Monday, July 4, 2011

TechCrunch, Digiday and the age old dilemma of the free press

Does it ever pay to confront the press - or does the press have the ultimate bully pulpit?

Vanessa Campones of DIGIDAY has openly taken on TechCrunch in her recent post Entrepreneurs Should Say No to Silicon Valley's Bully. Her argument goes that Michael Arrington is not going to honor journalistic principles and has been known to sink to revenge postings with unsubstantiated rumor to hurt companies that don't give TechCrunch first dibs on a story. Hence she advises her clients to steer clear of Mike and focus on the higher quality digital publications that focus on tech.

My experience is that any dealings with the press need to be handled with great care. The press is NEVER safe or your friend, no matter how friendly they may appear to be, or how much they "respect" you.

I got burned many years ago befriending a young journalist who was new to the industry, spending many hours educating him only to have him write a nasty gossip piece about me a few years later when it served his interests. I learned the hard way that the journalist's job is to be read and to drive circulation with hopefully some sources to substantiate their story - but not always. But Arrington being so overt in his threats to, and aggression towards, entrepreneurs is certainly unusual - the threats are usually unspoken.

I don't think Vanessa's advice to stay away from TechCrunch is good advice for young tech companies though. TechCrunch has the readership, and if you believe your company benefits from being covered by TechCrunch (or any other specific pub that speaks to your audience) then you need to figure out the strategy to get the coverage you want. The best question to ask yourself is do you need TechCrunch? Does it do anything for your business model? If yes, work with them, if not don't worry about it.

Today everyone is a "journalist" (note Arrington is not a trained journalist - his education is as a lawyer). Individuals break news, write commentary, post photos and live out loud. In the grey zone between the few remaining classic properties (WSJ, NYT, Fortune etc) and the millions on Twitter/Facebook there is a whole new class of property using technology to break news fast and light, rather than based on journalistic research. Our job as companies wanting to get our story out to our potential customers is to be smart in how we talk with new media. And unless you have Michael Westen's skill at fighting back when you are burned this means treat them all equally, with a light hand, and save embargoes for the old school publications that know what an embargo means.

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