Journalist backlash and spinning out of control–the Sarah Lacy interview of Zuckerman

March 11, 2008

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerman was interviewed by journalist Sarah Lacy at the SXSW1 conference. Apparently, the interview didn’t go too well. Read the stories: News.com, and mashable.

I have two comments–one, the media can quickly become the story which they should never be. But even as they struggle for respect and audience, their credibility is in steep decline. Look at the Edelman Trust Barometer and it will show you that only the oil industry has a lower trust rating than the mainstream media.

But more importantly, this may be a story created largely by bloggers and tweeters (or twitterers,  not sure of the technical term). Here’s what Michael Arrington from Techcrunch had to say:

Bloggers by the dozens rushed to post something even more scathing than the previous attacks. CNET wrote a gleeful post attacking Lacy (“Sarah Lacy out-and-out bombed”), then, realizing the body still had a pulse, came back for more. Wired was right there beside them, kicking away as well.

Here’s the problem, though: The video of the interview, which became available today, shows nothing but a lively crowd and a long, boring interview. Sure, there were a couple of moments where the crowd yelled out, but that is absolutely normal at tech events these days. How anyone could describe this a “nuclear f–g fail” or “descending into chaos” is absolutely beyond me:

Here’s what I think really happened. There was an unruly group of attendees, mostly at the back of the session, who heckled Lacy (and Zuckerberg) during the interview. A few others joined in as well at different points. The heckling drew Twitters saying that some people weren’t happy with the interview. And then those Twitters spawned new ones, trying to outdo the previous ones. And then the “real journalists” jumped in head first and laid into Lacy, safe in the knowledge that they had Twitter messages to back them up.

What in the world drove these “journalists” to write this nonsense? Jealously over the fact that they weren’t on stage, or over Lacy’s new book? Perhaps they just got caught up in the fun of a witch burning. But whatever drove them to write those articles, it certainly wasn’t journalism. Nor was it professional. And, worst of all, it wasn’t accurate.

So, an experience took on new life when commented on by those who only read comments from those who were there. And that is exactly one of the primary risks for crisis managers in this social media world. The bloggers and tweeters have no accountability or responsibility–but they sure as heck want readers, and being outrageous with your reporting and characterization of events is one way to get them. One outrageouses the next until you have a piling on effect. A mob mentality in the blogosphere. And then “an event” has occurred in people’s minds that bears little relationship to reality.

I don’t know what really happened. But, Sarah Lacy is going to have a heck of a time getting anyone serious to sit down to an interview with her in front of a room full of people.

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