Every once in a while you get to see a mainstream outlet cover a story right alongside a blog, so you can put them up against each other and see why one was so much better than the other. This week TechCrunch and the New York Times (photo) provided just such a lesson.
The issue was a company called Zynga, which makes online games, like FarmVille, that have become incredibly popular on Facebook among people who are missing parts of their brains. On Oct. 31 TechCrunch broke a big story called “Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem of Hell” about how Zynga was making money by selling scam ads — the kind that trick kids and other frigtards into signing up for useless subscriptions to stuff they don’t want.
Arrington packaged his story with a video of himself taking on Anu Shukla, CEO of one of the scam-ad distributors, at a conference. He also ran an “insider’s confession” piece by a former scammer explaining how these guys operate. He followed with a story about how Zynga CEO Mark Pincus had acknowledged the problem and said Zynga would stop running those ads, and another story about how Anu Shukla had been pushed out of her company, and another story about Shukla’s replacement admitting that the company had, indeed, been running scammy ads. On Friday Arrington capped it off with a coup: he dug up a video clip from earlier this year in which Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, told a laughing audience of scumbag developers about all the scumbaggy things he had done to generate revenue with his games.
After all this, we woke up Saturday to find a story in the New York Times, also about Zynga (and other Facebook game companies) with the headline, “Virtual Goods Start Bringing Real Paydays.” The Times put two reporters on the knob-polisher, and somehow they managed to interview Pincus, and to quote him — and yet they included not a single word about the scammy ads. Not. A. Fucking. Word. The piece could not have been nicer if it had been written by Zynga’s PR people themselves. Gist: Virtual goods, stupid idea, people play, some spend money, VCs love it, isn’t this great.
So: they walked into this shit-storm and somehow, by some miracle, managed not to notice the fecal matter flying all around them. It’s like covering a football game that took place in the middle of the blizzard and neglecting to mention the weather.
Now, maybe they did all the reporting before Arrington’s stuff broke. In which case they should have gone back and updated their info. Or maybe, just maybe, Zynga’s PR people teed up a Times story as a kind of rebuttal to what Arrington was reporting. Either way, that’s what ended up happening: Zynga used the Times to deflect the bad shit flying at them from Arrington. They need good press because they’re hoping to cash out by going public next year. That story in the Times will be worth millions. Many millions.
Meanwhile, Arrington, still digging, blasted again on Saturday night, reporting that sleazy ads had popped up again on Zynga, despite promises that they would be taken down.
Um, New York Times? If you guys are still wondering why people are dropping their subscriptions and getting their news from blogs instead of you — this is why.
And to all those people who go around wringing their hands and saying what are we going to do when the “real newspapers” all die and we have to get our news from Gawker and HuffPo and TechCrunch? Friends, I think we’re going to be just fine.
Part of it is the form of the media itself. If you’re a reporter at the Times, you get one story, and a fixed number of inches, and you’re smothered by layers of editors. At TechCrunch it’s one guy who can get his teeth into something and there’s no limit on how many articles he can do.
What really cracks me up is how often I still hear people say that bloggers are mere “aggregators” and the “real journalism” gets done at places like the Times.
Because time after time, blogs are simply beating the shit out of the newspapers. They’re the ones who still dare to go for the throat, while their counterparts at big newspapers just keep reaching for the shrimp cocktail.
As for the newspapers: Faced with their own demise, fearful of losing even more advertising, newspapers have made the huge mistake of becoming ever more timid, more cautious, more in bed with the companies they cover.
It’s the exact opposite of what they should be doing. The truth is, if newspapers want to survive they should go back to doing what they started out doing — muckraking, stirring the shit, calling bullshit.
The other truth is, when these papers are dead, they will not be missed.