Controversy, journalism, disclosures and the future of web content

Over the past few days there has been a minor scandal brewing, which has now turned into a flame war between several prominent journalists (for clarity, I’ll use that term). It started with New York Times writer Nick Bilton, publishing a story about mobile app Path data mining user’s phones. Path has since apologized and scrubbed all user data, but that’s not really the issue here because a ton of other apps are doing the exact same thing.

After Bilton’s original story went up, MG Siegler and Michael Arrington responded (More than those two posts, but those give you an idea). From here the situation gets complicated. Siegler and Arrington work for CrunchFund, a startup fund which has Path in its portfolio. From here Dan Lyons weighed in on the controversy, although some people likened it to a straight up personal attack on Siegler and Arrington.

His criticism, is that CrunchFund cashed in on Arrington and Siegler’s status as “influencers.” This was allegedly furthered by the fund turning around and funding the tech news site Pando Daily. In his article, Dan Lyons alleges:

PandoDaily is working the same deal as CrunchFund. You invest in our site, and now we’re business partners, so at the very least you’ll have a friendly media outlet whose “influence” you can call upon.

His allegation is supposed to really serious, but isn’t this how most news works these days? A company is going to be less likely to give a scoop to an organization that made them look bad. On the other hand, a company is going to be more likely to give information to an organization that has given them favorable press in the past. People with news to break always weighs these sorts of considerations. Fox News still covers the Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal, although their take is much less harsh than say that of MSNBC.

Lyons also levels heavy criticism at what he calls “hired guns and reformed click-whores who have found a way to grab some of the loot for themselves.” Heavy stuff. Although, writing a blog post like his which is obviously going to provoke serious responses is definitely doing the very click-whoring he advocates against. Maybe because his article is also some sort of super meta critique of the industry, it’s different?

What a mess. Chris Dixon has a good take on the original “controversy,” but be warned that he is probably also tangled in this investment web somewhere. Good read nonetheless.

My take is that you have to assume there is no longer such a thing as an independent journalist. Everyone has motivations and it’s up to the reader to educate themselves as much as possible and read differing points of view before drawing a conclusion. In an age where news stations are all owned by mega corporations, this type of thing shouldn’t be a shock to anyone anymore. The world runs on nepotism.

As for the original “controversy” regarding phone data, probably a subject for a future blog post.