Valleywag’s Ben Sheffner asks the question today: “Why So Much Hand-Wringing Over TechCrunch’s Decision to Publish ‘Hacked’ Twitter Documents?”
I am genuinely baffled by the journalistic ethics debate over TechCrunch’s decision to publish Twitter corporate documents that were apparently obtained through "hacking" and then forwarded to the Silicon Valley business blog.
Here’s what I don’t get: why the ethical hand-wringing here? Why was TechCrunch’s decision to publish some of the hacked documents any different from what mainstream publications like the Times and Wall Street Journal do countless times every day: print information and documents leaked from employees to reporters, without company permission? Every company I’ve ever heard of prefers to keep its business information confidential. Often, they have formal confidentiality policies, or even require employees (and contractors) to enter into strict nondisclosure agreements. Of course business reporters know this. And yet, without giving it a second thought, they ask employees to violate their duties to their employers, and leak confidential documents and spill the beans on company secrets. And their editors don’t wring their hands; they praise their reporters for their scoops.
This is a touchy subject, and one we’ve largely avoided here at SiliconANGLE so far. We try to avoid what is jokingly being called “trainwreck journalism” by some, for a number of reasons.
John Furrier, yesterday at the SiliconANGLE tweetup I’m guessing, was asked if we’d ever publish documents like that here at this blog.
“Never, because we are a peers and colleagues group, not pageview driven,” was his response.
I think that’s a good stab at the fundamental reason why we wouldn’t publish them here, but not the total reasons (it was published in 140 characters or less, after all).
It isn’t that we are all philosophically opposed to publishing documents obtained the way Mike obtained the documents there. We’ve all had discussions on the topic with one another, and we all have a nuanced and different view on whether it’d be a good idea. The bottom line is, though, that we’re fundamentally not journalists here at SiliconANGLE, as odd as that sounds to say.
We’re a number of things here. We’re community builders, we’re consultants, we’re evangelists and advocates in certain cases. Most of all, though, we’re analysts.
Analysts don’t sit in the position of total non-bias, but they’re not in the business of habitually breaking news, either. They’re the page two in your newspaper, and the preamble to your whitepaper. We read, sit and think, and then type it up or say it into a microphone. That’s our job.
So, Oh Wise One, What Do You Think of All This?
To directly answer the question of handwringing in the blogosphere, I think that it’s these indistinct roles of all the different voices in the blogosphere that create this apprehension on Techcrunch’s part.
Valleywag has mentioned Jon Gruber of Daring Fireball several times for his strong and vocal stance against Arrington’s decision to post the Twitter documents.
Less noticed was Louis Gray’s public proclamation that he wouldn’t be giving much attention to #twittergate, either.
The bottom line is that while it is popularly unpopular for Techcrunch to talk about the documents they received, they’ve got an audience like this who will backlash against it. It’s clear that while Mike Arrington isn’t trying to reform his image after the whole Leo Laporte incident, he’s more conscious of his actions, postings, and how they come off.
He’s got his audience to consider, and given that he’s a central part of the biz side of his media group, he’s also got the advertisers to consider as well. Having worked at a Techcrunch-like publication before, I can tell you that when you’re a pageview driven blog, what current and potential advertisers think of your editorial style is a major factor in what you’ll put up on the site.
After all, it’s a business.
There’s a whole world of discussion to be had as to whether it’s the best business model for journalism going forward, but it’s certainly no worse than being actually owned by the companies you cover (which is the model of Old Media journalism).