Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

Wired Whacks Digg — Should Digg Sue? A Question of Media Ethics

Wired Magazine’s Annalee Newitz wrote about how she hired a firm to game Digg and get a frivolous blog featured prominently by the popular site that recommends content based on reader votes.  The headline is clearly meant to be inflammatory (“I Bought Votes on Digg”) and the piece itself makes Digg and those who game the site look bad.

Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, a recovering lawyer, thinks Digg ought to sue Wired.  Why? 

Wired Magazine seems hell bent on convincing the world that Digg is falling apart. I have a problem with that because Wired Magazine’s parent company, Condé Nast, owns Digg competitor Reddit. And because Wired isn’t just reporting Digg news – they are actively engaged in using Wired to undermine Digg.

There has been much discussion of late about the ability to game Digg.  In fact, Digg has publicly taken steps to restrict the ability of people to manipulate the voting system to promote specific content.  The Wired story obviously indicates work remains to be done.

Ultimately, the article really addresses the bad behavior of some Digg users and outside vendors, as well as the inability of Digg so far to stop it.  Does it reflect poorly on Digg? Yes.  Does it seem like a blatant and unwarranted hit piece? No.

Arrington supports his claim that Wired is out to get Digg with more than just today’s story.  He also cites a sentence in the magazine’s 2007 predictions column.  In that story, the magazine predicts that Digg will become the next Friendster: “Digg holds out for a big payday but ends up like Friendster (i.e., no friends).”

Frankly, I don’t have a problem with either article, whether CondéNet has a relationship with Reddit or not.  Digg is a popular topic these days in the tech community and Wired covers such stories.  With the elaborate corporate structures today, restricting media outlets from covering any competitor of any company within the broad corporate structure would be difficult. 

The publication, of course, should disclose the relationship (assuming it is known to the reporter or editor).  And Wired did disclose its relationship with Reddit, though Mike takes exception to the placement and nature of the disclosure: “Newitz does mention the conflict of interest, albeit in a parenthetical in the middle of the story (”Wired News is owned by CondéNet, which also owns Digg competitor reddit”).”

That’s fairly typical of media disclosures and I have no problem with it.  The fact needs to be there, but it need not be the first sentence of the story. 

I’m not a lawyer, but from a lay perspective I don’t see a legal case here.  I don’t even see an ethical problem.  To my mind, both Wired items were legitimate.  I simply don’t see the evidence that CondéNet is “actively engaged in using Wired to undermine Digg.”

Until and unless evidence emerges that the Wired story was produced at the behest of CondéNet, there’s nothing to get worked up about.

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