Look, This Is What It Comes Down To

The old press is still having the same conversation about the new press: objectivity! Here’s the latest by the L.A. Times, titled Are Silicon Valley tech bloggers truly objective?

This can (and has) gone on and on and on.

I argue that there’s no such thing as objectivity, and that transparency is a much higher standard to aspire to.

My clearly stated goals on this site: Transparency, Truth and Bias.

Not objectivity. The opposite of objectivity.

The other side argues that this isn’t objective writing as defined by journalism schools and therefore wrong. The argument is ridiculous (more on why below). But since there’s this appearance of ethical lapse, it has legs with readers.

But the core argument, that readers need to be protected from biased but transparent blog posts assumes that (1) readers are idiots, and (2) that the traditional press can somehow cover tech properly.

The real question isn’t about whether I can keep writing what I want to write (I do have certain constitutional rights).

It’s really about whether the community should or shouldn’t want me to write.

Here’s what I think -

1. Readers are not idiots, and even if they were the traditional press is in no way capable of “protecting” them from their idiocy. Because of no. 2 below.

2. The traditional tech press understands very little about technology, or startups, or venture capital. Their coverage is therefore pretty awful.

3. Much of the complaining about my writing is driven by competitors who clearly have their own financial conflict of interest in complaining about me.

4. Why not just drop it? I was already fired by AOL. Is their position really that I need to stop blogging on a completely personal site as well?

5. How do they propose to accomplish that? Social ostracism? Presumably, since there’s no one left to “fire” me.

6. And finally, why in the world would the community not want the opinions of insiders on the tech topics of the day?

I remember the days when the only way to get your message out was to filter it through the press, and it wasn’t very informative. Now there’s direct communication by people who have real knowledge about issues.

In the end this debate feels like it’s more about the insecurities of the old tech people than it is about “objective journalism.”

What process can get us more quickly to “truth” than if the people who have a stake in the matter express their opinions, and then everyone else draws conclusions based on those opinions?

And I can’t figure out why more journalists don’t say to themselves, “wait, carried to its logical conclusion, all I’m asking for is censorship.”

crazy town.

39 thoughts on “Look, This Is What It Comes Down To

  1. Haters gonna hate.

    I read everything with a pinch of salt, trying to make my own opinion about everything and understanding where the story comes from, who wrote it and why. Sometimes you can easily understand the whole backstory to a post.

    I second the transparency part. You will of course write more about companies you know cause it’s the most easily available info to you. (Hell, it could be way better to write about a competitor to a company you have financial interests in, exposing all their details to the competition and learning more about it in the process).

    It’s hard to leave a massive responsibility (covering the whole SV startup scene) in the hands of few people with a lot of interests in tech companies, but that’s pretty hard to change unless you want CNN covering it. This leaves it to each journalist integrity and reputation, and the effects of this can CLEARLY be seen in the massive drop in quality of the TC articles lately after everybody left.

    All in all, nobody seems to want to admit that there’s never an objective side to a story. Everything can and always is manipulated. And I feel the tech scene is where that happens the least.

    • Pete Austin says:

      Please don’t trivialise a serious issue by accusing people people of being “haters”, especially if you then accuse journalists of one publication of a lack of integrity. Of course TC has quality problems right now, but the simplest explanation not a lack of integrity – it’s that, in your words, “everybody left”.

    • Robert Basil says:

      Haters gonna hate? What are you, 12?

      You might have included some thoughtful content after the first sentence but I (along with a lot of others I’m sure) will not bother and skip the to other comments.

  2. Tim Chavez says:

    I enjoy your insights, writing style, and colorful personality. I view as more of an ambassador of a business culture than a journalist reporting on business activity.

  3. The biggest point to make here is #2 That traditional tech press doesn’t know tech – not the way a Mike Arrington or Sarah Lacy knows tech.

    Old tech press writes fluffy 5 page stories for magazines about how great it is to work at Google and about how AOL has lost its way. No shit. This is for the general public. This sells magazines.

    New tech press tends to write more detailed stories about startups on a much interesting level. A few levels deeper than old tech press could even understand. This is for people who are really in tech. This gets more stories read and the target reader to come back.

    Nobody is totally objective. The reader needs to apply some kind of filter based upon what they know of the writer. So I wouldn’t say it’s totally objective, but it’s no where near misleading or deceptive.

  4. Pete says:

    1) The reason the Old Media keeps their glove on your face, Mike, is Power, pure and simple. When they were the sole source of “truth”, if they ever were, they controlled what was said, and when, and what…and they reap the benefits of that monopoly. Sort of like what happens today with Big Music. When the paradigm changed, and now the “middle man” is not that relevant, well, they attack, and bitterly I might add, to keep the status quo (aka income) flowing.
    2) AOL is still Old Media. They can try to pretend they’re not. They can look prima facie that they’re not. They can even try to manage a business in a way that gives the impression of being new…But their roots are not there. And this means the board and executives business values. Is not how many servers, social tools, ads and internet real states you own…is how your culture uses them. Give an 85 years old man an iPhone, and he will only use it for making calls….and to complain how he was so successful managing his business with a rotary phone, a Rolodex and post-it notes….

  5. Simon says:

    “Readers are not idiots” Man do I wish that were true. It might be true of a very select group of readers, but the broader that net becomes the less likely it is to be an accurate description. I would take a different approach to your readership: Don’t assume they’re idiots, but don’t obfuscate details under the belief that they should be able to read between the lines or that they should understand the existing bias of the blogger.
    It behoves you and other insiders to explicitly state in each and every post what your connections are to the people, products and services described. Even at the risk of having a few readers say “does this guy think I’m an idiot?” It’s the only way to achieve the transparency you so justifiably seek.

  6. Let them rant. After all, its not you, or the old media, but the readers who need to care/decide, right?

    Everyone should be allowed to rant.

    I totally agree on the transparency point. Much like a quality product, it is what will define success. There is no such thing as absolute objectivity.

  7. Trace Cohen says:

    Journalists are held in such high regard because they write for big name publications that used to own the news. They are now more or less content farms for SEO and ads that pick fights with “bloggers” who can break stories faster and more accurately than them. Having worked in PR, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to educate the writer because they were fresh out of school and had absolutely know idea what they were doing.

    We live in a world of social proof, so if your stories aren’t honest and transparent, you will be called out. I would read your (Arrington) stories over any other writer out there because I know it’s not just some fluff pieces but your insight based on years of industry experience.

  8. ej says:

    most so called reporters only report on what they are fed and lack the capability or skills to actually ask in-depth questions, i’ll take the bloggers that aren’t afraid to call bs on their own kind any day

    insinuating that advertisers never influence traditional media outlets is like ahmadminejad denying 9/11

    at the end of the day I hope you get more traffic from all of this

  9. Denny says:

    I have an equal disdain for old media, they don’t get it and beyond that they’re the most self-serving bunch of crybaby hypocrites I’ve ever seen.

    People aren’t stupid, if you visit any site you should always assume that the person behind it has a stake in it’s success – for whatever reason.

    When ALL old media newspapers, magazines, and websites are ad free…I may give them some credit, right before they quickly go out of business. But they way they are harassing you and trying to intimidate you has everything to do with censorship – and using your name to bring traffic to their sites and sell more ads.

    I admire that you’ve taken a stand, and that you are not ashamed to have made a profit for yourself. Keep up the good fight.

  10. Rebecca says:

    Are we still talking about this?

  11. Aaron says:

    I agree that transparency is better than feigned objectivity, but it still doesn’t work as well as one might think:

    http://danariely.com/2010/04/03/disclosure-its-not-good-enough/

  12. Ravi Dronamraju says:

    I have to say i agree with you 100% on transparency vs. objectivity. Kara Swisher’s vitriolic, zealous and persistent takedown of yahoo is a blatant example of abusive of journalistic opportunity. She is married to a exec with millions of dollars at stake and she pretends that she can be objective. May be she was. But journalistic honor would require her to excuse herself from coverage of yahoo, apple, and google.

    However, Just as much as you have a right to keep writing what you want, all these “old school journalists” have a right to make a case for what themselves. The main point of LA Times article you linked to is that he doesn’t want users to trust bloggers. He and others can keep trying to make their case. While it is easy to admire someone like you and MG, it is also easy to see how pando daily seems like a PR/Cheerleading vehicle.

  13. Steven Rossi says:

    Life is full of bias, and bias is much more interesting than objectivity anyway. Objectivity is boring.

  14. Ray Cromwell says:

    The way I look at it is this, if we take your philosophy to its natural conclusion: No one is objective, everyone has bias, and there’s nothing wrong with writing biased articles as long as you’re transparent.

    Therefore, the greatest good for consumers of information is criticism. To have bloggers do battle in the market place of ideas. Therefore, what’s wrong with old school journalists criticizing you? Isn’t it fair game?

    Even with full transparency, readers can get trapped in a filter bubble. Fox News being the best example. We all know they are biased shills for the GOP, but people watching it and knowing it, still are poorly informed.

    Likewise, for example, MG Siegler’s readers know he is a completely transparent Apple fantard, and that every thing he writes should be viewed through that lens. However, personally cults do tend to develop (Rush Limbaugh anyone?), and so people whose’s daily blog reading happens consist of going to TechMeme, and then reading Apple biased pieces, are going to be ill-informed, even if they know they are reading biased material.

    In fact, some people like reading biased material that only preaches to the choir. And that is ultimately dangerous, because it leads to a public which is ill-informed.

    So IMHO, there’s still a role for traditional journalism that at least tries to present both sides, almost to a fault (e.g. “balance” of climate scientists vs denier nut-cases)

    At least sometimes people are exposed to surprising information that opposes their worldview.

  15. Dain Binder says:

    Do people really think old or new media is objective? Humans are inherently biased. Even if one story is objective, their collection will not be. Sometimes it is defined by the stories that are not covered and that no one will ever know about. Unless someone writes about every single story that comes across their desk there is, and always will be, objectivity.

    Transparency is the best way.

    Readers are smart enough to seek alternate view points if they want. Many people subscribe to more than one media source for this reason.

  16. Bryan says:

    I’ve always been under the impression that people read you and MG because you weren’t objective. I enjoy your commentary. If I wanted straight news there are other places it could be found. TechCrunch didn’t get the following it has because it simply reported the news. People went to TechCrunch because of the way it was covered. Or at least I did.

  17. Nubi Kayode says:

    #GoodRead. Sure makes a lot of sense.

  18. Brian says:

    The extreme jealousy by old media and constant obsession of how new media must follow the old rules of old ways illustrates why new media is making such an impact.

  19. zato says:

    “The old press is still having the same conversation about the new press: objectivity! Here’s the latest by the L.A. Times, titled Are Silicon Valley tech bloggers truly objective?”

    The LA Times should talk. Ask them how much Microsoft money they’ve taken in the last 5 years to generate/publish ugly attack pieces about Apple.

  20. I don’t believe anybody wants you or MG Siegler stop blogging. Or if some do, it of course does not make sense.

    I also share many of the statements here regarding objectivity. And I often enjoy reading both of you, sometimes fully in agreement, sometimes irritated. In the end, I miss few of your posts. Finally, anybody having created a business knows what it requires to be succesful and you did not get your status and audience by an Act of God.

    However having many readers and saying they are ultimately judging does not address all concerns. There are three points I’d like to make:
    1) Is there a conflict of interest or not? it’s not an insult to ask this question. And if there is one, what’s your way to address it
    2) You are not doing or undoing Companies you cover. You should not underistimate though the power of influence you have on some start-ups destiny with the way you speak (or don’t) about them. A power always involves some responsibility.
    2) If some of the diatribes are excessive – but you are not a beginner at that game either and it’s part of the fun – can you put yourselves on the “victim” side? Aren’t you both overplaying it?

  21. Brian says:

    Obviously objectivity is a good value and goal for journalism to aspire to. It is also a very difficult goal. Being transparent about your lack of objectivity is good, but I would prefer trasparency AND objectivity (they don’t have to be exclusive).

    However, I understand that you get to write whatever you want and I still read your stuff because you are useful to me. I filter out the fluff pieces for companies you invest in every once in a while (http://uncrunched.com/2011/10/17/hell-yes-im-joining-inspirato-and-crunchfund-is-investing/), but that is a small price to pay for all the other great stuff you write (and interesting companies you invest in). Please keep writing exactly the way you do because I don’t want to mess up your successful formula.

    There is much more noise written about old media / new media objectivity than is necessary. It’s also kind of funny to hear old people talk about how even older people just don’t get it.

  22. Three points unanswered.

    A.

    The best thing: was MG admitting he didn’t really know shit about most of the stuff he wrote about – he chased clicks, admitted it, and was correct to point out that’s what everyone else was doing.

    What he should do is actually APOLOGIZE where he was wrong, pull out a bunch of old examples of what he wrote and EXPLAIN what all he didn’t understand – those would be some cool thought pieces – that truly prove his thesis.

    2.

    The worst thing: not ALSO openly embracing the trade off made in the minds of Crunchfund investors…. some VC put money in because they think you or MG will be swayed by it – it is a deeply ingrained human fact.

    Reciprocity is a key bit of influence (Cialdini), and whether or not you are scumbags is not the point, the point is other people can BANK on reciprocity affecting your sentence structure, your word choice, shadings of descriptions – and they can EXPECT it knowing the whole time you will insist it never happens (with counter example links and all).

    It’d be smart analysis to admit it, but it wouldn’t make them feel good – which violates the reciprocity.

    III.

    Last thing: it would be interesting to get Gabe to go on record if he over-rides the math to hand select stories as the chosen top from the blog herd on the press release.

    They aren’t hard observations to respond to, and they actually further the conversation instead of restating the same talking points.

  23. Always enjoyed your writing Mike, TechCrunch was best when it was mostly only you. The old press is trying to stay relevant by talking about the new press, what else are they going to talk about, they’d have to leave their office to find another story.

  24. This whole “objectivity issue” looks funny to me….
    In the countries where I lived (France & Morocco), when reading a newspaper or a blog, you already assume that there are some firms financing it, that might get a “better” coverage.
    And it’s just NORMAL, that’s the way things work.
    Total Objectivity doesnt exist, it’s just a big lie.
    As you say in USA, “don’t hate the player, hate the game” (or something that goes like this… :D )

  25. A says:

    A big part of why people are read non-journalist blogs is because of what has been happening to “journalism”; a lot of it is no longer deserving of that moniker, its just more entertainment, its designed to maximize the number of viewers. They don’t ask tough questions because they don’t want to lose access.

    I stopped watching CNN in the mornings because, for me, it stopped being the morning news and turned into on of those ET/Today-show kind of things.

  26. Medbob says:

    Merely a symptom of a common disease.

    Many in the larger media claim “Journalistic Integrity” yet write with a completely Liberal viewpoint and conclusions. If there is some Journalistic standard of truth telling, it is completely lost to myself (the reader), and I wonder if it is lost to them as well.

    There are whole networks (MSNBC) that are so deeply inculcated in their own viewpoint that it is only on rare occasion that they make an even mildly interesting observation or analysis. Is it considered “Journalistic Integrity” to act as a cheerleader?

    Add to this the fact that these folks are never questioned as being serious journalists, nor are they reproached for their serious breaches of ethical conduct (Juan Williams anyone?).
    In a world of folks wearing masks, they all seem to point to the guy who DARES to go without a mask?

    I find myself carried back to the late 70’s, when Billy Joel had the intense self understanding to explain that we all have masks and biases. My guess is that some have been wearing them for so long that they forget that they have them on.

    Let’s all watch “The Matrix” and think about that old saying “Know Thyself”.

  27. Mike, aside from the obviously self-serving position you’re taking (and that’s OK, by the way), I’m afraid you’re just wrong.

    JOURNALISM is by definition supposed to be objective … at least as it leaves the writer. OP/ED is an entirely different beast, and you’re advocating, as usual, for your particular brand of OP/ED to be considered journalism.

    And even after something journalistic passes from writer to editor, there should be SOME semblance of objectivity. I don’t generally like to say nice things nice about FoxNews, but those guys actually believe that “we report, you decide” is what they are doing. What they are leaving out (and this goes to your also-false assertion that readers are smart enough to “get it”) is that the real story is “we report after applying our slant”.

    Now if you’d get off your horse (or for that matter your former employers at AOL had gotten off of theirs) and admit that there’s a bought-and-paid-for component to your editorial coverage, this could stop being a conversation about morals and instead become what it should be: a conversation about change.

    Uncle Walter is dead. Journalism may be, too, if for no reason other than economic reality in the everybody-is-on-all-the-time-and-scrambling-for-attention market we’re working in, now. The only thing this conversation is about any longer is the old-school people trying to bar the gate to their fiefdom.

    And at least on that point, you’re correct.

  28. Jon Yoffie says:

    Worse than the lack of objectivity is the pretense of objectivity.

    An educated audience develops its own filters. They don’t need to be told who is objective and who isn’t.

    Traditional media is fighting for survival. They are tied to distribution and advertising models developed between 50 and 100 years ago. Today’s reality is that every business should be a communications company.

  29. MichaelEdits says:

    You know who’s going to win the so-called battle between journalism and blogging? The one that doesn’t settle for mediocrity. Anyone who claims there’s any other issue here is full of sound and fury that signifies nothing.

  30. Jon E says:

    The traditional press pretends to aspire to certain journalistic standards. The problem is that we (the public) think they always adhere to them. I’m looking at you, Philadelphia Inquirer. #CensoringEdRendellBiddingStory

  31. Mike, what’s worrisome is how many folks including tech and not so savvy tech journalists focus on start ups. There is so much happening in tech being embedded in smart products and services in corporate America from sensors in shoes to satellites guiding automobiles which deserves as much attention but is considered “boring” The operational aspects of Apple retail, Facebook data centers, PayPal’s controls etc deserve way more ink, again most media considers that “boring”. Happy to send you copy of upcoming book The New Technology Elite which focuses on many of these but so much more deserves to be written.

  32. John says:

    What I do not understand is if this site has already clearly made a point saying that they are a ‘blog’ and not a ‘reporting/news’ site, why feel the need to constantly write about potential injustices done by the ‘reporting/news’ sites?

  33. tl;dr what MA said

    One of the strange things I noticed coming from the UK to Silicon Valley back in 1999 was the news coverage. I was used to things like Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC, or news reporting where the anchor asks the reporter to summarize what’s actually true between the statements of two opposing parties, to which the reporter does his best, in his opinion to discern facts.

    It wasn’t perfect but you knew where the reporters, stations, newspapers and all the rest, stood on issues and you accounted for their biases, preferences and characteristics in your understanding of stories being reported on.

    Then I discovered this way of doing things out here where reportage fetishized some weird ideal of neutral reporting which really was little more than he-said she-said. Worse, listening to NPR and the major networks it was clear this version of things was seen by these folks and the journalism schools which churned them out as somehow superior to the way things were done elsewhere. But given how poorly educated the mass of the populous is on key issues, one has to suggest that this system clearly doesn’t work.

    There is no objectivity. There is no ‘fair and balanced’ neutral reporting. There are real people with their views on the world, often striving honestly and to the best of their abilities to tell stories as they believe them to be. The right standard is, as Arrington says, open and accountable. Smart people can make their own minds up and take into account a range of views.

    Transparency is far better than claims of being possessed of some kind of superhuman ability to transcend bias and opinion, projecting a god-like vision of truth and beauty in your coverage.

  34. ddemi77 says:

    >>Their coverage is therefore pretty awful.

    Isn’t this article written by one of your former Techcrunch hires Evelyn Rusli?

  35. John Eden says:

    Michael,

    The old and the new journalism, to my mind, both have the same basic weaknesses: both regimes have a few popular, well-regarded foot soldiers who constantly get it wrong.

    Both of these industries do nothing to force those know-nothings out. I won’t slander anyone here, but I can think of denizens of the NYT, the Washington Post, and TechCrunch that aren’t interested in writing for anyone but themselves. What they do is not journalism; it’s a form of privately subsidized (through their paychecks) narcissism.

    The new journalists, however, often have the luxury of being able to exercise their craft in such a way that their biases, deep seated preconceptions about tech players/companies, and cognitive limitations become obvious to the average reader straightaway. I say “luxury,” because the old journalism doesn’t typically let authors riff in whatever way they see fit . . . and the net benefit – with Uncrunched or TechCrunch – to the rest of us is that we typically get a more raw, less bowdlerized version of the author’s true views.

    Nutshell: The truth is that the norm of transparency is not only a regulative ideal for tech writers, it’s also a luxury built into the social architecture of their craft.

    John

  36. Get your ‘stuff’ together and fight up. TechCrunch does not exist without you. You are TC, not some ‘oh.. my period’s gone’ lady.

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