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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Could Sean Parker be right?

I can't believe I wrote that headline.

But after reading the long (long) piece that the Facebook billionaire posted today, I'm thinking: Guy's got a point.

Not that I excuse the (obvious) excess, not that I think a really really rich guy has anything to complain about when his wedding cost $2.5 million more than he expected, not that, at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is as bad as it's been in a century, I have much sympathy for someone who has trouble understanding what the fuss is all about. (Hint: It's not the Redwood trees.)

But his analysis of how the media, particularly the new, online and social media, buzzed onto the story like a bunch of angry bees and whipped it around the world at the speed of light without taking much time to check the facts is, sadly, all too accurate.

The boring old traditional reporters with the boring old traditional media have a boring old tradition of calling the people they're attacking before they write stories. They have a boring old tradition of trying to present all sides; in the best of circumstances (all too rare, then and now) they have a tradition of researching the situation in some depth before jumping to conclusions.

I am as guilty as anyone; in the frenzy over this story, I got some facts wrong (the wedding was not in a state park, or on any public property; we all repeated the $10 million figure which might very well be wrong).

We beat up on this guy without talking to him, without making sure we had the story right ... and that's not fair.

I can't believe I'm defending Sean Parker, but I like what he writes here:

Speaking personally, this entire experience has prompted me to think about the state of journalism, in particular the way in which social media, blogging, the acceleration of the news cycle, and the flattening of the media landscape have altered journalism over the past decade. One could easily write off what happened with a blanket criticism of the media: They’ve become link-baiting jackals who believe that “truth” is whatever drives clicks....

Regardless, I can’t escape the feeling that there is a kind of cosmic irony at work here. Readers of this publication are likely familiar with my career in the technology sector. I have spent more than a decade creating products built on the premise that the democratization of media was a good thing, that self-publishing, the free sharing of information, and the removal of the media “gatekeepers” would all lead to a freer, more open media — with the implied assumption that this was a “better” media. I practiced what I preached, both talking about and designing systems around the core belief that empowering people with the tools to more freely access and share information — be it music, links, photos, text, or any other form of media — could only make the world a better place. ...

And yet, as if by some process of karmic retribution, the mediums I dedicated my life to building have all too often become the very weapon by which my own character and reputation has been mercilessly attacked in public. No thanks to the moderating powers of identity and accountability, users of these mediums are happy to attack me publicly, in plain view, using their real names and identities, no veil of anonymity required. I have watched as these new mediums helped foment revolutions, overturn governments, and give otherwise invisible people a voice, and I have also watched them used to extend the impact of real-world bullying from physical interactions into the online world, so kids growing up today can now be tormented from anywhere. I have also witnessed these mediums used to form massive digital lynch mobs, which I have been at the mercy of more than once. I guess it’s only fitting that I would be; the universe has a funny way of returning these things in kind.

Economically speaking I came out on top. I have been one of the greatest individual beneficiaries of this seismic shift in media. I have made, quite literally, “a billion dollars,” which, as I’m constantly reminded by the media, is “cool.” But I’m the first to admit that this shift away from a centralized, top-down media towards a decentralized bottom-up media did not come without a cost. ..

Economically speaking, I profited handsomely from the destruction of the media as we knew it. The rest of the world did not make out so well, and society certainly got the worse end of the bargain.

 The problem with blogging about and repeating on social media stories that someone else has written is that sometimes those stories are wrong. Not saying we should all be sorry for insulting poor Sean, but we should, as a growing industry, take a second to think about what we're doing.

The (boring, old) New York Times has a slogan: Get if first, but first, get it right. Not a bad way to think about what you publish, in any medium.

The economics of the digital media age haven't shaken out yet; I still think that democracy needs (accurate, honest) reporters, and that while the days of the giant one-newpapaper-town newsrooms are over, a model will evolve that will allow people who take journalism seriously to make a living doing it. I hope so.

I have spent much of my career complaining about the (boring, old) MSM, and refusing to abide by the (boring, old) notion of objectivity. But I've always made it a practice to call people before I criticize them, to try to see if there's something in the story that I didn't know or understand. And I still think that's what this business is all about.

1 comment:

  1. Tim, you are still the best journalist I know. Medium notwithstanding.