free html hit counter Is This a Story? - John Battelle's Search Blog

Is This a Story?

By - December 06, 2010

Exclusive.pngHere’s one for you, folks: A few folks “in the know” told me that a company is thinking about doing something with another company, but that second company has no idea about it, and in order for the whole thing to play out, a whole lot of things need to happen first, most of which are totally dependent on other things happening over which the sources have no control!

Great story, eh?

Well, that’s the entire content of this Reuters story about AOL, one that has gotten a lot of play (including a spot on tech leaderboard TechMeme).

This piece is yet another example of the kind of “journalism” that is increasingly gaining traction in the tech world – pageview-baiting single-sourced speculation, with very little reporting, tossed online for the hell of it to see what happens.

It’s lazy, it’s unsupportable, and it’s tiresome.

To me, it’s not even about the crass commercialist drive to be “first” or to drive the most pageviews. It’s about the other side of the story – the sources. Reuters, in particular, as a bastion of “traditional” journalistic mores, should know that the “source” who gave this reporter the story has his or her own agenda. More likely than not, that agenda is to lend credibility to the idea that AOL and Yahoo should merge. It’s a huge disservice to the craft of journalism to let your obligations to your readers be so easily manipulated.

I miss the Industry Standard sometimes.

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12 thoughts on “Is This a Story?

  1. Scott says:

    couldn’t agree more. And it was Reuters no less. oy.

  2. Brian says:

    I miss The Industry Standard all the time.

  3. Tim says:

    I completely agree – the rampant rumor mongering on the web really kills the credibility of those sites, but also has an indirect effect on those legitimate journalists by making readers more skeptical of the integrity of the article.

    By the way, I’m one of the RSS readers and it’s great points like this that bring me out to comment.

  4. Adam says:


    Can I throw in the industry analysis that includes only one full year of actual data with 5 years of projected numbers?

    Every time I see “X to have 50 billion Y by 2013”, I die a little inside. Especially when there is absolutely no reporting on the track record of the firm making the projections, or they methodology they use!

  5. Industry Standards? Really?!? I don’t believe there to be any at this point. Have an opinion, let it go, and if it’s a viral hit, wash rinse and repeat.

    That’s really about it for standards these days….

  6. Here here John. Between this type of non-reporting and shameless self-promotion on Twitter, Facebook and the like, I feel like I walked into a cocktail party where everyone is not only talking at each other simultaneously but are actually screaming with little to say and no listening going on. Painful.

  7. Ian Orekondy says:

    I don’t understand the criticism. I disagree that the Reuters piece is lazy and reflects declining web standards of journalism. The article clearly states, “AOL and Yahoo declined to comment. A source close to Yahoo reiterated that it is not seeking proposals or is in any buyout discussions with AOL.”. Fair enough.

    What’s wrong with reporting on the factors that would likely need to be addressed for a merger to make sense? In addition to citing non-disclosed sources, the author quotes analysts from UBS and Hudson Square Research. So it’s not exactly lazy, unless those firms have an i-banking relationship; though I do think that the author and those firms should be required to disclose any material interest or financial interest in a merger either happening or not.

    I agree that the undisclosed sources probably have an agenda – everyone does, but I don’t see this as any different than what the NY Times, CNBC or Bloomberg does all day, every day. Not to mention the entire PR industry. Biased reporting is not unique to the web. And while this story appears online, it could and may have also appeared offline.

    I wouldn’t classify the Reuters piece as being sensationalist. A Yahoo/AOL merger will likely happen only if the number-crunchers and senior-management/shareholders approve. A Reuters story won’t impact their decision-making process. And if it does, who cares? What’s the harm in exploring the complexities of a potentially large merger of two companies with widespread consumer and business impact?

    I’d like to better understand your primary criticism.

  8. This is disappointing. What happened to journalistic standards of excellence?

    Here is a similar article from October 13, 2010:

  9. Ashish says:

    Very true, the overall level of reporting has been quickly degrading and is now touching a nadir point.

  10. Vlad says:

    I think that AOL is one of the internet giants, they would be fine!

  11. I completely agree – the rampant rumor mongering on the web really kills the credibility of those sites, but also has an indirect effect on those legitimate journalists by making readers more skeptical of the integrity of the article.

  12. Rob says:

    The British nationals are the worst offenders here.

    All quality has gone out of the window for the sake of page impressions.

    How long before a Gawker-style commission structure for journalists becomes the norm?