February 07, 2005

Clarification on Jeeves/Bloglines

Frank Barnako, of CBS Marketwatch, has written a piece suggesting, sort of, in 'Bloggers won't keep a secret' that I was asked NOT to blog the Jeeves/Bloglines story in my post (that appeared on Saturday, not Friday). In fact, no one who told me about it asked me not to blog it, though they all know I'm a blogger. I blogged the story after hearing it from different sources, because the information was clearly out.

However, if asked not to, I don't blog what people tell me in confidence, unless the information gets blogged elsewhere, and then I may comment on it. The many many people who do share confidential information with me, can attest to the fact that I've never blogged, nor shared, it otherwise. I also don't share currrent or former client information online or in person. Sorry.

Also, though my bio is out of date, I've graduated from SIMS at UCBerkeley, and now work as a technology consultant for several web 2.0-type startups as well as legacy media companies.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 7, 2005 05:06 PM | TrackBack

The lucky ones who know you had rightly established that you were not told the info in confidence.

Not clear what Barnako was up to on this one, besides a cheap catchy headline.

Posted by: Jeff Clavier at February 7, 2005 06:10 PM

You know what offends me about the Barnako piece?

The laziness of it.

How hard would it have been to get a hold of you and ask? Is he too lazy to even pick up the phone and ask *any* of the parties involved to see if it was true before posting his story? When I worked as a reporter my editors wouldn't have accepted such a story. Why is Marketwatch?

Actual reporting, how last century.

Maybe he sees irresponsibility in others because...hmmmm....

Posted by: Lisa Williams at February 7, 2005 08:49 PM

In fact it's Barnako who got his "facts" wrong. Keep up the great work, Mary.

One caveat -- he may have gotten bitten by a bad headline writer/editor, in which case he should publicly disavow it and apologize for the sleazy insinuation.

Posted by: Steve Gillmor at February 7, 2005 11:41 PM

All is forgiven :-)

Seriously, keep up the good work, its nice to see morals in blogging but you still broke a very, very big story, even if you were not told not to leak it.
Either way, its a great example of bloggers breaking news. I just wish I'd added the bloglines links from the Ask Jeeves blog and concluded what you were told!

Posted by: Duncan at February 8, 2005 04:11 AM

Hi Duncan, the point is the post is: I was *not* asked to embargo the information. I was simply told this was happening, and reported it, with no restrictions.


Posted by: mary hodder at February 8, 2005 07:20 AM

Thanks for the context, Mary, but now there's a deeper level... someone else likely broke their non-disclosure contract, and damage was likely perceived by a party affected by your story, amplified by your actions.

Now, the New York Times would go all "i dont haveta say how i know or let you test it, because My Sources Are Holy" -- reporters who elevate part of the first amendment above all others seem quite similar to rumormongers, imho. Is there any reason why you wouldn't disclose the sources behind what you publicized...?


Posted by: John Dowdell at February 8, 2005 08:04 AM

Mary -- First, nice job. You had news. You shared it. I don't for a minute think you broke a confidence or an embargo -- in fact, I never even considered the possibility. It's a tribute to your reputation that so many of us went with the story after you broke it. Had it been from any number of other sources I'm sure it might have been met with more skepticism.

Reading Frank's column, I didn't get the impression that he thought you literally told a secret although I think it could have been written better. What I took from it was the idea that companies need to realize they can't control or manage news and information anymore. You pulled the veil off the process. Now, AskJeeves and Bloglines continued to control as much as they could; in fact, numerous bloggers -- including Rafat -- observed their request for an embargo on the publication of interviews. Witness the flurry of 9 p.m. pacific/midnight eastern postings. We made a deal. You did not. Personally, I think AskJeeves and Bloglines shouldn't have left the story out there unanswered as long as they did but that's another story/

Posted by: Staci Kramer at February 8, 2005 08:55 AM

Staci's got it. The thrust of the column was not critical of bloggers, rather laudatory. Bloggers get wind of something and go with it, freely and unashamedly.

Mary concedes she didn't get the story fromn the company so, of course, her "tipsters" didn't tell her to hold it down.

When a company does a deal, it wants to spin the news itsewlf - not let the Blogosphere get hold of it and advance the story even before it's out ...

Now, about the headline ... that is not the headline that was on the column when I sent it to copydesk, I don't think. But I can't swear to it.

Bottom line ... blogging is a huge challenge now to companies, pr agencies, and old media. More power to 'em, because it means more info gets out and savvy reaction is immediate.


Posted by: Frank Barnako at February 8, 2005 10:31 AM

This goes to the heart of what it means to be a citizen journalist. Journalism cannot function without the ability to protect confidential sources from retribution or publicity. Are you willing to face a contempt of court charge to protect your sources? To fight orders for disclosure in court?

There should be insurance so we can post bail and pay court costs to defend a citizen journalist's right to write and publish.

On the other side, those who want to get to sources should understand that tackling bloggers may be like tackling a major newspaper. You can't do it quietly and the old expression applies about competing with someone buys ink by the barrel; you do it at your peril.

Posted by: Phil Wolff at February 8, 2005 10:48 AM

Phil wrote "This goes to the heart of what it means to be a citizen journalist. Journalism cannot function without the ability to protect confidential sources from retribution or publicity."

No, I don't think so... you can definitely receive off-the-record info, just like any other citizen, and this can influence the course of your future research.

But taking off-the-record, unattributed info, and reporting it as fact, without providing the means for others to test your conclusions... that's a different thing entirely.

Bottom line: If you want my attention, then you need to make a testable case, rather than just offer a faith-based initiative.

How close are we to agreement now...?

tx, jd

Posted by: John Dowdell at February 8, 2005 02:28 PM

To those at Ask Jeeves who chose to make Hodder's breaking the story into a bad thing, I can only say: you missed a marvelous opportunity. You could have marked her breaking the story, independent of any PR spin, as ratifying your new investment in the blogosphere. You could have made it an example at how important it was to Ask's customers to read blogs, and how Ask was stepping into a leadership position in search, in the new media. Instead, it was about a small firm trying to control a rather unimportant story. And failing. Whoops.

JD, we accept "faith-based" reporting from legacy news outlets all the time. We still don't know Deep Throat's name. We encourage this ignorance because we trust The Washington Post.

That trust comes from (a) acknowledging the publisher's economic self interest in perpetuating trust, (b) a track record of truthful reporting, and (c) their public commitment to journalism's cultural norms, including fact checking, multiple sourcing, the firewall between church and state, etc.

We have other sources for news. Some put Elvis sightings and celebrity/alien marriages on their front pages (I admit to reading these from time to time). Other have biases that twist and distort their coverage.

So you choose your news outlets, bloggers in that mix. Now, while I might like to know who leaked the Pentagon Papers, or the names of "senior advisors to the president" quoted in thousands of stories, it is precisely a source's ability to trust that a reporter/blogger will keep their identity confidential that permits a flow of information that protects our constitution, our consumer rights, our stockholder interests, and serves a greater need to know.

Some bloggers use blogging as diarists. Others as a poetry chapbook. Some just opine.

But some blog as reporters. I wouldn't expect a blogger acting as a reporter to breach their trust with sources without a reason so compelling that it would breach a doctor-patient, lawyer-client, or priest-confessor confidence. To do so is to chill the conversation, to stifle news.

Back to this case. Hodder didn't get this story from the Ask Jeeves PR pros. People who knew came to her, independently, with the story. If Hodder had reported this via a newswire or on CNBC, would anyone be questioning this scoop? The entirety of the concern is because of her being both publisher and reporter.

One of the gripes from the Ask Jeeves flacks is disrespect of their announcement's "embargo." Hodder clearly understands the antiquated idea of an embargo -- holding a news release until a time the releaser specifies -- started when the telegraph and newsprint were the dominant news media. Embargos are routinely ignored, of course, especially in the business press. This is a 24-hour news environment and 3 minute scoops pit CBS against Drudge.

Even so, it's not as if Hodder got a private briefing on condition of holding to an embargo (as other reporters did) and breached that trust. An embargo only applies to those who've received such notices and only if those announcements are the only source of that news. Hodder had multiple sources, independently confirming the story. So she broke it.

As to a testable case, was Hodder right? Yes. Did her story hold true? Yes. Did anyone contest her facts? No. Was this consistent with her history as a writer, reporter, and public figure? Yes.

Bloggers keep secrets all the time, theirs and othes. And by doing so much work in public under their own names, it is easier than ever to judge their trustworthiness.

Mary Hodder has my vote.

Posted by: Phil Wolff at February 8, 2005 06:01 PM

"JD, we accept "faith-based" reporting from legacy news outlets all the time."

Well, maybe you can work on that, y'know.... ;-)

Recap: Put up or shut up. Make a good case.


Posted by: John Dowdell at February 8, 2005 09:58 PM