My friend and former TechCrunch-accomplice Roi Carthy (now a managing partner at VC firm Initial) has published an interesting blog post to lament a recent report in the Israeli business press about Apple’s supposed acquisition of PrimeSense.
The problem is that, apparently, the deal was/is not yet signed and done, leading Roi to suggest whoever leaked the news was being irresponsible and possibly impacting “hundreds of people’s livelihoods”:
“People’s livelihood in jeopardy because of a leak, is a state of being I have a problem accepting.”
I think it’s a bit ridiculous to state that this sort of leaks can people’s livelihood in ‘jeopardy’ – it’s not like it’s literally putting folks in a life-or-death situation. Too strong a word any way you slice it.
But as a journalist that has also dabbled in entrepreneurial ventures, I understand his position. Leaks can spike business deals and ‘rob’ people (not just founders, but their employees and investors) of financial reward, job security, and more. That sucks, and I totally get why that makes people ticked off at the leaker(s), whoever they may be or regardless of their agenda(s).
It may not to be the wisest thing to say as a journalist, but I do agree that leakers should sometimes be more thoughtful and careful when passing on crucial business information to the press or peers.
What I vehemently disagree with, however, is Roi’s stance on how the Israeli business press should have handled the leak.
Roi pleas for them to make a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between them and “do the right thing”, which is apparently to stop publishing reports based on leaks. That is not how an independent media is supposed to work, of course, and the reality is that it would only take one rotten apple to ruin the whole thing. And if everyone miraculously sticks to the gentleman’s agreement, a new apple will fall from the tree and start publishing reports based on leaks anyway. It wouldn’t, and I argue shouldn’t, ever work.
Referring to the Israeli ecosystem’s journalists and startups as a “family”, as Roi does in his post, is dangerous and detracts from his stronger point, which is that the leaker is acting irresponsibly.
Coincidentally, I’ve had this conversation before, also with a well-known member of the Israeli startup community, who argued that leaks about the Facebook-Google bidding war for Waze would kill the deal and (there we go again) deprive a lot of Israelis of substantial financial reward for their hard work over the past few years. Except, of course, the rumours didn’t kill the deal at all.
If I were running a business like PrimeSense and a leak happened before the dotted line gets signed, I’d be pissed too. But I’d be angry at the leaker(s), not the press whose duty it is to report on business happenings, whether they’re ongoing or finalized.
Leaks have occurred for ages, across industries and the world (try reporting politics instead of tech for a real taste of behind-the-scenes ‘information sharing’). They’re not going away. Deal with it, basically.
Attempting to dictate when a journalist can report something is a very slippery slope, and pulling the ‘family’ card has a averse effect in my mind. An independent media should decide for themselves what and when to publish, and the public will choose to pay attention or ignore it on the basis of its authenticity, accuracy and accountability.
They shouldn’t be put in a position where they would have to defend their way of working because they are ‘part of the ecosystem’. They don’t have to go on the defensive and argue what they have to gain from publishing reports based on leaks – it’s not just about being first or beating the competition, it’s about doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Blaming them for botched business deals is wrong.
The media’s role is to stay as neutral as possible, and journalists should stay on the sidelines to the extent where they can report on business deals without having to consider “people’s livelihoods”.
That’s on the leaker(s).
They are typically part of the ‘family’ Roi refers to – not the journalists, in my opinion.