May 19, 2003
Jayson Blair: Dot-Com Reporter?
[06/06/03: I've posted an additional article on the relationship between Jayson Blair and the practices of technology journalism here.]
Jayson Blair was a dot-com era reporter. And the sloppy practices, egregious journalistic lapses, and stare-in-your eyes and lie practices of this young charlaton may well be something that simply "rubbed off" on him while he was covering New York's digital elite.
Take a look at the following piece of self-serving blurbery, which, it is interesting to note, was actually removed from the Web site of SAJA.org in the last two weeks. Its original location was: http://www.saja.org/blair.html; thanks to the miracle of Google's cache, you can still read it here:
Here's a paste of some of the text in that document:
JAYSON BLAIR is a business reporter who covers media and technology in the New York region. In that position, he covers some of the nation's largest local media companies and New York's Silicon Alley. He has written extensively on the rise and fall of many New York Internet companies and the resulting impacts, from the failure of Urbanfetch.com to an exclusive report on apparent stock manipulation involving Fashionmall.com.
Of course, as we all know, Blair - a "business reporter" - moved on very quickly from the dotcoms to regional and national stories. And that's when things started to unravel. But my point here is not to belabor other information you've read elsewhere, in the hand-wringing NYT reports or on media-watcher web sites. It's to talk about Blair's role covering what his blurb calls "the rise and fall" of Silicon Alley.
Of course, Silicon Alley was always a creature of the press as much as the mouse or the modem. If you weren't covered, well, you didn't get funded. If you didn't get funded, well, why were you even running a company?
No, Blair wasn't the only reporter covering the Alley, but he WAS the New York Times' Silicon Alley beat reporter. He was, therefore, in the thick of puffery journalism - the kind of cheap tech journalism that Steve Gilliard has skewered memorably in the past. The kind that takes press releases and churns them into articles that make it into the all-important business section, from whence they gain "buzz" that sooner, not later, winds up on "The Street". Here's another document; the source is: http://www.ptolomy.com/anbireconsulting/events.html
NYSIA Monthly Meeting: "The Silicon Alley Beat: Coverage of NY High Tech"
Are you getting all the press coverage you would like for your company? Do you know what the press likes to cover and what it doesn't?
A large number of reporters cover Silicon Alley and Silicon Alley companies. All of the local dailies have assigned reporters, and Silicon Alley also has a vibrant "native press" consisting of email newsletters, Web sites, and several monthly magazines. Are reporters and journalists doing a good job in covering the industry? Do they have their fingers on the pulse of "the Alley"? What can companies do to maximize their ability to obtain coverage?
Moderator: Bruce Bernstein, NYSIA
Speakers: Jayson Blair, Silicon Alley beat reporter, NY Times
I was not at this conference, but it appears clear that Blair and the other reporters were there doing what reporters often did in Silicon Alley in the late 1990's: present useful "tips and tricks" for hungry dot-com companies to exploit when pitching stories to the hungry dot-com press. Now there's nothing illegal about being a part of this kind of synergistic info-feeding cycle - it goes on in Washington (and in New York) all the time. But I would ask this question: why is it that these "business reporters" were - in 1999 and 2000 - doing the jobs that once were the sole province of PR flacks? When exactly did the relationship between reporter and corporate CEO turn from adversary to, let us say, "collegial"? Might it not have been around the time that Wall Street Analysts started being a little too "collegial" with the companies that they were being paid to monitor for the good of investors?
Now let's look at some articles that Blair wrote about Silicon Alley companies. Most of them are locked up deep inside the Times' web site. But a few of them are out there in the open - captured by sites related to the very companies that Blair was covering:
Pseudo.com Sold, by Jayson Blair http://www.intv.tv/news_ny_times.html
Dot-Com Executive, Once a Conjurer of Silicon Alley Razzmatazz, Logs Off, by Jayson Blair
Verizon Starts Office to Serve Silicon Alley, by Jayson Blair
The Dreams of Web Zines Fizzle Out, by Jayson Blair
Articles like this, appearing as they did in an era when information becamse a weapon of commerce, quickly made Blair more than a reporter. They, along with his high visibility at industry conferences, made him a pundit, alongside other the other information-gatekeepers and king-makers of Silicon Alley. In fact, AtNewYork actually called Blair a Pundit, in the following document: http://www.atnewyork.com/news/article.php/560501
Silicon Alley Pundits on Parade: Predictions for 2001
Sponsored by the New York Software Industry Association and featuring the following speakers:
Jayson Blair, Reporter, New York Times
Richard Hunter, Dir. of Research, Gartner Group
Elliot Fishman, Senior Vice President, Advantage Capital Tom Watson, CEO ChangingOurWorld.com, co-founder of @NY, columnist for Inside.com
Phil Summe, Principal, Flatiron Partners
Moderator: Erin Joyce, Managing Editor, atNewYork.com
When: Mon., Jan. 22nd/Reception 6:00 pm, Program 6:30 -8:30 pm Where: IBM Building, 590 Madison, (57th St) Rm 950
When Blair became a "Pundit on Parade", he crossed the line between reporter and reportee. He became part of the story he was covering. No, he wasn't alone in this - the "technology press" has never been known for its adversary practices, because it depends on access to power, or its source of editorial fodder quickly dries up. But it is significant that Blair was so deeply enmeshed in the world he claimed to cover. And it is also significant that this world - the one that Blair came from immediately before he was promoted to covering national stories for the Times was - like an unfortunate chunk of Blair's subsequent reporting - based on total, wishful fantasy. One in which it might be said that "a culture of lies" prevailed.
Now I'm not claiming that Blair developed his talent for journalistic crookery from the journalists on this particular panel, or the VC's who sat next to him. I'm not claiming that he learned how to hack into the Times' photo database from Josh Harris. Or to fake his activities using a cell phone from someone at Verizon.
What I am suggesting is something that we all know. That when you bed down with dogs, you wake up with fleas. That you can't spend much time inside an underworld - either the police department, or the mafia, or the world run by people like Josh Harris, without being subtly influenced by the people who inhabit this world. The way they dress. The way they talk. The cigars they smoke. The hours they keep. Their favorite brand of scotch.
Oh, yes. One other little thing. The relationship they have with Truth.
You're on the web a lot. You've seen many a dead site. You've forgotten our email address... and you don't feel like coming back here to get it.
What do you do?
The Ghost-o-Meter opens a small, movable window... if you've found a Ghost Site, fill in the blanks, fire it off, and go back to foolin' around. Its that easy.
You can also use this form:
What the ??!
Well, this is all very interesting, but what the heck is Ghost Sites anyway? Why devote a live site to Dead Sites?
If you're interested in this Ghost Sites thing, it is a project that I began in the summer of 1996 while I was working for Time-Warner's Pathfinder. Late in the evening of July 4th, while piloting a small craft across Long Island Sound, I had what only can be described as an epiphany.
From out of the depths came a cruel vision of the World Wide Web. It wasn't a friendly place - an innocent place of community, commerce and chat. It was a great and utterly pitiless electronic ocean that swallowed up sites, careers, and venture capital like a ravenous killer whale. Great sites - sites like Mecklerweb and iGuide - were going down with all hands. Great fortunes were collapsing and proud content sites lay wrecked on the bottom. No one seemed to care. The future was a vast abyss - who would record these days of New Media folly, disaster and despair?
Back on shore, but still haunted by this vision, I launched Ghost Sites as a modest attempt to document the great disappearing fleet of web sites sinking beneath the waves. This project briefly made me spectacularly famous, and then I was quickly, and completely forgotten.
By March of 1997, Ghost Sites had succumbed to the same deadly entropy that had settled over the Internet, and became a crewless wreck itself. For six cruel months, it drifted like a despised garbage barge, broke its keel in a summer squall, and finally washed up on Geocities.
On an icy November morning, Morbus boarded the wreck, inspected the damage, and offered the captain a safe harbor. The bilge pump was started, and the squealing, rusty hull lifted off the sands again. It soon arrived here - in the dark, unquiet waters of Disobey.Com.
If you have a favorite rotting site that you'd like to mention, email me at Steve_Baldwin@hotmail.com.
Ghost Sites has appeared in a number of places including Time Magazine, ZDNet, The Netly News and more. For a list of all those we know of, as well as links to online counterparts, click here. You can also take a look at the limited edition t-shirt we once offered.