The blogosphere is a brave new news world, but it’s generally assumed that blogs that report the news adhere to basic journalistic standards—like not deliberately inserting bits of misinformation into their virtual pages. Right?
Former TechCrunch blogger MG Siegler took a dig at bloggers who rewrite others’ reporting. “I used to love to plant one really weird bit of random information (sometimes even false) into stories to catch the rewrites,” he tweeted earlier today. There’s that TechCrunch swagger.
@marcoarment I used to love to plant one really weird bit of random information (sometimes even false) into stories to catch the rewrites.
— MG Siegler (@parislemon) July 5, 2012
The tweet was in response to developer Marco Arment’s comment on the coverage resulting from his blog post about a bug in Apple’s App Store. The story was first reported by The Verge, then re-reported by Mashable, and merely rewritten by Gizmodo and Betabeat. While rewrites are endemic in the blogosphere, deliberately misleading or confusing readers in order to play gotcha with your fellow news writers seems dicey. It’s the same reason most major media outlets hate April Fool’s Day—if you want your readers to trust you, it’s risky to write anything untrue unless it’s an obvious joke.
Mr. Siegler was on vacation in Paris and did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment. TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis did not immediately respond to an email, nor did former TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld. “I think he’s mentioned doing it before. Innocuous stuff that would catch out anyone who claimed they had their own source. Frankly that harks back to the days when TC was a comparative ethical utopia against what it is today,” the ever-available TechCrunch alum Paul Carr wrote in an email. “I think it was stuff like ‘I’m hearing it’ll have a six inch screen’ as opposed to seven. Yeah, I wouldn’t do it but, again, on the grand scheme of things…”
UPDATE: Ms. Tsotsis responded to Betabeat by email: “So I don’t know which specific posts MG is referring to here, but I’m sure the ‘random’ pieces of information are more like typos or skews on a range of numbers (like a valuation being between $20m-$30m as opposed to $25m) versus outright, blatant intellectual dishonesty. MG cares too much about being right to pull stuff like that.”
Mr. Siegler also responded in a post on his own blog.
LaToya Drake, an AOL communciations rep, declined to comment. “We don’t comment on former employees, in particular, what they’re tweeting,” she said. But would it be against AOL’s policy to include “random information” and, or “misinformation” in posts on TechCrunch? “We can’t comment,” she said, and pointed to AOL’s terms of service, which includes this disclaimer: “For general information, discussion, and entertainment purposes only and we make no representations or guarantees about the truth, accuracy, or quality of any content.”
For the record, inserting “random information (sometimes even false)” into posts is verboten at Betabeat. We surveyed a few tech blogs blogs. “Hell yes it would be against our policy,” said Abraham Hyatt, managing editor at ReadWriteWeb. “We definitely don’t publish false information in our posts! As to posting things just to catch out other blogs, that’s not something ReadWriteWeb focuses on,” echoed founder and editor-in-chief Richard MacManus. When asked if this was kosher at The Next Web, U.S. editor Brad McCarty responded “no.” “Absolutely not,” said Danny Schreiber, managing editor of Silicon Prairie News. When asked if publishing “random information (sometimes false)” would go against GigaOm’s policy, executive editor Ernie Sander told Betabeat, “Yes, it would go against our policy — and the person who did it would probably be fired.” Editor-in-chief Joshua Topolsky concurred that “Yes it would,” be against The Verge’s policy as well.
“Yes, that would absolutely be against our policy,” said Dylan Tweney, executive editor of VentureBeat, “Our job is to ‘seek truth and report it,’ to quote the SPJ [Society of Professional Journalists] (which we do).”
“I can’t fathom what ‘random information’ is. The idea of putting false information in a post is also something I can’t fathom,” New York Times technology editor Damon Darlin wrote in an email. “Planting false info in stories to catch non-linkers? Both unethical and pathetically petty,” said Kara Swisher of AllThingsD.