How A Little Editing Inflated Some Web 2.0 Hype

from the that's-all-it-takes dept

Last week, we were among those who were fairly shocked at BusinessWeek’s dreadful coverage of Digg. Despite what some folks at Digg and in the comments seemed to think, our piece was nothing against Digg at all — but it was about BusinessWeek’s reporting on the topic. They claimed Digg founder Kevin Rose had “made $60 million” when he’s done no such thing. A number of others have noticed the same thing. Rather than admitting to really shoddy reporting, it seems that the BusinessWeek team is trying to defend the article or claim that the reason people are upset is the breezy language used in the article. However, one thing is becoming clear: there were a few last minute changes that made this article seem a lot worse than it may have originally been. First, apparently those “higher up” pushed editors to change the cover and throw in the totally made up $60 million number at the last minute, replacing a slightly less ridiculous cover.

However, I just flipped through the paper copy of the magazine, and noticed that the web-based article is different from the hardcopy one — and that might explain some of the confusion. The web-based one that upset so many people has this line at the end of the first paragraph: “At 29, Rose was on his way either to a cool $60 million or to total failure.” That’s the only mention of $60 million. Since the article doesn’t say it anywhere else, most of us figured out the math that the reporters assumed Rose’s stake was valued at $60 million. This was bothersome for two reasons. First, being valued at something (especially when that value comes from anonymous “people in the know” rather than any actual market transaction) is quite different than having “made” something. Second, since the number was on the cover, you’d think the article would actually explain it. It turns out they did a slightly (just slightly) better job in the paper edition. There, the first paragraph ends with this sentence: “At 29, Rose was on his way to a multimillion-dollar future or abject failure.” No more $60 million. No more implication that the $60 million was already in the bank. Next, in the web-based version, there’s this sentence: “Nonetheless, people in the know say Digg is easily worth $200 million.” In the paper version, it’s “Yet all the Valley hoopla gives the company a valuation of roughly $200 million, making Rose’s stake worth a cool $60 million.” So, it’s still a poorly written article from a magazine that is supposedly a “business” publication, but which apparently doesn’t seem to understand the difference between made up valuations and actual money in the bank — but it certainly looks like some last minute edits were made to play up a mythical $60 million without ever explaining where it came from. If the reporters are defending the version from the magazine, they might want to reread the web-based version to see what’s been done.

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Comments on “How A Little Editing Inflated Some Web 2.0 Hype”

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Adam Jusko (user link) says:

It seems like BusinessWeek could have easily avoided the controversy by reworking the headline just slightly. It could still be sensationalistic without being plain wrong.

Something like “How Could This Kid Be Worth $60 Million?” or “Could This Kid Really Be Worth $60 Million?”

Gives the impression he’s worth $60 million even if he’s really not. Not sure if that’s quite as impactful as saying he made $60 million in 18 months, but it’s not false.

Lay Person says:

More research...

I’m sure if anyone has the time to digg deeper, they would surely find an economic connection between Digg and BusinessWeek.

The article is so pro-digg slanted that it’d be very hard to convince me otherwise.

Someone has interests, if not the magazine itself then the author or the editor…someone, somewhere is trying to get paid.

Yet another Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


Business Week still does not understand. They had to say something about Digg since it is so popular. They just got it wrong because they don’t understand what is going on or why, since in business V1.0 this can’t happen.

This also demonstrates a disconnect between the web version of the rag and the papyrus version. Obviously the web version was not the final copy, and no one there is interested in keeping it updated since it obviously is not as important as the papyrus version.

This is a fluff article, something to sell the rag with a cute kid that does well as the cover story.

another anonymous coward says:

BW gives journos a bad name

If you read past the poorly chosen headline and into the rest of the story, you’ll see there are more errors, more examples of sloppy reporting and more pathetic “i LOVE your kool-aid!” phrasing. The controversy is not about writing style, it’s about amateur reporting. Looks like someone fell in love with her sources, a habit any good editor will break for any weak reporter. Shame on Business Week.

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