Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tech Guru Tim O'Reilly Claims "Words Put Into My Mouth" By NYT's Ashlee Vance In Monday's Microsoft Story.

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.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I'm curious to hear what Mr. Vance has to say, I know that Tim O'Reilly is a very careful politician who makes plenty of money because of his relationship with Microsoft. Shoot, Microsoft even sponsors OSCON, a conference that's largely devoted to undermining many of Microsoft's business ventures. People like this often start squalking about being misquoted when they say too much.

https://en.oreilly.com/oscon2010/public/register


It's kind of odd for a person to say that he generally agrees with the article and the points attributed to him, but complain about how they sound or to suggest they came from someone else. Unless the reporter has real trouble taking notes, I can't think of a reason why he would gather the information from one place and attribute it to O'Reilly.

I think O'Reilly got a bit too friendly and forgot the tape player was running-- so to speak. (It would be a bit embarrassing if there's actually a tape of this anywhere outside of the NSA.)

Anonymous said...

While I'm curious to hear what Mr. Vance has to say, I know that Tim O'Reilly is a very careful politician who makes plenty of money because of his relationship with Microsoft. Shoot, Microsoft even sponsors OSCON, a conference that's largely devoted to undermining many of Microsoft's business ventures. People like this often start squalking about being misquoted when they say too much.

https://en.oreilly.com/oscon2010/public/register


It's kind of odd for a person to say that he generally agrees with the article and the points attributed to him, but complain about how they sound or to suggest they came from someone else. Unless the reporter has real trouble taking notes, I can't think of a reason why he would gather the information from one place and attribute it to O'Reilly.

I think O'Reilly got a bit too friendly and forgot the tape player was running-- so to speak. (It would be a bit embarrassing if there's actually a tape of this anywhere outside of the NSA.)

Anonymous said...

O'Reilly has to be highly experienced in dealing with all sorts of media. With that in mind, he should produce a recording of the interview, even a digital version.

Vance's and anyone else's delay in responding clouds and casts further doubt on the accuracy of the article.

Anonymous said...

RE: According to Wikipedia, 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...."

Yes, and the recent Times story about Ray Kurzweil's Singularity theory, which seemed to be more of a PR posse roundup than a real news story, also quoted Andrew Orlowsky, who still writes for the Register, without the Times giving disclosure about the writer's earlier job there. Just sloppy. But Vance is one good reporter. A Pulitzer is on tap one of these days. Watch.

dan said...
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dan said...
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dan said...

Tim O'Reilly told commenters on his blog later:

''Ashlee and I had a long conversation. It's certainly possible that in that conversation, I said something like what Ashlee quoted me as saying, but in a very specific context. For example, late in the conversation, I told him about a study our Research group had done several years ago based on our database of millions of online job postings, comparing recruiting for PHP, ASP.Net, and Ruby on Rails among the general developer population, and among self-identified startups. And I told him in that context (and in fact had my research team send him some updates on that research.) And yes, I told him that there was a huge difference in recruiting for those web technologies among startups versus the general population. But there's a big leap from there to make it into a general statement in the present tense, like “Microsoft is totally off the radar of the cool, hip, cutting-edge software developers," especially when my initial response to Ashlee's question was to talk about the idea that there are a lot of markets that matter (and have a lot of money in them) where Microsoft is still a force to be reckoned with.

Some of my response is to reading paraphrases that just don't sound like me, or things that I've even thought. For example, in the course of the conversation, I talked about startups using open source and cloud/web 2.0 technologies, but I don't ever remember talking about computer science graduates, or even having an opinion about what CS graduates are studying (because I don't interact that much with that community), yet the comment becomes: "But the recent crops of computer science graduates and start-ups have tended to move far afield from Microsoft, Mr. O’Reilly said."

dan said...
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dan said...

REILLY con'd

''There are repeated instances of "Mr O'Reilly said," followed by paragraphs that any reader would assume were a paraphrase of my remarks, when to me, they appear to be a paraphrase of what Ashlee was wanting to say in his own words, and looking for some kind of hook that would allow him to tie it back to me. That's why I said that this was an opinion piece masquerading as reporting.

Those of you who've said that interviews should be recorded are right. I will certainly make sure I do that in future. I don't want this to turn into a big game of finger pointing, because I'm sure that Ashlee feels strongly that he reported our conversation accurately. And journalists often take some juicy quote from a long interview, a bit out of context, and you wish people had the context. But if you look at this story, my comments are a huge part of the entire narrative. And it's not my narrative, it's Ashlee's, just made to look like it's mine.

Just for the record, I did say “For developers, mobile is what’s hip now, and there are two platforms that matter — Apple and Android,” and I did say "“This [cancellation of the Kin] 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.” Both of those quotes sound like me, and I recognize having said them. And they are used roughly in the context that I said them.''

dan said...

and Tim contd

''Had a followup conversation with Ashlee Vance about this. We talked about the sausage-making process of journalism, and how what I said about where Microsoft's developer culture was still vibrant got cut from the story in various editing passes.

I do think that Ashlee had a story he wanted to tell, and led the conversation with me in a way to get the hook he needed to tell that story. (Michael Arrington talks about that here: http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/08/we-need-more-opinions-in-news-not-less/ ) But I don't think Ashlee intentionally misrepresented me, and it was probably going too far for me to call the story "flamebait."

We're talking about making lemons out of lemonade, and doing a followup story together about some of the research O'Reilly has done on the developer marketplace, and just what it tells us about how Microsoft is doing with developers. This is a great exercise in exploring the way that blogging and professional journalism are converging, and how social media changes the rules of engagement between sources and journalists. So we want to use the opportunity and make something good come out of it. Stay posted''

Anonymous said...

As one who grew up on Q-basic and commodore-64, choosing to hide and downplay all computer mastery for reason of survival, literally, it is curious that the startup crowd is ‘hip’, while hardened developers (regardless of which monopoly eventually sucks them in) are not. I am not one to care to reclaim the hip designator, and generally let it equal to be given little credence, worthless, to be weeded out... whereas in the marketing and consumer manipulation world, it is a very positive term. So could it be that this is where the confusion arose? Again, this may be an overreach, so feel free to correct.