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In Defense of Michael Arrington (Really. Well, Partially.)

The New York Times had an article Saturday about tech blogs running rumors. As I understood the article, the overall point was that such sites as TechCrunch and Gizmodo will print rumors because it is their way of gaining attention and competing with mainstream media organizations that have far deeper resources. The blogs reply that this is a process that helps bring the readers into the journalism. I say, what's wrong with printing the occasional rumor?

Let's set the ground rules. As many, many others, I've found things about TechCrunch -- namely, the lack of consistent admittance of a conflict of interest -- to criticize. And the criticism that in some cases, tech sites can do "shoddy journalism" is merited. The crux of the argument is that process requires more than one post -- even something to say that the bloggers have tried checking on a rumor and could still find nothing substantiating it.

But where I will differ with some is that I think there is nothing wrong with reporting some rumors. Remember, for a second, what types of publications these technology blogs tend to be: places where people with either connections or experience look at what is happening for the benefit of people tied to the industry. At BNET Technology, for example, we explicitly write for an industry audience. Some posts do get picked up by people who might be consumers of some technology, or investors in the vendors, and who have an avid interest. Actually, I'd argue that the customers are the single most important part of an industry, and the investors aren't far behind.

Sure, sometimes the rumors are simply gossip. But more frequently, in high tech, specifically, business moves at a dizzying pace. Those making decisions -- and I speak as someone who used to be in management at a tech-related company -- want information about trends and what might be happening. Not all will be accurate, and the grownups who read this material realize that. But you cannot run a business using only that information which has been given the time to prove itself, one way or the other. You want to consider what the impact might be on your strategy and perhaps consider some contingency plans, not wait until you know that something is absolutely correct and you can no longer effectively react.

I remember some years back having a conversation with Jeff Henning, a friend who is the CSO of survey and feedback software vendor Vovici, about the nature of surveys in business. We were discussing sample sizes, and how sometimes a business will go with something less than a statistically meaningful number. We had both seen big decisions made on 30 to 50 answers. He pointed out that rarely can a company wait for perfect information. If there are only 40 qualified people who are willing to answer your survey, then you go with that information, because if you take it recognizing its limitations, it's a heck of a lot better than having no information.

In this industry, that's what rumors are: imperfect information. There are those who will ignore them, waiting for something concrete. It may be that they're not strongly affected. There are those who will pay attention to the rumors and try to see if they fit with their own experience and evidence they might have seen. And there are those who will go running around in circles over any rumor.

You print rumors and let people make up their own minds. Now, there are good and bad ways of printing rumors. Label them as such or, even better, look around for evidence and move the information from the realm of unsubstantiated rumor to analytic speculation. If you don't think the rumor is true, say clearly and strongly that you don't believe it and cannot find any evidence to corroborate or even suggest it. Quashing rumors with truth is an honorable activity. Or print something and do following to see if you can find evidence, pro or con. (That's where the headline's "partially" comes in.) But eschew rumors because simply mentioning them is not journalistically pure? No -- for readers of BNET Technology and other industry blogs, this is business. And they don't have time to wait for others to decide what they should or should not hear.

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