Silicon Valley tech guru Tim O'Reilly has blasted NYT reporter Ashlee Vance for what he terms "words put into my mouth" in his Monday business story on the declining fortunes of Microsoft's consumer business.
"I feel more than a little misrepresented," O'Reilly has written in a blog post that went up last night, referring to Vance's business-section front-page feature, "Microsoft Calling. Anybody There?" "It's sad when the NYT uses 'flamebait' techniques in its stories. Rather than real journalism, this felt like a reporter trying to create controversy rather than report news."
O'Reilly -- an influential computer-book publisher responsible for the "Missing Manuals" series, and widely associated with the popular "Web 2.0" concept -- was quoted throughout Vance's story, which set out to show Microsoft's struggle to compete in a youth-dominated consumer-electronics market.
In the blog post, O'Reilly contends that only one of six quotes were, in fact, things he told the NYT reporter.
O'Reilly's blog post notes that he basically agreed with the thrust of Vance's story, as well as some of the statements attributed to him. But he insists in some instances that he never gave the quotes to Vance, and in others that the reporter ignored his other points in favor of a more sensational narrative.
"I don't remember saying anything like: 'Microsoft is totally off the radar of the cool, hip, cutting-edge software developers,' O'Reilly writes. "My memory is that Ashlee opened our conversation with that assertion, which I countered by saying that Microsoft still has big, active developer communities, and that you shouldn't assume that just because you can't see them in San Francisco, that they are dead."
We reached Vance for comment late last night, while on vacation. Among other things, we asked him if he'd heard from O'Reilly directly about his accusations that he had been misrepresented in the story.
"Am checking my email now and see that Tim did contact me via email," Vance wrote us. "Not sure if it was before or after the post went up, since I've been mostly off the grid since Saturday."
As to O'Reilly's specific allegations, Vance asked for "a bit of time" to respond. We told him we would hold our post until this morning. We've posted n the absence of any further comment -- and in the light of several Twitter comments on O'Reilly's post -- but will update if we do hear from Vance again. ("It seems like the Times prefers not to "comment to anonymous bloggers" from what I've gathered," he wrote in his original email, adding amiably: "But if you give me a shot, I will see what I can do.")
O'Reilly, who founded O'Reilly Media, a company that publishes books and runs conferences, listed several other quotes attributed to him in Vance's story that he contends he didn't say:
Ashlee also wrote:
"Mr. O’Reilly traces part of the problem back to the company’s developers. Microsoft spends a great deal of time and money shepherding a vast network of partner companies and people that base their livelihoods on improving and supporting Microsoft’s products.
"These software developers and technicians have bet their careers on Microsoft and largely benefited from that choice. In addition, they have helped keep Microsoft relevant during the various ups and downs in the technology market."
I don't remember saying anything of the kind. It may be true, but I am not the source.
O'Reilly goes on to deny nearly all the rest of his quotes in the story, with a single exception:
The only comment from myself that I recognized at all was this one:
"Mr. O’Reilly said the quick cancellation of the Kin may demonstrate that Microsoft has finally seen the depth of its woes when it comes to attracting consumers and younger audiences. “This should be seen as a success for them,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “They grew fat and happy, but are now waking up to their different competitive position.”
O'Reilly's reference to "flamebait reporting" uses an Internet term that describes that act of saying something solely for the purpose of inflaming debate on the subject. The implication of O"Reilly's objection is that Vance misquoted him for the purpose of making his story more controversial.
O'Reilly hasn't responded to an email seeking further comment on his blog post. It's unclear whether O'Reilly has made any formal complaint to the NYT about the story.
According to Wikipedia, the South African-born Vance was a reporter for The Register -- a British website that covered the technology industry -- for five years before joining the NYT staff in September of 2008 as a technology reporter. In 2007 he published his first book, Geek Silicon Valley: The Inside Guide to Palo Alto, Stanford, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, San Jose, San Francisco.