The Dodge Retort

Tech, media and other interesting stuff

Google Buys Twitter Story: Where’s the Outrage?

Posted by jdodge349 on April 3, 2009

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With blogs, rules about accuracy don’t matter, apparently. When I read TechCrunch’s story last night that Google was in late stage talks to acquire Twitter, my immediate reaction was “unh unh.” Judging from the twittering and direct comments to the story, readers don’t care as much about accuracy as they do speculation.

Let’s review the story from my perspective as a journalist for 34 years and what I observed as a as a reader.

There were no quotes from the sources or  detail about when and where discussions were taking place or who were involved in them. The price was only a guess and the rest of the story was pure speculation which alone would have been ok. But the story claimed in sensational fashion that two sources said the two companies were in late stage talks as if a deal was imminent.

I immediately tweeted that it did not smell right. Twitter CEO Biz Stone didn’t give a whiff that anything was up in his Colbert Report interview last night although he mentioned that Google didn’t make money for a while which is the state of Twitter at the moment.

Circumstantially, Twitter is hot right now and would not have appeared to reach anything close to market and financial potential. The TechCrunch story only speculated that the deal would have to be “north of $250 million.” Also, Michael Arrington whose byline was on the original story alternately refers to himself as “we” and “I.”

Secret  sources don’t generally speak to groups. What do you mean “we” Kimo Sabe (which means bright scout, BTW)? I don’t doubt Arrington has some decent sources close to one or both of the companies, but the presence of exaggeration, misinterpretion and speculation couched as fact seems apparent.

Twitter’s straightforward denial that it was about to acquired was reflected in a short statement on its blog:  “Our goal is to build a profitable, independent company and we’re just getting started.” It conceded it is talking to Google about realtime search and other unspecified issues, but it debunked the TechCrunch story.

Could it happen? Certainly. Does it seem likely or imminent? No.

TechCrunch posted two short updates today, proclaiming that talks had been confirmed, but didn’t say the essence of the story that  Google was about to snap up Twitter was refuted. Another update labels Twitter’s response a “non-denial.” What!? You mean the assertions can be published until they are proven false?

A third update now quoting “new sources” says Twitter would not sell for less a $1 billion and again, the story is rife with speculation. It feels like author Arrington is clinging to his contention with very little to support it. I guess when the original  sources were discredited, you go out and find new ones to say the same wrong thing albeit watered down.

I’ve reported many stories like this, but adhered to the two sources rule prior to publication and one of them had to be really connected. In fact, one really good source can be better than a dozen speculators. And I would always bounce it off reasonably trustworthy PR people with the question: “Will I look really off base of stupid if this is published?” Smart PR people will play that game and level with you especially if they know you.

While I can sympathize with Arrington that companies posture, omit facts and are be less than forthcoming or truthful, this story seems to be all over the place with a reporter/blogger who won’t let it go.  That the WSJ completely dismissed it is enough for me because I know it wouldn’t if there was a grain  of truth that such talks were underway.  Clearly, WSJ reporter Kara Swisher to support her contention in the Boomtown column simply went to Google’s PR department and others in the know who collectively said, “nope, not happening.”

Google is a public company and spreading of rumors can get it in big trouble especially if they are traced back to  company sources. Secondarily, I know WSJ reporters get seriously dressed down when they miss a big story like that. Kara, a seasoned pro, would be in trouble if the merger came to pass on Monday.

TechCrunch bills itself as “a weblog dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies [and] covering new companies…” which sounds like it could have journalistic standards. On this story, it  didn’t, but maybe it was mission-accomplished: everybody talked and tweeted about the story and TechCrunch.

Someday , Twitter will probably get acquired, but my take it will have nothing to do with events that were alleged to have transpired in this story.

As for the comments and tweets, most of them speculated about price and pondered would happen to Twitter under Google’s wing. Few criticized Arrington for jumping to errant conclusions. Maybe,  appreciation for good journalism is a generational thing.

Someone twittered the other day decrying the decline in journalism courses in community colleges. It was not so much that students would become journalists, but rather they would learn what constitutes sound reporting.  The twit was making a profound point.


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