A feature of the new question and answer service Branch are “featured questions” highlighting popular or interesting conversations on the service.
One of those early featured conversations was a question from investor Michael Arrington, “when is it good for founders to leak stuff to the press?”
Strategic leaks have become the staple of most news services, time poor journalists are desperate for scoops and clicks which gives an opportunity for companies and governments to feed information that suits their agenda of the moment.
As the answers in the thread indicate, this style of reportage is very common in the Silicon Valley tech press. The greater fool business model of many web start ups require they get lots of media coverage in order to attract buyers.
That media coverage includes ‘leaking’ stories that one big company – a Google, Microsoft or Facebook – is interested in the business. This always creates credulous headlines on the tech media sites and one of these leaks prompted Arrington’s question.
Strategic leaking isn’t just a tech media phenomenon. Australian politics was paralysed at the beginning of the year when numerous stories that “un-named Labor Party sources” were plotting against the Prime Minister dominated the headlines for weeks. All of these were pointless leaks from various minor politicians try to push their agendas. Often to their long term detriment.
In the sports world the agendas often revolve around contract negotiations – remember this next time you read that a star player may be going to another team, almost certainly that story has been planted by that player’s agent in an attempt to increase his client’s value.
The same thing happens in the business, property and the vacuous entertainment, travel and dining pages.
Agenda driven journalism fails the reader and the writer, it also damages the publication as once readers start asking what the motivation is for a story, then the credibility of that outlet is failing.
Increasingly this is happening to all the mainstream publications.
Resisting the push to agenda driven journalism is tough as editorial resources are stripped from media organisations and as journalists come under more pressure to write stories that drive traffic.
One of the great assets of big media is trust in the masthead. A hundred years ago people took what was written in their city’s newspapers as truth, a few decades ago it was what was on the evening news. If Walter Cronkite or your city’s news anchor said it was true, then that was good enough for most people.
In the race for clicks, that trust has been abused and lost by all but the most dedicated fans. It’s probably the greatest loss of all for the established media giants.
For readers, the web and social media is their friend. They can check with their peers to see if a story stands up and if it doesn’t they can spread this across their networks.
Agenda driven journalism fuelled by pointless leaks helps no-one in the long term and it will probably kill many established mastheads. It’s another opportunity for smart entrepreneurs to disrupt a market that’s failing.