The Players: Jack Shafer, Reuters' media pundit extraordinaire whose job it is to keep journalists and their stories honest ; Henry Blodget, Business Insider's CEO whose site's stories have come under fire for not always being the most honest ones out there
The Opening Serve: When news of today's freak elevator accident occurred, news organizations did as they usually do: write the story, then tweet out said story for public consumption. Shafer tweeted his displeasure at one story in particular, "Henry, that's sick linkbait. RT @hblodget: Woman Crushed In Elevator Malfunction At Y+R Headquarters This Morning"--the social media equivalent of a newspaper correction or grievance, unlike in the paper world, everyone gets to see. It prompted Blodget to respond. "You mean it's news? Agreed. Horrible story," wrote Blodget, playing it a bit coy--which Shafer didn't take so kindly to: "Right, Henry, it's just about keeping your readers informed!"
The Return Volley: Shafer wasn't about to let it go. "You know what I'm saying. Tweets abt BI rewrites of stories abt crushed human beings are unseemly linkbait. To each his own," wrote Shafer 15 minutes after the first flurry of tweets. Blodget of course countered, "No, I don't know what you're saying. Everyone here is talking about this--because it's news and horrible. Now Twitter is, too." He continued, "So, Reuters would not report news about people getting crushed in midtown NYC office elevators? Really? No wonder folks read us." Shafer then responded, "You're good at many things. But not at playing stupid." This being Twitter of course, others invited themselves to chime in. Caleb Hannan, an editor at Seattle Weekly, tweeted "This is a weirdly Puritanical stance for a guy who just published a column entitled "two cheers for tabloid trash", referring to a recent Shafer column, while Reuters' Felix Salmon chose Team Blodget, to the surprise of Blodget himself.
What They Say They're Fighting About: If Business Insider was being nefarious in its elevator story. Was it? Was tweeting out the story in poor taste? Shafer seems to think it was more tabloid click bait than an actual story. But Business Insider, like The New York Times, like The Wall Street Journal like Shafer's workplace and even us here at The Atlantic Wire all decided to cover today's freak accident.
What They're Really Fighting About: Business Insider's other stories. Shafer mentions it once or twice, but it really is about the way Business Insider "writes" and packages its stories. Shafer just happens to be the latest one airing his gripe about it. MG Siegler wrote about the site's often-distracting, click-seeking slide shows late last month garnering attention from media wizard Jay Rosen and the Nieman Lab. And Salmon (though he's on Blodget's side for now) has voiced his displeasure about Blodget's "business model" on more than one occasion. We've even covered some Business Insider gripes in a previous Spatwatch. Combine its "scraping", the seemingly senseless slide shows, and the sensationalist ("REAL REASON") headlines that Business Insider smacks on their articles, and you've got the basics of why their site gets so many precious clicks and so much criticism.
Who's Winning Now: Blodget. And this isn't sour grapes over Shafer re-tweeting a negative comment on a recent Atlantic article (that's gotten a lot of negative feedback from Iowans). It's because out of all the Business Insider editorial judgments out there, Shafer chose a news story which Business Insider actually reported on, sans the trimmings and superfluous headlines which usually accompany their stories. And it's a story that major news also chose to cover. His argument might have had a more solid foundation if he had asked what this gorilla has to do with Apple and Microsoft or what this lesbian kiss has to do with AIG's assets or any of the many questionable editorial decisions on Business Insider every day. But Shafer picked the wrong story to prop up his argument on what he feels is Business Insider's shady kind of journalism. As Hannan points out, two weeks ago Shafer wrote a column defending tacky, tabloid journalism for the simple fact that no one should be able to control where journalism starts and stops. And that perhaps is a sentiment that Shafer should perhaps take to heart.