Winer vs. Orlowski, pt.304

Dave Winer wonders how Andy Orlowski keeps his press badge, because Andy wrote a story suggesting that Google was going to remove blogs from its search engine. It’s a great example of the general misunderstanding that many people have about journalism – and about how smart people like Dave can easily be taken for a ride by companies.
First up, what did Andy say? In his original story, Andy took a quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, which said that “Soon the company will also offer a service for searching Web logs, known as ‘blogs,’ “. All on the record, and good. Secondly, Andy looked at what Google had done with Dejanews, and noted that when it developed a special service for searching news, it hived it off into a separate section – the Search Newsgroups tab on the main page. From this, Andy surmised that Google would do the same thing for blogs. Note that Andy does not say Google would do this – merely that “precedent suggests it will be.”
Cue Dave going nuts, accusing Andy of having “invented a ‘news’ story that Google was going to take blogs out of the index”. As is clear from the above, Andy did no such thing: at no point in his story does he say that Google “is going” to do so. What’s more, Andy makes it very very clear which bits of the story are speculation, based on the company’s previous history.
I suspect that the reason that Dave went nuts has more to do with Andy’s very public “weblogs – they suck” position than anything to do with the story. The problem is that he also exposes exactly what the difference between a journalist and a non-journalist is in his posting. Let’s look at some points:
1. Acceptance of company statements as fact. Dave points to a Google PR statement, which he claims proves Andy is wrong because it says “there’s been no consideration of removing weblogs from our index”. Actually, of course, the statement is in no way contradictory: Google hasn’t removed newsgroup postings from its index, it’s merely flagged them as newsgroup postings and hence filtered from the Web search (Andy, here is guilty of a little slack writing, as he conflates “index” with “the web search tab”). The first thing you learn as a journalist is that, while PR statements rarely lie, they almost never actually contradict the ultimate point to you’ve written.
2. Getting simple facts wrong. Dave consistently concatenates Andy with “print journalist”. As far as I’m aware, Andy hasn’t done print since he worked for Ziff (I think), unless The Register has started a print mag on the sly.
3. When your enemy says it, it’s bullshit: When your friends say it, it’s gospel. When Robert Scoble goes on, post-Andy, to say that he’s pretty sure Andy didn’t make any of this up, Dave replies that he’s changed his mind. How does that work?
Really, if Andy’s guilty of anything, it’s of writing more like a blogger than a journalist. The first four paragraphs of his piece are a news story. After that, Andy mixes in lots of comment, gossip and analysis, none of which actually adds to the clarity of the initial story.

  • http://blog.org/ David Brake

    I am always amazed at the hatred with which some people seem to view Orlowski. They should recognise that the Register’s whole raison d’etre is to deliver “news with attitude” not just straight reporting and Orlowski’s attitude is pretty clear. I think it comes back to a fundamental difference in the way that Americans and Brits see the role of journalists. They think journalists can be objective – we tend to have overtly biased journalists but don’t mind as long as we know what the biases are…

  • http://www.plasticbag.org Tom Coates

    Well you say he’s not wrong about Google’s intentions, but there’s no evidence for him being right either! I mean – it doesn’t matter whether or not they’d tell you anything, you’d still ASK Google, right? And his William Gibson piece is a pure diatribe against weblogs and weblogging which completely ignores what Gibson himself said and thinks about them. I have no problem with opinion pieces, but *label* them as such. Make it clear!

  • http://www.plasticbag.org Tom Coates

    Oh and he DID have evidence. Google put out an e-mail saying that Blogs weren’t going to be removed from the index – directly in opposition to what Andrew had claimed.

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    As I said, there’s no contradiction between saying Google are going to shift blogs to a seperate tab and it not being removed from the overall index. What google put out was PR-speak: You deny something that isn’t actually what someone is really saying.
    Would I bother ringing up a company’s PR idiots if someone inside the story has told me something? Not every time, no. And certainly not when the source for the original quote was Eric Schmidt, quoted on the record.

  • http://www.plasticbag.org Tom Coates

    The original quote said that google were going to provide a way of indexing weblogs! That’s all! He didn’t talk about another tab (and I should think it highly unlikely that there will be one). Andrew created this other tab out of the ether! It’s much mroe likely that it’ll be a part of the site like the Apple-search. I don’t know either way though, because like Andrew (who really SHOULD have done), I haven’t rung up Google and asked them for any clarification. This is not a PR spin thing – it’s something that you’d just ring up and ask. “Will this be getting another tab? Will they be removed from the main index?” It would take ten minutes, and even if they didn’t tell you anything you’d be able to go, “Google refused to comment.” You can’t reasonably be supporting journalism that doesn’t even go through the motions of talking to the involved parties? “Google to fix blog noise problem” is a statement that includes NO facts whatsoever. He might not have written the headline, but it nicely mirrors the content of his piece…

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    Schmidt’s original quote actually said “a new way of searching” weblogs, not indexing. Andy, as I said, made the perfectly reasonable guess that this would be a new tab – and he makes it very very very clear this is simply based on Google’s previous behavious, NOT on any statement. I don’t think you can criticize him for something he clearly labelled as speculation.
    As you say, he probably didn’t write the headline. In fact, knowing the journalistic process, he may not have written the introduction, either. Intros and outros are the favoured places for subeditors to mess up copy…
    And I don’t actually know Google’s PR people, so I can’t say whether or not Andy should have bothered ringing them. But what I do know from my own experience is that ringing PR can be a pointless waste of time – for example, Apple PR never, ever comment on anything they haven’t released as a press release, and when they have released a press release they’ll rarely say anything else. Far better to ring up that product manager you got drunk with one time, get him to confirm it, and quote them as an anonymous source.