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US trade press howls for Gizmodo's blood

It is not a story unless it comes from a press release
Wed Apr 21 2010, 13:04

THE TRADITIONAL PRESS in the Land of the Free is baying for the blood of Gizmodo for buying an Iphone prototype and writing it up as a news story.

nixonJeff Bercovici, bless his cotton socks, has even called for Apple to sue Gizmodo. "I am somewhat scandalized, even outraged. Put simply, Gawker Media brazenly, publicly flouted the law. It subsidized a crime: the selling of stolen merchandise. Then it published a misleading, whitewashed account of the seller's actions meant to make it look as though he was not acting with criminal intent. It published this account in order to disguise its own culpability in the matter," he wrote.

The general feeling about the story from the US press is that Gizmodo somehow did something wrong by publishing a news story providing information that people wanted. Most of the complaints appear to come from hacks who have been publishing unsubstantiated rumours about the Ipad for the last six months. In other words it is okay to publish rumours but it is not okay to actually use hard evidence.

At the core of the objections is the allegation that Gizmodo obtained the story by "cheque book journalism". In other words it bought the story and this somehow made it invalid.

It might be unusual for stories to be paid for in the IT industry, but some of the big names in media make no secret that they buy stories in other fields. Cheque book journalism is undesirable, but it is used and to deny that magazines and newspapers do it, in one form or another, is blatant posturing.

People who moan about that sort of thing are usually the types of people who can dismiss an accurate news story because of a typo or a split infinitive in the 24th paragraph.

In tabloid journalism it is common practice to "do a spoiler" on an article that is written by a rival, but some of these comments in the US press go beyond simple jealousy.

It comes down to something that is instilled in US hacks from the time they train. They might be biased, purple prose peddlers, but they somehow have a "moral code" and they are "respectable". They bang on about press ethics even as they are writing up a press release for some IT company that has its goods made in a Chinese sweatshop. But the illusion of moral superiority is more important than writing news or informing people.

This arrogant illusion places the press at the mercy of the press officers and government spin merchants. US hacks sell their souls for "access" to government sources and industry executives, and don't dare write anything unflattering or critical lest they stop getting invited to tame press briefings.

It also means that they follow "procedures" because getting news from other sources is somehow dirty. They seem to think it is better to write pages of uninformed guff from a press release than to try and find out what is really going on.

Apparently some of them also think it is better to call for companies or governments to sue hacks who step out of line and actually dare to print a story that is off the roadmap of PR releases and propaganda.

The Ipad hype shows just how far the so-called "moral press" that would have returned the Iphone without writing a story about it have been led up the garden path by their own so called ethics.

By doing things in a particular way many US technology hacks end up being the unpaid servants of the industry they are supposed to be reporting on. Apple appears to be a particular blind spot for the US press, such that negative news is only handled by the foreign press or blogs.

But it is not just Apple. I can remember once at a press conference asking why Microsoft was shafting network managers with its new licences only be tapped on the back by some fat Yank journalist who told me off for "being disrespectful to our Microsoft hosts".

From memory I told him that I was asking the questions that he should be (I am paraphrasing my actual words). I saw the same jerk again on a Youtube video standing up to applaud Steve Jobs at a press conference, so I guess that fawning creepiness is considered "being respectful".

It takes a lot more than a free drink and a cheese nibble before I will ask Steve Ballmer what he does to relax.

A while back I got a call from former colleague who said he was working in the land of the free and making a killing. He said that UK journalists were highly prized in the US because they were fast and tended to get stories. It looks like Gizmodo's crime was to learn that lesson and get the news by whatever means it could.

As to the US hacks who rounded on the magazine: shut up and write some proper news. µ





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