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Reporters accepting freebies

Sunday, November 22, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A few notes about the propriety of reporters accepting free followers from Twitter. Permalink to this paragraph

1. On Friday, in an interview with Twitter COO Dick Costolo at a TechCrunch conference, Mike Arrington observed that when TechCrunch ran a piece about Twitter Corp they didn't like, they were taken off the Suggested User List. I wrote this up here on Scripting News. Costolo didn't comment, but the issue is clearly on Arrington's mind, as it should be. They're back on the list. Does this influence their coverage and if so how? (TechCrunch people should note this is a question, not a statement.) Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named tales.gif2. Will a NY Times columnist be more likely to write about Twitter, if they've got a million followers from placement on the SUL? Is there an appearance of impropriety? Is appearance enough of a reason to opt out? In an article in today's NY Times, they say that Times reporters are not allowed to accept free trips to cover production of a television show in Bora Bora. "The New York Times and many other media outlets ban the acceptance of these freebies on ethical grounds, because there could be an appearance of buying favorable coverage." To me, the free placement on the SUL and the benefits it bestows, are exactly equivalent. Elsewhere in the Times, and in many other media outlets, the number of followers is treated as a measure of relevance.  Permalink to this paragraph

Pieces like this always provoke challenges from people at the publications such as the Guardian and the Times. So be it. I think they are clearly wrong in accepting the free boost from an important and growing media network like Twitter. In the old days they were gatekeepers and could suppress a story like this if they didn't like it. Thankfully we don't live in the old days. A picture named sidesmiley.gif Permalink to this paragraph

Further, I think political candidates who accept promotion from Twitter are going to have problems down the road. They operate under special rules, and I'm sure that there will eventually be a monetary value placed on SUL placement and it will count as a campaign contribution. Imho there will be even more serious consequences for incumbents who accept free followers from Twitter and other networks.  Permalink to this paragraph

Think about how handicapped the news organizations are going to be in covering this story when they have their own issues around placement on the SUL. The only ones who will be able to cover this story without the appearance of being in Twitter's pocket are ones who opted out. As far as I know, no reporters, columnists or news organizations have opted out.  Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

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"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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