Suggestion: Talk To The Source

Alex and Dan have posts up this morning bemoaning the state of technology journalism. I've got a suggestion for the bloggers who increasingly dominate the tech journalism sector – talk to the sources before you post. There are certainly some who do that. Kara Swisher is a great example of a blogger who comes out of the traditional world and in my experience she calls around to get the story straight before she posts. I wish more bloggers would do that.

Here's an example. Last week I gave a talk to a group of execs in the TV business and posted the slides from the talk on this blog and at slideshare.

A few days later, I saw the news that I was touting twitter's new search results page.

Twitter search

Here's what happened. Harrison Hoffman, a cnet blogger, took the time to look through the deck and looked carefully at slide 22 and wrote a blog post about it.

What Harrison did not know, because he didn't take the time to call me, is that I was not in fact showing off Twitter's new search results page. I was showing off the ability to follow the discussion of a TV show in real time via Twitter. I left a comment on Harrison's blog post and thought that was the end of it.

The fact is that roughly 1% of all Twitter users have the integrated search feature turned on right now for testing purposes. Twitter is playing around with look and feel and scaling and will roll out integrated search when it is ready for the entire user base. I happen to be in that 1% and I just did the search and took the screenshot without thinking about it.

But it gets even more nutty. Today I saw a story on that assumes the title of slide 22 "Where We Are Going" implies that the search results page I showed was about where Twitter is going. And then it goes on to evaluate the business model implications of the page I showed. Well the post is pretty interesting, but it's based on a false assumption. The "We" in "Where We Are Going" means TV users and the TV business, not Twitter.

I don't mean to make a big deal about this, because it is not a big deal. But a phone call (or even an email) from these bloggers would have clarified why I was showing that slide and what it means, for the TV business and for Twitter. I think there were at least a half dozen blog posts about that slide and I got no phone calls and no emails at all. That's a sign that it is "shoot first, aim later" in the tech blogs and that's not good.

Speaking of where the TV business is going, check out Paul Graham's blog post on the TV business. I particularly like this part:

The TV networks already seem, grudgingly, to see where things are
going, and have responded by putting their stuff, grudgingly, online.
But they're still dragging their heels. They still seem to wish
people would watch shows on TV instead, just as newspapers that put
their stories online still seem to wish people would wait till the
next morning and read them printed on paper. They should both just
face the fact that the Internet is the primary medium.

They'd be in a better position if they'd done that earlier. When
a new medium arises that's powerful enough to make incumbents
nervous, then it's probably powerful enough to win, and the best
thing they can do is jump in immediately.

I tried to make that point in my slide presentation to the TV execs as well. It's high time that the TV business embraced Internet delivery of TV shows and all that offers; mobile, social, global, playful, intelligent, and open. It's going to happen. It's just a matter of time and who is left standing when it does.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. dave

    How long should they wait before running the piece? What if the source never answers? What’s wrong with you posting a rebuttal on your blog? (As you;ve done here.)I’d rather see people err on the side of getting some details wrong and having the mistake be visible than holding onto it and becoming part of the insider clique. Transparency is good, but there are costs.

    1. Seth Godin

      I guess it’s about how a blog positions itself. If you have a blog that has a reputation for thorough journalism, then Google should consider it news and people should believe it. If, on the other hand, your blog is about a conversation and a thought that popped into your head based on assumed facts, people ought to expect that.Fred’s problem, and I agree, is that the expectation of the news consumer is that if it’s referenced and cross referenced and discussed, it must be true. The easiest way in the world to avoid that is at the source.

      1. dave

        How long should they wait?Also, professionals make plenty of these kinds of mistakes. For example last week the esteemed NY Times said RSS was software and that it was co-written by a 14-year old on a mail list. It is neither of those things.They never called me to check it out.

        1. j

          They already know what you would say. No reason to check it out.And they got it right.

        2. Steven Kane

          Hi DaveSo… two wrongs make a right?

      2. South77

        “Google should consider it news and people should believe it.” Seems like a low hurdle for what’s news and what to believe.

        1. StevenHodson

          I agree with that totally

      3. Steven Kane

        hi seth. how would google determine a blog’s “reputation” (in order to, in your words, “consider it news”)?

    2. bijan

      It feels like many tech bloggers race to get the anchor position on techmeme so calling the source takes too much time.i agree that Kara is doing a fine job. Om does too.I understand the need to scoop a story but there has to be a balance.The good news is that it should filter itself out and the best tech bloggers will be rewarded over time.

      1. dave

        Well anyone who goes for a TM score is a chump. Maybe that;s something wecan agree on. I like Om and Kara, and agreed with Al3x. But don’t tell methis is a diff betw MSM and bloggers. That’s hype. (And Fred is a blogger,Kara and Om are, in every way, pros.)

        1. bijan

          I’m not telling you that

      2. Adrian Palacios

        Do you think we still live in a time where something can be “scooped” (if we are merely talking about being *first* in writing it)?

        1. Dorian Benkoil

          I like this point, brandingme. Being first is taken as an end in itself, but being more accurate, more thoughtful, even more analytical over time can add much more. I bemoan that so much of our media consumption is based on chronology — we tend to see, in our feeds, text messages, etc, what’s most recent, not necessarily most relevant.

          1. Adrian Palacios

            Thanks :-)Maybe the next generation (those who have grown up on Facebook, blogs, etc) will recognize this? Specifically, that recent does not equal relevant. Maybe our belief in being “first” comes from all those years of TV nightly news and print media positioning themselves as *the* source for breaking news. Hopefully that concept will become obsolete.So how do we position bloggers? Is there a measurement outside of Edelman’s Social Media Index that rewards bloggers not through volume of posts, overall online activity, feed subscribers, etc., but by the fact that they do their research, post relevant news backed with insightful opinion? Or is there some Darwinian survival of the fittest at work that will weed out the weak?

      3. Steven Kane

        c’mon bijan, we all know that the “best” rarely if ever wins out — its the juiciest and slickest or fastest who get the attentionWSJ is perceived as dying but CNBC is a rising starWashington Post is dead trees but Huffington Post and Drudge Report are rocket ships

    3. fredwilson

      Great questions dave. I think they should email or dm me on twitter (or even @reply me) and give me a few hours (if its work hours) to reply and if they don’t get a reply, go ahead and post with the note that they tried to contact meI think that would do a lot to make their posts more reliable and authorative

      1. daryn

        If they are just riffing off of your slide, with their own hypothesis on what it means, I don’t think there is any need to contact you or get a response. It would probably make for a much better story, but I’m guessing the average blogger who is not an established name or from a established blog/publication doesn’t get a whole lot of responses to their inquiries… And you always have the opportunity for rebuttal in the comments or by reblogging.However, I do agree that if they are trying to be “the news”, then YES, they should at least do the minimal amount of diligence that any journalist would. It goes a long way towards credibility.

        1. Eric Berlin

          You bring up some great points. While I feel my piece stands up on its own, Fred’s reaction and the ensuing discussion will prompt me (a mostly “unknown blogger”!) to reach out to original sources more for reaction.

        2. StevenHodson

          I pretty well said the same thing in a post today about this. Where Kara et al will usually get the prez of a company on first ring the rest of us are lucky if we don’t get the cold shoulder from some secretary of a junior assistance VP of PR.That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with Fred in principal – it is just in the real world of blogging it doesn’t work that way.

      2. grahammudd

        I agree. You often see comments in MSM pieces like “the reporter attempted to reach XXXXX and did not receive a response” or something like that. That does two things: 1) It gives the source a clear signal that they can/should call the reporter if something is inaccurate in the story and 2) it tells the reader that this hasn’t been verified with the source or their side of the story hasn’t been fully included. Why can’t bloggers (professional or semi-professional) do something similar?

        1. StevenHodson

          they can if they want to but with the majority of bloggers the chances are they’ve gotten the brush off or some non-committal piece of crap that they have given up on trying. We aren’t all Fred Wilson or Kara Swisher or Robert Scoble.

      3. Eric Berlin

        To me the question here, specifically — apart from larger questions about journalism and the web — is whether the screenshot that appears in the slide show is interesting (particularly due to the nature of the slide show presenter) in of itself? To me it is, and that’s what I focused on and what it might mean for the future of Twitter.

    4. Eric Berlin

      I’m the author of the piece. Here’s what I wrote in response over there:Looking back I don’t think I could have / should have done anything differently with this piece. You’ll note I carefully noted that this is a direction that Twitter *might* be going in, and that in fact this was probably not the final design / UI that will eventually be deployed.I think the fact that you [Fred Wilson] have ties to Twitter, and chose to present a new look search page to signal how Twitter will continue to provide value for users, important partners, and (presumably) advertisers is, in itself, newsworthy. 🙂

    5. rick gregory

      Accuracy be damned, is that it? Screw getting it right, get it first? Don’t even TRY to call the source?That’s the heart of the problem – an environment that frets over getting something out RIGHT NOW as if I can’t wait 15 minutes or 5 hours. Virtually no tech news is really time critical, but people continue to act as if it’s more important to post than get things correct.If people want to be taken seriously as journalists… then act like a good one. Put calls into sources. Check things out. Otherwise all you are is someone with a blog. Source doesn’t get back to you? What, you only have one source for a story? Hmm….. doesn’t that tell you something? And what’s wrong with noting in the story that “We asked X for comment but got no reply.” At least that way I know you’re trying vs just posting as much as you can in order to make Techmeme.

  2. Andre

    Thanks for this. I too am sometimes shocked at how quickly a story is published. Usually it says we have contacted x from company y but did not receive a response. The email it turns out later was sent one or two hours before publishing the story. This morning (before reading your post) I was analyzing my reading habits and found that is now the biggest source for news. I was thinking that this is NOT good as articles linked from techmeme are usually blog posts with a huge amount of “rumor” and speculation and can NOT be considered news. I will try to change my reading habits again to and also as my main source of information.regarding twitter search. I also have search on my twitter homepage but not from twitter / only from the firefxox add on powertwitter

  3. Prokofy

    I’m glad I read your corrected version of this story and it’s a good thing I noticed your tweet correcting it or I might have persisted in the misreading I had gotten from reading the blog — a reading prompted itself from some Twitter.HOWEVER, Twitter search is getting really good and more on some things I got to the Twitter search and not Google, which for some things I need keeps producing very static returns. I’m not in that “one percent” here and I don’t even know what “integrated search” means, I just press SEARCH on the bottom of the page, or I use with key words or I even cheat and use Google to put in Twitter plus term lol.The Twitter search is now getting better and better as more people fill up Twitter with more things useful to me and my keywords. For example, two years ago, a year ago, I would keep typing in something like “Turkmenistan” and get nothing whatsoever. Today, I type it in and I get a lot of junk (somebody goofing off with #skittles, etc.) but I also find a colleague saying something interesting, I had forgotten to check with him to get his take on; I found a guy going to Turkmenistan working on some legislation I had not heard of, etc. That is, it takes a bit of scrolling but it gets better and better as you use search to follow, and pretty soon your feed of followers then becomes the better news.Right now, the frustration for me in following the Twitter feed of more than 1000 followed isn’t the people saying things live, even stupid things, but the news sources spewing out huge wads of ticker tapes. They all overproduce, @huffpost, @nytimes etc. You also find all these “good citizens” thinking what the world needs is yet another customized news feed but then they don’t provide any comment or leads so it’s just a ream of stuff that I wish I could crunch somewhere and squeeze out the relevance from.

  4. David Noël

    Last night, I attended an Amazon Web Services Event at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Berlin. On one of the panels with the majority of panelists being investors, there was also an Israeli tv exec (sorry I forgot his name). When asked by Eran Davidson in what now successful Web 2.0 company they’d have invested in if they’d known before, the tv exec answered something like (I’m paraphrasing here): “What is it with that Web 2.0 anyway, I don’t understand it. With an economic climate as it is, people will go back to older values and will focus on how to spend time with their families and will make sure they have something to eat, who needs Web 2.0 for that?”I wish I could have had the following part of Paul’s essay as an answer to his statement:”Every teenage kid (a) wants a computer with an Internet connection, (b) has an incentive to figure out how to use it, and (c) spends countless hours in front of it.”This is where the kids are today, this is how they consume and how they communicate. Not because someone told or taught them but because they grew up with it.Earlier today, I watched a livestream of a panel on the CeBIT, a big IT trade show here in Germany. On the panel was an old media guy saying he’d hope that in the next years the big German public-service broadcasters would shift their resources and distribution more towards the internet. The next years? They’re already too late.

  5. dave

    Okay, here’s a case study. I just wrote a long blog post on Eric Schmidt’s comments about Twitter.New blog post: Poor man’s email?'s a lot of conjecture in that piece. Should I have called Google PR and asked to speak with Schmidt? Do you think I would even get through? What are the chances that I would get to talk to him? And what are the chances he’d respond to this line iof inquiry. Most important question, which so far no one has answered: How long should I wait?I didn’t wait at all. If Google feels any of it is horribly wrong they’ll ignore it. That’s how today’s Google works with bloggers.There was a time when Cindy McCaffrey would read as soon as she came in every morning, right around this time. If I put something like this out, she would check and get me an official Google statement or someone to talk with. They seemed happy with the arrangement, and so was I.I think the takeaway here is that everyone, bloggers and pros should be more careful about what they know and don’t know, and if something is conjecture, it should be clearly labeled as such. The problems happen when people report things as fact that are wildly false, and unsubstantiated. I don’t like or support that. But waiting for icons to return phone calls, feh. I don’t buy it.

    1. fredwilson

      Dave – I did respond to the “how long should you wait” questionIt’s in the comment threadThere’s also a difference between me and Eric SchmidtI’m not the CEO of one of the most important tech companies in the world (and a public company to boot)You know that I’d reply to a dm, @reply, or email from you if you wanted to write something about meAnd my point is that the rest of the blog world should know that too and do more of it

      1. dave

        I saw your response after I posted mine.Anyway, I’m trying to find areas of agreement. I know you’re accessible, tome, but the people you’re writing about may not. You look pretty big to themFred. FYI.

        1. fredwilson

          RightMaybe my tone was wrongInstead of admonishing the bloggers, I should be asking them to contact me and promising to be available and reply quicklyThanks for pointing that out

    2. fredwilson

      Great post Dave on Eric’s comments and your thoughts about them and twitter. Thanks for posting that.

      1. dave

        Thanks Fred. I appreciate that you read what I write about Twitter. 🙂

  6. michael arrington

    I think you’re picking up a pitchfork and jumping into the mob a bit. and partially at our expense. a lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes in blogging that’s just about the ugliest stuff I’ve ever seen. That didn’t happen until your pros arrived. And the spin that’s included in today’s tech news blogs, which is what accounts for most of what you call pro journalism, is awful.Yesterday one of your pros wrote a blog post with very little information. we wrote a longer, significantly more accurate piece an hour later. Your pro updated their post with all of our information and absolutely no attribution.careful what you wish for.

    1. fredwilson

      Hi MikeWho are the “pros”?I didn’t use that term in my post so I am not sure what you are referring toCertainly TC are pros and I think TC does a good job, maybe not as thorough as I’ve seen Kara be about a story, but certainly more thorough than the post on louisgray or even cnet

    2. Adrian Palacios

      Mob? I think Fred was pretty fair in simply asking bloggers to confirm with *the* source.And careful what we wish for? What about TechCrunch recent run-in with LastFM??

  7. Louis Gray

    Fred, appreciate your comments here. For the most part, we are definitely in the same boat. Whenever possible, I’d rather talk to an entrepreneur and get their take first-hand rather than guess.Eric Berlin, who contributes to my blog, and is the author of this piece, is absolutely well-intended, and I am glad to feature his articles. Your clarification on what the slide was intended is good detail, but I also understand the conclusions he reached – which, clearly, others have as well. Twitter specifically is one of those companies that many want to talk about but few have good information from, so speculation is running high. So I wouldn’t use the word “nutty”, but we are absolutely listening to your comments.Appreciate the update.

  8. David L

    This whole thread is a good follow up to your post a few weeks back about how everyone’s own personal truth is just as valid as everyone else’s. In this particular case, your view is that the guy got the story wrong because he did not fact check. I am trying to remember your exact argument in that post, but this seems to be a good real world counter example that while truth may be relative, some “truths” are a lot better than others.

  9. Ken Sheppardson

    Suggestion: The content one publishes needs to speak for itself. I don’t think you can honestly expect that anybody who is going to interpret what you publish (i.e. your slides) is going to get in touch with you first. Is that realistic? How in the world does it scale? With all due respect (meaning I’m going to say something here that might be disrespectful… I hate that phrase) if the slides that accompany your presentation don’t make sense out of context, don’t publish them out of context.

    1. JanDawson

      Glad someone made this point – my first reaction was that what happened here was that Fred posted a slide which wasn’t self-explanatory without any further explanation to make it so. If people took it at face value they’re not to blame for that.

    2. rick gregory

      That can be very hard. Quick, what’s the content here? Slide 22? The entire deck? The deck with audio of the presentation?It’s very very easy to grab a piece of information out of context either deliberately or just because it catches their eye. That doesn’t excuse the reporter from actually doing what reporters usually do and checking sources, etc.

      1. JanDawson

        But the source was the slide deck – not Fred. Even if you used the rest of the deck as context it didn’t help overcome the obvious conclusion you’d draw from that slide. If Fred’s going to post the deck without commentary then he can’t complain when people take it at face value. The point Fred is making is very valid when bloggers write stories about rumors or things they overheard or surmised from other data – not so much when the post is based on public domain information that seems to be self-contained.

  10. Gordon Platt

    Fred, I think it’s an interesting commentary on the state of journalism in this era. There are quite a few advantages to having many voices, but the value added of tried and true media brands used to be and still is that you could in most cases depend on validity of what you were reading or watching. At least there was a process that was followed (e.g. checking with sources). That’s no longer true in this Wild West era. Hopefully the cream will rise to the top and those who succeed will be the bloggers and independents who get it right.

  11. Morgan Warstler

    I think this gives the press far too much credit. That incoming phone call in many ways is just an opportunity to go ahead and say whatever the hell they want anyway. Execs and pols get taught to be on message for a reason.Frankly though the bloggers out there, as an example TC, have far too much of a vested interest in re-enforcing their own previous interpretations of events. The humility of “just the facts mam” is what readers love to read (note sarah lacy’s responses at TC over the past two weeks), and bloggers hate to give.

  12. kidmercury

    technology journalists need to talk about google censorship of 9/11 truth, data snooping, and that type of stuff.the self-censorship has to end. it’s essential to getting through this political/economic crisis.

  13. GlennKelman

    More people than ever are reading technology news, but the quality has, for the first time in my memory, palpably declined, even at newspapers which now no longer have the resources to interview, edit and fact-check as carefully as they once did.I would certainly pay for quality; I just wish someone would ask me to…

  14. JLM

    Interesting issue.First, you are paying the price for being famous — perhaps because of your direct connection to Twitter. The higher you climb on the totem pole, the more of your ass the world can see. [I just hope you have paid your taxes and have no illegal nannies.]Second, you personally have a very high quality blog and therefore you are attributing your standards to others. Always a fatal error. Because you deal w/ OPM you also have some ethical restraint.Last, the state of the flow of information is pretty damn clear — volume is increasing, speed is increasing, clarity is decreasing and integrity has evaporated. This is true of every aspect of communication/information across the entire spectrum. The blogosphere (a word I truly hate) is even worse because it clearly is not journalism and journalism itself is no longer journalism. It is however clearly commentary and commentary is still trying to pose as journalism.I have heard it said: “What’s the difference between a girlfriend and a hooker?” Packaging, branding and pricing. Apologies to all girlfriends and hookers! Mea culpa!Same problem w/ journalism and commentary and the blogosphere.The old adage “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” is quite analagous today.Last comment: The law of unintended consequences is at an all time high just now. Post something somewhere and you never know who reads it and how it is used.

    1. fredwilson

      You gave me a chuckle with that comment JLM

  15. Paul Johnson

    Fred – agreed. As the new media continues to evolve, some of the guiding principles of journalism need to be adopted. Most bloggers are very good at this, so there’s hope.

  16. Harrison Hoffman

    Talking to the source

    1. fredwilson

      great use of video reply harrison. shoot me an email and i’ll intro you to my ass’t who can always get a message to me (but can’t solve the 2am blog post issue!)

    2. fredwilson

      harrison, as long as we are now talking, i am the founder and managing partner of Union Square Ventures. i guess you could call me an investment analyst too, but that’s not my title.

  17. ChangeForge | Ken Stewart

    This has been a rather interesting debate that has unfolded… I can see both sides quite crisply from my vantage – and concur that the slides could’ve been more clearly stated, but request for comment might have also been appropriate.I suppose it goes back to the intent and tone of the post and whether it was intended to be more news or conversational. I do not pretend to know the underlying motivations behind the author, Eric, but I do think the reaction was a bit harsh here.To Dave’s point(s) many blog posts are very editorial in nature, and as such express conjecture and opinion. I most certainly understood this when I engaged in reading the article and did not jump to any crazy conclusions that you, Fred, had solely endorsed the jump from speculation to fact. Quite the opposite, actually.To some extent, I wonder if you do not give the readers credit for being able to read between the lines and take responsibility as readers. If this is the case, and I would argue that your position could be logically extended to this level, then in point of fact, Eric was a reader of your slides and you could’ve (not necessarily should’ve) allowed this jump in logic to be not only possible but quite possible.As indicated by Louis, speculation around the monetization of Twitter runs high. I don’t pretend to understand the fascination from the general populace, but do understand your keen interest in such things given your level of involvement, and can likewise understand your aggravation at possible linkage being made.However, I do intend to point out that a notable name such as yourself does appear to be a little removed from the reach of the average blogger, but I can say I also appreciate your comment and adjustment of “tone” in a reply comment to Dave.I must say this is all very dramatic, and wonder if in the end it was all really worth it. However, as one who thoroughly enjoys extending the conversation – you most certainly have offered a rich buffet of “freedom of speech” and “journalist integrity” issues in the comments of your blog.

    1. fredwilson

      Ken, it was worth it because there a bunch of bloggers who know I’d like tobe contacted and they also now know how to contact me

  18. Michael Masnick

    Fred, this seems to contradict what you said just last week about the blog being a conversation:…In fact, I wrote something about your earlier post here, where I talk about why I don’t necessarily want to check with the source first. I’d rather that be a part of the public conversation. That way everyone benefits:…I recognize the different viewpoints… but it does seem like the two concepts contradict slightly.

    1. fredwilson

      This turned into a conversation as well and a good one.

  19. Dorian Benkoil

    On the point about TV networks being so reluctant:Hulu seems anything but reluctant. They’ve made it easy to use, and have a fair number of ads. Many folks I know — including some codgers in YMCA gym I go to (they’re anything but cutting edge geeks) — watch a lot of their TV from Hulu. If Hulu’s TV network masters were reluctant, why would they make it so easy?ABC, too, has made a lot of its programs freely and ever more easily available.Networks seem much less grudging than they were (and I say this as someone who was the founding international producer, then managing producer at, and attended a lot of difficult meetings about digital with ABC and Disney execs.)

  20. Steven Kane

    The first rule of professional journalism — get out of your chair and out of your office and out of your building and out of your head and try like heck to see the world/news/story first hand and try like heck to report both facts and spin but try like heck to distinguish between the twoAnd btw, to heck with tech news and blogging — we have a deadly serious crisis on our hands, a massive sea change in the role of media in our culture and local affairs that is terrifying (to those who care about democracy and civil liberties anyway): Roger Waters said,”We are entertaining ourselves to death.”

  21. bernardlunn

    Being misquoted by the media is as old as Gutenberg. This is nothing to do with old or new media. People will – over time – gravitate more to sources that they trust because on balance they believe them to be more accurate. You can make money at both ends – National Enquirer makes money and so does Economist. Storm in a tea cup