Squeal with Care
Tuesday, August 22, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Yesterday I talked with Paul Andrews of the Seattle Times about the relationship between print media and the business people they cover. Paul said that the people in his profession never go deep into examining the myths promoted by people in business.
I never heard a print journalist admit what I knew, after 20 years in the business, watching lots of journalists' careers advance, that the higher they go, the more in bed they get with the people they cover. I told Paul that I see myself do it too. I'm less likely to expose hypocrisy if I think it may compromise an ongoing relationship.
Paul said that my work has influenced his, that he asks tougher questions, because I do. That made me feel that what I'm doing is worthwhile. And his support encourages me to go even deeper.
Asking a question is a neutral act. If asking questions is a problem, you're living in the wrong society. Try Singapore or China or go back to Soviet Russia. In the US we supposedly have free speech and a free press, and we've gotten really sloppy about using it.
I am a first-generation American, I still feel young, so I believe that we can regain our almost-lost tradition of inquisitiveness and respect for shining light in dark corners. So many people want me to stop asking questions. Sorry, no way.
Today's technology leaders have been fed a steady diet of softballs and puff pieces, so perhaps they can be forgiven for expecting more of the same.
I believe there's deep corruption at the core of supposedly "open" businesses. It's so in your face you have to go into denial to miss it. However, we're going to wait, when we strike, it's going to be clear and well thought-out, and I won't be alone in raising the questions. We're going to put names on the shadows, and if people care about integrity, it will change the way things are done in high tech and the Internet.
If your actions can't stand scrutiny, if you've been acting as a gatekeeper and keeping ideas away from people, then you're holding them captive. If you don't want to be exposed as a gatekeeper, then change your practices now.
I will not be intimidated by people who think that merely asking a question is an irresponsible act. It is only a problem for people who play the game, and sweep the dirt under the rug for other people. To the extent that I've done that in the past, I apologize. I will not be doing that in the future, even for people who think they're my friend. Enough of that.
The squealer says "Dave, we say nice things about you, why don't you say nice things about us?"
As if saying "nice things" had any value at all. (It's a negotiation, basically we'll write puff pieces about you if you write puff pieces about us.)
Bottom line, if someone squeals when a question is raised, I assume they have something to hide, and I'll go even deeper. So squeal with care. Better to clean house now, change your practices, open up processes, look at ways you're holding back progress. Make your practices match your hype, or stop hyping. The music industry is learning the lesson. The next industry to be routed out and cleaned up is high tech, and along with them, journalists who play ball and don't go deep.
In my last piece I said I was sorry that the Nullsoft/AOL search engine was shut down. I got an email from Ted Leonsis, a top exec at AOL thanking me. That's the opposite of squealing. I shined a light somewhere that, presumably, Ted wouldn't want it shined. Instead of banishing me, or trying to hurt me, as some do, the relationship continues. Perhaps that's why AOL keeps growing, and others don't grow so fast.
PS: A little bird whispered in my ear that Disney and Yahoo are working on a merger. At the same time, according to the source, CNET and Yahoo are also merging.