It's About Choices and Accountability

Nobody ever won an argument by simply saying “I’m mad at you” over and over.  If someone is already being critical of your words or actions, they probably don’t care if you’re mad at them.  They’re probably mad at you too.  Jumping up and down might make you feel better, but it doesn’t get you any closer to understanding and reconciliation.

Yet here comes Mike Arrington, once again, telling us that he’s “pissed off at every single person involved” in the Federated Media/Microsoft cacophony.  I would use John Battelle‘s favorite word “conversation,” but as Mathew Ingram points out, John’s definition of conversation is a little different than most.

The fact of the matter is this:

1) Some people are claiming this is a disclosure issue.  It’s not.  It’s a credibility issue.  I can see why Mike and others would react strongly to implications that there was something truly covert going on.  Maybe it wasn’t in flashing neon lights, but neither was it hidden.  Anyone who thought that Federated Media page was anything more than a collaborative billboard wasn’t paying attention.  For some reason, Mike chooses to go straight to attack mode, rather than present his argument rationally.  I guess when you own TechCrunch, that’s your prerogative, but it’s not likely to sway many fence sitters to your side.

2) Other people, mostly those who feel like they might have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, are saying the ad campaign is a non-event.  That the whole business was dreamed up by Valleywag as a way to agitate in the name of traffic.  This mess wasn’t dreamed up by Valleywag- it was dreamed up by Microsoft and Federated Media.  In the name of making money.  While there is a distinction between the journalists and the prospectors, to claim that the prospectors have a license to shill is ludicrous on its face.  Credibility transcends all motivations, and a blogger who sells his or her services for blogomercials should realize that without it being plastered all over Techmeme.  As Jeff Jarvis puts it, if the prospectors want to type away without regard for journalistic standards, then we need to read away with that in mind.

It’s not an ethical transgression, it’s simply a bad choice.  There’s nothing evil about making a bad choice, and there’s nothing wicked about holding people accountable for bad choices.

I thought John did a reasonably good job of responding to this mess, without sounding combative or defensive.  On one hand, I can see why Mike says John threw them under the bus.  On the other hand, can you imagine the uproar if John had taken Mike’s “go pound sand” approach?  He had to walk a very fine line to minimize the lingering damage.  I don’t agree with his “conversation” spin, but all in all, he took the first important step in addressing this issue.

It will be interesting to see how this debate plays out.  There are certainly two camps.  But the journalists and the prospectors are mining for the same gold.  Gold in the form of readers who get to decide who they trust, and who they don’t.

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