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Seth Finkelstein nails why TechCrunch sucks in one line

In a comment on Rogers Cadenhead’s blog, Seth Finkelstein perfectly captures what the deeper reason behind the TechCrunch/Last.fm poor reporting is:

“The basic problem is that there’s no profit (from attention) in being right, but there is in being first.”

The first post on a topic gets most of the inbound links, most of the traffic, and most of the attention, something that was obvious to me even when I was online editor at MacUser ten years ago. In that sense, TechCrunch is simply responding to the market.

The theory has always been that good information will out, and some people might suppose that the coverage that Last.fm’s response has got is evidence of that. But the problem is that it basically took RJ being incredibly blunt – “TechCrunch is full of shit” – in order to get the message across. He, and other Last.fm employees, had already denied the story in less-blunt language in the TechCrunch comments, and on other blog posts elsewhere. Yet the story continued to get traction until Last.fm effectively made it personal.

The interesting question is what consequences does this have for communications, and responding to erroneous stories. If the pressure is on sites to be first, rather than being right, then we are going to see a lot more of these stories – and sooner or later, a company will get into serious financial problems because of one.

Will it take a court case before big new media organisations implement better reporting standards? Will it take a company suing someone like Mike Arrington personally before people realise that the editorial process evolved for some very good reasons?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.recedinghairline.co.uk chrisphin

    My internal memory and external memory (aka Google) have failed me on this, but I remember reading a very good piece from Steven Frank about the three ways to 'win' when developing software. You could write the first app, the best app, or – I think – the free app, and you'd get the lion's share of the market.

    I think he's absolutely right when it comes to software, but it looks like the analogy doesn't hold water for news; 'first' is the most reliable way, though outside of 'proper' news, sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon look to have an ameliorating, meritocratic* effect.

    * Of course, your view of merit may not match teh interwebs'.

  • http://www.digitalrightsmanifesto.com/ Michael Walsh

    Seth has been banging on about this for ages. It's a bit disconcerting to see the voices of reason being drowned out by the linkbaiters.

    How do you re-introduce the editorial process into a system where the means of production, and publishing, have been decentralised? Should the production tools include an “editorial-checker”? Could published blogs be rated as “untrustworthy” until they get other online verification? Is it just a matter of education for the reader to learn the art of editorialising? Somebody's going to get a hard lesson in the libel otherwise. This may be the only solution – the sacrificial lamb. :-(