Tag Archives: Last.fm

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?

TechCrunch: Irresponsible journalism

The TechCrunch/Last.fm controversy has been all over the net over the weekend, and there’s not much that I can add to it factually. The one thing I will say, though, is that TechCrunch has behaved irresponsible: not so much for the original story – everyone gets it wrong sometimes. But when you get it wildly wrong like this, what you don’t do is use weasal words to try and cover up the fact that you’ve got it horribly wrong. For example:

“From the very beginning, I’ve presented this story for what it is: a rumor. Despite my attempts to corroborate it and the subsequent detail I’ve been able to gather, I still don’t have enough information to determine whether it is absolutely true. But I still don’t have enough information to determine that it is absolutely false either. What I do have are a lot of unanswered questions about how exactly Last.fm shares user data with the record industry.”

In a word, this is bullshit. It’s Daily Mail-style journalism, posing a statement as just “asking questions”. And even when Schonfeld got a detailed statement from Last.fm on exactly what data it gives to record companies (answer: no more than they could get just by looking it up on the public Last.fm site), he doesn’t retract the story.

TechCrunch got it wrong, and instead of retracting the story and apologising, it’s trying to wriggle out and say “it’s only a rumour”. Sorry, but that’s bullshit. And please, please, I hope no one brings up that old chestnut of “it’s only a blog, we don’t have to adopt proper standards for reporting”. The moment you can have a serious effect on a company or individual, you owe it to the world to be sure of what you say.

One thing though: This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word “no”. The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it. Which, of course, is why it’s so common in the Daily Mail.

UPDATE: One of the great things about the web is that companies can put their own take on a story across well. And Last.fm has done this very nicely indeed, in the pithily-titled post “TechCrunch are full of shit“. As one of the commenters on the original TechCrunch post put it, “Mr Arrington, this is why you get spat at, yeah? Is it starting to make sense now?”. Stronger than I’d say it, but still understandable…