The sound of one journalist flapping

The journalistic interview, practiced by professionals, has come to an abrupt and final end. All the evidence is available by looking at what happened between Wired magazine, that publication’s former sources, and the people formerly known as the audience. You can’t make this stuff up.

An initially unidentified Wired reporter — later self-revealed to be contributing editor Fred Vogelstein — set out to interview colleagues of Michael Arrington, Silicon Valley lawyer and would-be kingmaker of influential TechCrunch fame. Jason Calacanis and Dave Winer were two of the usual interview suspects and Vogelstein approached them, separately, for telephone interviews.

Now the thing you have to know is that no one agrees to be interviewed by the media unless they have something to sell — a product, a process, an idea, or just a self image. And the great leveler of online personal publishing has obliterated the need for that symbiotic relationship: The journalist needed sources; sources needed exposure. But no more; the people formerly known as sources have realized that they no longer need the journalist to sell their crap. They can do it better themselves. It’s what Stan Davis originally called disintermediation taken to the extreme. As Jeff Jarvis opines, the interviewees are now empowered.

When Vogelstein contacted Calacanis, the latter said he’d be happy to participate in email but wasn’t interested in being misquoted in a telephone interview. Calacanis set out to hip Vogelstein to the new reality:

“Frankly, you need to adapt. Journalists have misquoted people for so long — and quoted them out of context that many people like to have their words on record.

“I don’t want someone taking half a sentence or paraphrasing me… Just too much risk.

“Besides I have 10,000 people come to my blog every day — i don’t need wired to talk to the tech industry.”

Vogelstein next queried Dave Winer, with similar result. Winer, weary of what he calls transcription errors, told the reporter he was welcome to send along his questions and if Winer had something to say he’d write about it on his weblog from which Vogelstein was welcome to quote.

“Like Jason, I have a lot of experience being misquoted, or having comments linked with others, as if there was some back and forth that didn’t happen. Or I get used to make a point that the reporter wants to make, and my story gets lost. Often, the reporter’s point is that I’m a putz. Why should I work hard to help people do that? Also like Jason, I don’t have any trouble getting my ideas out on my own.

“So if you want to work together, let’s find a new way to do it. I’m fed up with the old system. The way we start the reboot is to do all our work out in the open, real-time. Not via email, but in full view of everyone.”

The message was clear: If there ever was an off the record there isn’t any longer.

By now, Wired was collectively in a lather if not a full-blown panic: “oh my god, our sources are disintermediating us; whatever will we do.” In a fit of snarky bad judgment Vogelstein’s stable-mate Dylan Tweney called Calacanis “cowardly” and feebly attempted to explain the way of the journalistic world. Or at least the way it formerly worked, which is the only world that Tweney knew. Vogelstein subsequently published the entirety of the email exchanges. Wired contributor Ryan Singel piled on comparing Calacanis to “a upside-down reactionary-populist version of President George W. Bush of the Department of Homeland Security.” Classy.

Then, Arrington weighed in; he’s the only one with skin in this particular game and saw his publicity sailing off into the sunset.

Vogelstein, you have to remember, was the Wired reporter who was dossiered by Microsoft when he did a story about the software giant’s transparency. He’s a pro and will certainly learn from this series of events; he’ll come out better for it. We need pros like Vogelstein, but they’re going to have to learn quickly that the journalism game is changing drastically. Evidence indicates that Vogelstein is a quicker study than anyone had a right to think; the Calacanis interview will be published online as a podcast.

That this happened to Wired is perhaps especially fortuitous, given its pledge of radical transparency. At least a couple times a year, Wired publishes ground-breaking journalism — and we need it desperately. It’s one of the three magazines to which I still subscribe (the New Yorker and Vanity Fair being the others). For now at least, the really important journalistic work is the domain of publications like these. But they’re flying into the ground at only a moderately less steep angle than the newspaper industry. Pull up! Pull up!

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