s blog makes it a different publication with different objectivity and accountability standards. “I would certainly agree that TechCrunch is different, but not in those ways.

  5. and another yet anther classic of Randy : “With so many noses stuck up there, I guess you can’t blame Mike for being such a pompous ass.” Or maybe your should hear some real journalist bloggers give their opinion !! Oh Man, the more I read, the more I see how conflicts of self interests strategies are played out.

  6. think that I either need to shut down TechCrunch, or stop investing. Here’s my answer: No. In other words, caveat reader. You gets what you pays for (its free….) Of course, many people take issue with this view, for example Canadian blogger Matthew Ingram. who essentially argues that good journalistic practice needs to exist in the major blogs. Hmmm…..stones and glass houses? To quote Wikipedia: In the yellow journalism era of the 19th century, many newspapers in the United States relied on

  7. Yeah, I’m baffled that Arrington would try to set himself apart like that. Stemming from your definition of honesty, I would add transparancy as something that I look for and appreciate in journalists/bloggers/writers. When I read a piece in Slate and see a “full disclosure: MSN signs my paychecks” or whatever, it really puts me at ease. I know then that the writer is doing his/her utmost to play it straight, and laying out the conflicts that they’re working around helps to give me (and readers) an accurate depiction of the landscape.

  8. I would agree, Eric. And when I said honesty, I meant the kinds of things that you describe, which some prefer to call “transparency.” Unfortunately, I think some people (and publications) would prefer to be semi-transparent :-)

  9. The great thing about the proliferation of online media is that it’s so much more difficult to be “opaque” or even semi-transparent.

    I’m sure there is some downside to too much transparency (maybe one day the expectation will be that you must disclose what you eat for dinner every night, Mathew!) but I can’t think of anything at the moment.

  10. I have to admit, I am simply dumbfounded at Mike Arrington’s (and Tony Hung’s) arguements. Basically–we should not be held to any level of accountability for what we write. We’re different because we’re writing about our friends. How is this different from Montel Williams taking money to shill for the government? (answer: it’s not) At the end of the day, I hope Mike is getting a lot of $$ for representing these web 2 companies, because he’s sliding down the long, slippery slope of lost credibility.

  11. Thanks for the comment, Steve. I would agree with you that Mike risks his credibility if he continues to think that what he is doing is all that different from what other media do. In the end, I think the delivery mechanism is irrelevant — trust is the only currency.

    And Eric, if we need me to start saying what I had for dinner then I will know that we have crossed a line :-)

  12. Sure we can be held to accountability — but its only as much as we’re willing to earn. Mike Arrington’s blog is hugely mega popular, but its only as accurate and credible as he’s willing to be accurate and credible.

    Sounds wishy washy — but I’m not trying to be. For the most part, bloggers are not journalists, and as such, need to be read with a grain of salt. It just happens to be that on the way up to raising Mr. Arrington as the high priest of all things Web2.0 we all forgot about that.

    The issue of accountability as bloggers is only as much as the community is willing to enforce. If everyone wants TechCrunch to be “better” or “different” I suspect that we’re all going to have to lump it, because TechCrunch is a private concern.

    ALternatives? Someone (s) can create competitors
    We can stop reading TC (yeah right)
    Or, we can start removing links.

    Accountability is a community concern here — as the community built up TC, its up to the community to “decide” what to do next.

  13. I would agree that the community is the deciding factor, Tony — and they vote with their clicks. Obviously, most people are happy with Mike’s conduct so far, or his readership wouldn’t be growing. If he crosses the line, I expect he will suffer for it. I guess the only point we disagree on is whether bloggers are inherently different from journalists. I think bloggers are different from reporters, but I don’t think they’re all that different from columnists. Same issues, different medium.

  14. Right, I think the blogers vs. journalists debate often misses the point. The only real difference I can see is access or the willingness to go out and create access (to people, information, resources, etc.).

  15. Bloggsers != reporters, but == columnists.
    Mat — very succinct, and I think we can agree on that one. :)

  16. The problem with these laments, and they come from all over these days, not only from Mike Arrington, is that people make the mistake of thinking that because they are doing something for first time, it has never been done before.

  17. True enough, Mitch. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it :-)

  18. TechCrunch’s Arrington Decries MSM “Hit Job”…

    Normally, TechCrunch breaks stories but today it would seem that Mike Arrington’s budding technology news empire is the story. A ……

  19. […] Mathew Ingram – No Mike – TechCruch is not different […]

  20. LOL, Mitch. Usually that’s call egocentricity.

  21. Bingo. You have to have a little humility to learn from history. That’s often in short supply in Silicon Valley. Come to think of it, it’s distinctly lacking in many centers of power, especially in the United States.

  22. […] Mathew Ingram: No, Mike — TechCrunch is not different Mathew Ingram argues that major bloggers cannot pretend they are bound by a different form of ethics about conflicts of interest than other types of publishers. This is “objectivity” but about maintaining readers’ trust. (tags: blogging ethics journalism) […]

  23. […] Mathew Ingram: No, Mike — TechCrunch is not different Mathew Ingram argues that major bloggers cannot pretend they are bound by a different form of ethics about conflicts of interest than other types of publishers. This is “objectivity” but about maintaining readers’ trust. (tags: blogging ethics journalism) […]

  24. More Web2.0Newspaper Links Than Anyone Could Ever Want…

    Posts are forthcoming on the following: the Society of Editors Conference in Glasgow (see Roy Greenslade, Fleet Street 2.0), at which attending editors and journos are buzzing about the Google print ad test run project (more today on that via Poynter&…

  25. […] Mike Arrington seems to be accreting enemies like barnacles on an oil tanker. The latest stoush involves Asher Moses (his blog appears to be down, though the Google cache isn’t), journalist for the Fairfax newspapers (Sydney Morning Herald and The Age).The last two weeks has brough a fresh wave of TechCrunch hate. I’ve learned to avoid responding to this stuff in the past because it just draws more attention to it, but tonight a reporter from the Syndey Morning Herald named Asher Moses emailed me and said “First off, great site – i’m a regular reader of yours.” He then went on to say he’s working on a story about the “disclosure scrubbed at techcrunch debacle.”I took issue with his use of the term “debacle” before actually speaking to me – this tells me everything I need to know about this particular reporters slant on this “story,” and basically told him to fuck off. And while I’m not surprised that someone is looking to do a hit job on TechCrunch, I am surprised that traditional media is starting to see TechCrunch as newsworthy enough to attack. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.The first lesson to learn here is that if you want to act like a journalist when you talk to Mike Arrington – or any source for a story, for that matter – it is best that you do your homework on the type of language you should use. Journalists are treated with apprehension at the best of times, as most people who have had any previous contact are highly aware that a wrong word by them could result in adverse publicity. This is especially true when you’re cold-calling a source, who doesn’t know you from Adam and thus doesn’t know about your own level of professionalism and history of ethical conduct (or otherwise).I don’t blame Mike for treating journalists like heavy ordnance, because he knows all too well that little red glowing dots are being painted all over his head and torso by snipers in the MSM who would love to bag him for their trophy cabinet. Asher should know that, being a reader of TechCrunch, and his first strategy should have been to spend time disarming Mike. Just giving a glib bit of praise wasn’t going to cut it. Asher’s language got him in trouble.As for why the MSM are attacking Mike and TechCrunch, that is obvious to me, at least in the context of the tech media. First, TechCrunch is a direct competitor to tech media such as the technology sections of the Fairfax newspapers, which have been sickly at best since the last boom. If there is to be a new boom, then TechCrunch and its imitators are the media vehicles that will dominate new ad campaign budgets. Second, the TechCrunch model is an attack on tech journalism itself. Its writers are not arts degree holders or J-school graduates, they have MBAs and computer science backgrounds. They’re startup CEOs, not journalists, who see writing not as a singular full-time profession but as a tool that is only one part of their personal arsenal of weapons to Get Shit Done. Third, Mike is beating them. He’s getting the scoops that previously bolstered the circulation and/or page views of CNET, Computerworld and PC Magazine.All of this leads to a situation of mutual distrust that is bound to spill over into spats like this. Mike is perfectly reasonable if you treat him with respect. He doesn’t owe journalists anything, and if they want to get anything out of him then they have to realise who they’re dealing with.UPDATE: Along with all of the other kerfuffle in the blogosphere, Herald journalists did themselves no favours by continuing to display arrogance in their responses. David Higgins left a highly condescending comment on Crunchnotes lecturing on how Mike must adopt formalised ethics and kowtow to journalistic institutions in order to join David’s exclusive club of collegial old boys. Also, Stephen Hutcheon of the SMH’s Mashup blog posted a petulant piece which characterised the post you are reading as an “uninformed rant”. Hey, my rants are all informed! Hutcheon saw fit to publish a private email from Arrington to Moses… does that break clause 3 of the MEAA Code of Ethics about respecting confidences in all circumstances? Funny how the only supporting article that Stephen could find was at another MSM source. Not that there weren’t more anti-Mike articles out there, but the Fairfax lads haven’t shown any inclination to engage with bloggers at any level above paternalism. The more they talk, the higher they hoist their petard. […]

  26. […] have to realise who they’re dealing with.UPDATE: Along with all of the other kerfuffle in the […]

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