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Mar. 25 2010 - 1:37 pm | 752 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

Today’s celebrity Twitter fight: Kara Swisher vs Joshua Topolsky

It’s not Sandra Bullock vs Jesse James or House minority leader John Boehner vs Healthcare Reform, but in tech/media circles, this is a big f’cking deal.  A Twitter rumble that roared.

In one corner: Kara Swisher, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and co-producer and co-host (along with Walt Mossberg) of the website and conference for D: All Things Digital.

In another corner: Joshua Topolsky, Editor-in-Chief of Engadget.com, which he leads with a self-described “firm yet awesome hand.”

It all started when Josh fired the first shot  yesterday at Walt Mossberg.  In addition to All Things D, Mossberg is the principal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal.  In 2004, a Wired magazine profile referred to him as  “The  Kingmaker,” noting that few reviewers “have held so much power to shape an industry’s successes and failures.”

Being both awesome and firm, Josh was not intimidated.   What he was, actually, was Howard Beale.

A few hours later, Kara Swisher fired back.

At issue:  Walt Mossberg’s review of the new Tivo Premiere.

I have been testing the new Premiere, and it worked as advertised, with conventional cable programming and with the available Internet sources TiVo (TIVO) supports. But, in my tests, it showed some flaws and, in my view, it doesn’t go nearly far enough in tapping the Internet.

via New TiVo Mixes TV and Internet, but Falls Short

Walt published his review yesterday.  According to Topolsky’s twitter rant, there was an embargo on this story. That means that Tivo and their public relations department told journalists they could not publish any information about the Tivo Premiere until a certain day and time.  In his twitter tirade, Topolsky makes two charges:

1. Walt Mossberg broke the Tivo embargo.

2. Walt Mossberg (and Kara Swisher) get too many exclusives, preventing Topolsky from participating on a level playing field.

Disclosure:  Walt Mossberg reviewed True/Slant when we first launched our alpha site, on April 8th of  2009 –  a T/S text review and a video review.

Fact:  From that experience I know that Mossberg typically posts his reviews on allthingsd.com on Wednesday nights around 8 pm, and then later on wsj.com.   Engadget’s review of Tivo Premiere was posted at 9:57 pm on Wednesday.

Fact:  Companies do often designate exclusives, so one source will ‘break’ the story first.  Walt Mossberg has worked as a reporter for 40 years.  Forty years!!  He gets exclusives because he’s earned them.  I don’t know that he had an exclusive with Tivo, but it would not surprise me and should not surprise you.

Fact:  Topolsky contradicts himself in the Twitter rampage, saying first:

“Work  should be judged on work, not timeliness.”

And then:

“You and Walt are used to special arrangements. That’s nice but not fair, and not how I feel like playing.”

Which leaves me thinking: If you want to be judged on the work, then any special arrangements should not matter.

The level playing field is the interwebs,  where all of the Tivo Premiere reviews are readily available.  There’s not going to be a coalition of journalists who decide to ban exclusives.  Seriously, Josh, would you turn down an exclusive?

The bigger question in all this is whether embargoes matter anymore.   It’s the second time this week I’ve been talking about embargoes.  A few days ago a former co-worker pinged to ask how to handle embargoes with journalists, knowing they are rarely respected these days.  It’s too easy to break an embargo, the pressure to be first too great, the ability to publish or tweet too tempting.   When the world was  on a limited publishing cycle with print, an embargo made more of a difference.  I could only get the story — tangibly get the story — from a particular source.  Now, it’s much more about the journalist, the reviewer.   The credibility and brand of the reporter is paramount, much more important than the date of publication.   Timeliness and relevance are still important, of course, but a few hours don’t make a difference in most cases.   Except for the Google juice.   And that’s, perhaps, the substance of Josh’s complaint.    Walt Mossberg is a brand unto himself.   Walt Mossberg + wsj.com?  Super-big brand.  Engadget is a brand as well, but likely wants and needs SEO traffic more than Mossberg.

Exlcusives won’t go away.   Embargoes?  Maybe, if brands stop trying to control journalists and start taking control of their own messaging and interaction with consumers  (see T/S Ad Slants).

Josh, you’re passionate about what you do.  You get extra bonus points for being Jimmy Fallon’s resident tech-expert. You’ve got cool glasses.   But you also have bitter trousers.   That’s right, bitter trousers.

Still, I agree with your point.  It’s the work that matters.  These days, I think that’s more true (true-er?) than ever.  So let it go and do the work.  Oh, and start prepping for your Webby acceptance speech.

Here’s the in-your-face exchange.  Read it and I’m sure you’ll agree we’ve all learned something from this:  Tivo’s the big winner here with more press than they anticipated, and we totally need more info about the alleged “lesbian collective.”

UPDATE!!
Last night, Josh Topolsky spoke with Walt “The Kingmaker” Mossberg and then issued this apology on twitter:

To which Kara Swisher replied:

So we wake to another day, and all is well in Twitterland.   Walt Mossberg gets exclusives, Josh Topolsky rants about them (though perhaps only in his head from now on) then comes to his senses with class and grace, and Kara Swisher proves the depths and bounds of loyalty.

More Twitter Fights:
*  Celebrity Twitter Fight!  Steve Case vs Sarah Silverman
* Clerks, Cop Out director Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines in ‘too fat to fly’ Twitter rant


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    Spent the first half of my career in television, the second half in digital media. Worked mostly at companies with triangle logos: Fox Television and AOL. Covered the serious and the sensational at A Current Affair. Created online and mobile content, products and communities at AOL. A few startups and now, happily, Chief Product Officer for True/Slant. And let's not forget that "AOL after Dark" project...

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