August 07, 2007

Legacy Media Gloats About Fake Steve Jobs Outing

There's been a lot of gloating over the outing of the author of the blog, Fake Steve Jobs (see article below this link for gloating), which has been written by Dan Lyons, a Senior Editor of Forbes and where Brad Stone of the New York Times broke the story yesterday.

The interesting thing to me is that legacy media in NYC thinks that they are so clever for finding Lyons, or at least Lyons and his friends think this, when lots of bloggers on the west coast have spent months speculating and looking for FSJ. They even have pointed out how geeky the new media people are because they were doing things like checking the headers of email from FSJ, which appeared to point to a Boston location but that was all they got.

Brad Stone figured it out because he looked through Manhattan back channels to find a book agent was shopping a book proposal from FSJ (a few months ago, the book is due in October), and because the agent was telling publishers that the writer was a "the anonymous author was a published novelist and writer for a major business magazine," he could compare the FSJ writings with Lyons blog and figured it out.

Well, the point is that if you are part of legacy media, and more specifically, are in Manhattan, you probably have access through your network to other media entities in Manhattan. (Note that Brad Stone doesn't live in Manhattan, but as a member of the Times, I'd consider that very strong "local" access.) Of course if you get a clue through people you know that tell you about the FJS publishing package and mysterious writer status, you figure it out this way. No bloggers out in the hinterlands have that sort of access to be able to put this together.

It reveals both positives and negatives about legacy media, that bloggers have know for a long time and that legacy media has tried to sweep under the rug now and then. Bloggers over the past few years have pulled back the curtain on legacy media, and legacy media is now better for those conversations. But it's hard to break any story like this without both online and off-line access. You need both, and so it's not so much that Brad Stone of the NYTimes did the breaking, but rather Brad Stone, person with access Manhattanite and local connections to the publishing industry who broke the story. Could have been anyone with friends in publishing who figured it out.

But to say that it's "ironic" that a legacy media journalist was the FSJ and legacy media broke it may be true, but it's gloating at the same time. And it's that gloating attitude that got legacy media into trouble in the first place, and made the public so angry with them, after things like Jason Blair and Stephen Glass. So it may be a small victory, but often what legacy media doesn't understand is that there isn't a battle. Many conferences over the past few years have devolved into an either or battle where public demonstrations of these attitudes come out. But both sides need each other and if one went away, the other would be in deep trouble, at this point.

Bloggers drive a lot of traffic back to legacy media, as they discuss news print stories, and journalists get a lot of stories out of blogs (I first noticed this five or six years ago when my intellectual property stories started to get lifted a couple days after I published them.. by.. the New York Times. They added to them, but they took the arguments, the phrases, and never said a word about where it came from. I noticed this same thing with other IP bloggers like Law Meme and Copyfight as well.) News reporters report and bloggers opine. Bloggers opine and poke and reporters go looking for more.

We also need reporters who have access, not so much of the example above, but with access to important things, in order to get good information out. This is critical for the democracy and the reason reporters are given special dispensation in the Constitution. But reporters also need not abuse that power through gloating or arrogance.

This isn't about getting over on new media by the legacy guys. Many legacy guys have become new media guys.. Lyons and Stone each have blogs and write on the daily. The much more interesting story is how legacy media is using new media tools, changing their habits (like writing anonymous parody blogs !!!) and how everyone is interacting on and off-line to get better knowledge as well as entertainment. I have to admit, I have loved reading FSJ the past year. It's been totally entertaining.

Check this out: Fake Brad has come on the scene. Maybe a little less than FSJ-clever, but it is amusing. And ironically, it's amusing partly because it makes fun of legacy media arrogance. And as notes, FSJ and FB may be the start of a whole new genre.

Posted by Mary Hodder at August 7, 2007 12:09 PM | TrackBack

Some interesting ideas, but you're off on a bunch too.

One, Brad lives works from San Francisco, although he does have contacts in publishing.

Two, Brad didn't gloat about beating out bloggers. Lyons did take a dig at Vallywag in his post.

Three, Moreover, "old media" vs "new media" is irrelevant here. There is a very interesting phenomenon as amateur media (people who don't earn their living from content) competes (often quite well) with professional media. But in this split Valleywag and the New York Times are on the same side--we work full time to find out interesting stuff and present it to readers through one or more distribution formats. To do this well we need to have relationships with sources, and those relationships often help and sometimes hurt our mission.

There was a fun game going on among pros and amateurs to answer the implicit challenge of FSJ's anonymity. Brad, the folks at Gawker Media, and anyone else who wanted to join in were on a largely level playing field.

Four, One job that general media has performed forever is to monitor more specialized outlets for items of broader interest. This is good, and indeed, much of what blogs do. Whether attribution is needed depends on the case. But the Internet allows mass publications to offer links to source material and other commentary more easily and the blog culture is helping encourage that.


Posted by: Saul Hansell at August 8, 2007 07:56 AM

Hi Saul,
I actually never said that Brad gloated. I didn't mean to imply everyone I discussed in my post did.

Sorry for that confusion. I mean that the article embedded under the phrase "there's been a lot of gloating" was the one doing the gloating.

It's located here:

and if you read it, all the way through it's gloating about how it was traditional media that figured out that a traditional media person wrote the blog:

"Now for the really good part: Both the blogger and the guy who outed him are from staunch bastions of Old Media, Forbes magazine and The New York Times."

and then this a little further down:

"Reached by cell phone in Maine, where he had just begun a family vacation, Lyons said he has heard from several friends who found it ironic that someone from a "dead-tree" media outlet, and not a fellow blogger, had succeeded in solving the puzzle."

"'They said the blogosphere is so nearsighted that they only know the world they inhabit,' Lyons said, noting that several bloggers were trying to use high-tech tricks such as tracing the electronic signatures of e-mails to figure out who Fake Steve was."

"Meanwhile the Times reporter did some shoe-leather reporting by contacting people in the publishing world to gather hints from a proposal for a book that Fake Steve is coming out with in the fall."

My issue with this article is that the author (not stated, just AP.. why do they do that?) does make it sound like a battle, when I think it's a symbiotic relationship, that between bloggers and reporters/Legacy media. And I think it's not good, so my post is in response to this article. I linked to it, thinking that would be clear. I'll modify my post above to make it more so.

I'll also correct that Brad doesn't live in Manhattan, but working for the Times, he must go there, and have contacts in other related businesses. (My other NYTimes reporter friends that live here got to NYC regularly to check in and work back there.) My point is, that's access, that many other bloggers living in Iowa or SF don't have. I also don't think the whole blogosphere can be characterized in one fell swoop, and neither can legacy media, but the writer did it, and I continued the generalization, which actually isn't really good. But my overall point was that the larger conversation that happens daily is more important, and those are personal, that no group is "nearsighted" as a group, or better than another.

I appreciate that Brad did the work to find out who FSJ was; I don't appreciate the AP person telling us legacy media is better than those of us who don't have access and that because the clue was about finding out through publishing circles that somehow bloggers writers aren't as clever.

That framing by AP does make it sound like a battle, and Legacy media won. It's the tone of that article that bothers me. Since it's inside baseball in terms of the contest or game that went on, I can't tell that. I can only read that article, sent to me by someone, and I react, thinking -- why is this an either or for the author, instead of really about conversations between new and old media that go on daily online? Because it doesn't sell newspapers. And it feels distorted. So that's why I said something.


Posted by: mary hodder at August 8, 2007 08:51 AM