"Beta Journalism" is neither

Posted on Tuesday, August 24th 2010 at 9:09 p.m.

TechCrunch is one of the biggest technology blogs out there, with a focus on up-and-coming tech companies, angel investing, and the like.

When the ” Jenny Whiteboard ” story hit the internet two weeks ago, it blew up thanks to a host of Facebook-forwarding, but also thanks to a couple popular websites like CollegeHumor.com and TechCrunch.  I believe the above photo which was part of the photo sequence was designed to get the story posted up on TechCrunch.

As we wrote when we first heard the story, we were extremely skeptical about it being a “real” story.  My perspective on the issue was that a) the photography was too good and b) “Jenny” was way too expressive to be an unknown secretary.  Peter Kafka at All Things Digital did what any good reporter would do - did his homework and traced theChive back to some guys who had faked out the internet two years ago with a story about Donald Trump leaving a $10K tip on an $80 restaurant bill.

A day after the story broke, theChive came out and said the story was a fake, made solely to see how much publicity they could get in one day.  The success of the story was partly due to so many people (the Facebook forwarders) wanting this to be true - who hasn’t been trapped in a crappy job and wished they had the guts to up and leave in a public manner, regardless of the consequences?

However, the story was also successful due to websites like TechCrunch, who ostensibly set themselves up as news sources, either not knowing how to do homework or not wanting to wait to do their homework prior to running with the story.

TechCrunch’s Jon Orlin weighed in after the fact with his take on the situation.  Rather than admit that they contributed to spreading a story that didn’t pass the smell test, Orlin petulantly said that stories like “Jenny Whiteboard” are the byproduct of “beta journalism.”

This irritates me to no end.  There have been several instances over the past couple years (the Gizmodo iPhone controversy comes to mind) where bloggers continually go back and forth between claiming that they are journalists (and therefore entitled to the same protection under the law or the same access to conferences) and not journalists (thereby excusing behavior that journalists would never participate in).  I am sick of bloggers acting like children who want to sit at the big peoples’ table and then throwing their food around when they get there.  I’m not even a “professional blogger” and my BS filter went off - what does it say about TechCrunch that they didn’t pause at this story and run it instead as “theChive dreams up the perfect way to quit a job?”

The “old media” way of doing things is, upon hearing a story, to yell “Get me confirmation.”  The “new media” way of doing things, unfortunately, has been to say “Run it, we’ll sort things out later.”  The “developing” tag at the end of stories is supposed to excuse any failures to fact-check before running.

The “Jenny Whiteboard” story is much ado about nothing.  But what if it had been a financial story instead?  If TechCrunch had run with a story that Steve Jobs had suddenly died, how much would Apple stock lose on the stock market before they “updated” their story?  How many people would lose money as a result of such cavalier reporting?

Bloggers need to man up and choose a side - either say you are journalists and behave like them, or say you are not and stop whining when you get excluded from things.


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