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Recently, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch lambasted the CEO of online music startup TuneCore, Jeff Price, for refusing to provide one of his interns, Peter, with information about his company's funding.
I criticized Arrington for what I saw as an unnecessary use of his "podium" to disparage Price when he had no legitimate reason to do so.
While Price was a bit short with Peter, Arrington's post "TuneCore Tells Us Where We Can Shove It" turned a no-BS rejection into a sensationalist blog post of questionable value to those interested in startups and technology news.
As I noted, Price could have been more tactful in his rejection of TechCrunch's request, but the implications of a blogosphere in which prominent bloggers feel "entitled" to information and resort to a form of intimidation and humiliation when they don't receive it are not positive.
In a comment, Arrington expressed his belief that posting a story about TuneCore's rejection of TechCrunch's request, which includes the email correspondence between TuneCore and TechCrunch, is perfectly legitimate because he considers that he and other employees of TechCrunch are members of the "press."
"We sent an email to their @press email that identified us as press and with a request for information that we’d like to publish. I think we’re on pretty solid ground when it comes to posting their response."
In my opinion, something interesting has actually come out of what is otherwise a non-story.
An important question has been raised: should bloggers be considered members of the press?
Are all bloggers members of the press? Is this true regardless of the nature of their activities? Is press status also conveyed to employees of a blogger, even if they're not engaged in actual reporting?
In this case, there are a few facts worth consideration:
- The email to TuneCore was sent by an intern, not a TechCrunch writer. Additionally, according to some of the comments, it appears that it may have been sent from the intern's personal email account.
- While Arrington claims that he asked Peter to request "background information" for a "potential story," Peter actually asked for nothing more than private financial information about TuneCore in his initial email. There is no indication whatsoever that the inquiry was related to a story.
- Contrary to Arrington's claim, Peter did not identify himself as a member of the press. In his second email, he identified himself as a "CrunchBase Analyst" whose job it is to "make sure [CrunchBase] pages are as complete as possible." This does not exactly convey the image of a person who thinks he's a member of the press.
Clearly, Arrington is either misinformed about the manner in which his employees are approaching companies for information or he has a very loose definition of what constitutes a "press inquiry."
That said, in my opinion, TechCrunch does, in many respects, operate like a press organization. It reports on news related to the technology industry and deserves credit for often breaking stories about internet startups and the technology business.
But realistically, not all of its activities are press-like in nature and not all of the people who work for it should be considered members of the press.
In the case of TechCrunch's interaction with TuneCore, I believe Price was justified for responding to TechCrunch's request with less enthusiasm than it may have a request from the Wall Street Journal, for instance (which incidentally did publish a story about TuneCore).
The fact that TechCrunch's intern was clearly only soliciting information for a database as a self-identified "analyst", does not write for TechCrunch and gave no indication that he was trying to gather information for a story, makes, in my opinion, the argument that his email was a legitimate press inquiry tenuous at best.
This incident, and others like it, make it clear to me that, at this stage of the game, the blogosphere, represented in large part by the most prominent bloggers, hasn't quite decided what it wants to be.
While some of its members, Arrington included, have harshly criticized the mainstream press, their standards (or more appropriately, lack of them) are far from "journalistic."
Bloggers who wish to be considered members of the press can't have it both ways. They should apply reasonable journalistic standards to their operations at all times or they shouldn't at all.
In short, my suggestion to Michael Arrington and other prominent bloggers who want startups like TuneCore to treat them like the press is: start acting like the press and you just might get treated like the press.