Why the New York Times has it wrong. Again.

Yesterday, the New York Times continued its attempts to dismiss blogs by posting this story. I’ve linked to it, but basically the story used the recent news from Gizmodo and TechCrunch that Apple was in late-stage acquisition talks with Twitter to illustrate how irresponsible bloggers are.

The assertions are that neither website cared whether they were reporting the truth — they just blasted out a juicy rumor in attempt to get hits. The inference here is that the New York Times — and print journalists everywhere — are more responsible, and are more likely to sit on a story until they have all the facts.

I spent a bit of time yesterday looking at various blog posts and opinions on the piece, but I didn’t see anyone point out the two most glaring problems.

Problem no. 1: Despite protestations to the contrary, the Times and every other mainstream media outlet knows the goal is always to get the story first, to the best of your ability. News has a way of fleshing itself out with time. How many times do we see stories — even in the Times itself — that are filled with speculation and unnamed sources? When I worked as an editor, one of my rules was that we did not use anonymous sources. Ever. The Times doesn’t adhere to that policy, yet insists we can believe everything we read from its pages has been checked, double-checked and found entirely factual.

Have we forgotten Jayson Blair?

It wasn’t too long ago that Blair’s body of work was proved plagiarism. The Times couldn’t even root out the lies on his resume, let alone the whoppers he was allowed to print. Print journalism is filled with such instances: Stephen Glass, Rick Bragg, Jack Kelley, Janet Cooke…

And those are big time print “journalists.”

On top of that, let’s not forget that just a few short months ago, the Times was attacked for its reporting on Caroline Kennedy’s failed Senate bid.

So, the Times chooses to pick on two websites for reporting on a rumor (both sites made clear that they were reporting the existence of a rumor and both made attempts to prove or disprove the rumor), and flat-out states that neither site cared whether it was true. In so doing, the Times itself chooses to ignore the truth.

Problem no. 2: The Times doesn’t want you to know the little deals mainstream media makes to get the “whole story.”

The release of the Palm Pre and the news surrounding it actually falls in quite nicely with this story. News agencies across the country were given review copies of the Pre a couple of weeks in advance. Journalists were briefed about the phone and allowed to use it — on the condition that they didn’t say anything about it until release time.

Such agreements are known as “embargoes” and “non-disclosure agreements.” On a recent cnet podcast, the hosts blasted the Boy Genius Report blog for breaking the embargo and releasing a review of the Pre before the embargo date. Such practices, they argued, destroy sources’ faith in the news agency. And if sources can’t trust news agencies, those news agencies won’t get early access to the products or information.

That’s a problem.

Embargoes do not exist for the benefit of readers, but for the benefit of sources. In most cases, including the Pre, the embargo exists so the product will get the biggest bang for the buck, exactly when the manufacturer wants. In my newsrooms, embargoes didn’t exist. We wouldn’t agree to embargoes because they were untruthful. I would not allow a source to tell me when to print a story.

My first boss in journalism gave me this rule to live by: If you have a piece of information, it is never in the public good to keep it to yourself.

Only once in my career did I hold a story at the request of a source — and that was in an ongoing murder investigation, where the release of the information I had would undermine the case. Had I published a story about who the murder suspect was, there would be no confession. I understood that clearly. Holding back a product review only helps a source.

I also don’t buy the argument that consenting to an NDA gives you time to write a better review. If your goal is to write a good review, take the time after the product launch.

The Times really went out of its way to lambaste the blog world. But theirs is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Unfortunately for the Times, we’ve come far enough to recognize that journalism is a good ole boys network that proudly pats itself on the back for every accomplishment and stares down haughtily at its readership.

And all the while we’re getting our news, up to the minute, on Twitter instead.


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