Everyone’s in a tizzy over Uber executive Emil Michael’s Gaffe last week.
At a private dinner, Michael told BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith that he’d like to hire a team of investigators to dig into Pando Daily editor Sarah Lacy after she wrote several unflattering articles about Uber.
This has spurred a debate about the kind of relationships companies should have with journalists that cover them.
While the bulk of public opinion seems to be against that kind of snooping, there are some that appear to embrace it. And a lot of young tech companies have the tools to do it with their own platforms, like Uber’s “God Mode” that lets employees track the rides of any user.
You can chalk it up to startup growing pains. You can also say it’s common practice and usually isn’t malicious, as Liz Gannes of Re/code reported Thursday.
But there also appears to be a legitimate sentiment in the tech community that it’s not even a debate. Tech companies absolutely should use their tools to snoop into the private lives of journalists, these people say.
For example, tech entrepreneur Dave Winer wrote on his personal blog Thursday that “there is nothing surprising or wrong with the idea of a tech company investigating reporters.” He also said journalists shouldn’t have to worry if they don’t have anything to hide.
But Winer and others in his school of thought miss the point.
PR representatives dig into journalists’ lives all the time. It’s not uncommon for the bigger companies to have entire files on journalists containing everything from blog posts to tweets to the kinds of photos they post on Instagram. It helps them build a relationship with that journalist and it’s all part of the game. I’ve had PR people I’ve met for the first time casually bring up stuff like video games and tattoos because they know those are things I’m interested in based on what I’ve shared online or told other people.
Fine. That’s all fair game. And there’s a legitimate business reason to track journalists on that level. Plus it’s all already public.
But that’s not the kind of surveillance the $US1 million Michael suggested spending gets you. As Lacy said on CNBC Wednesday, that buys you private investigators who follow journalists around to dig up real dirt.
What’s the point of doing that to a journalist? A journalist writes a critical column about your company, and you do what? Publish on your company blog that he’s cheating on his wife? Or that she owes back taxes? What does that accomplish?
Nothing. It’s going overboard, and in the end makes the company look petty and cruel.
But there seems to be a segment of the tech industry that thinks journalists, despite writing everything publicly under their byline should be investigated like that.
It’s not a question about whether or not a journalist has anything to hide, as Winer wrote. Most probably don’t. And anything worth knowing about them is easily available under their name with a quick Google search and a look through their archives of published articles.
The same can’t be said about public figures in the tech industry.