Controversy erupted this week when currency exchange Coinbase became aware of a negative article upcoming in The New York Times during a fact-checking process. Somewhat like SlateStar Codex, Armstrong preemptively released a blog post about Coinbase’s position on the forthcoming story.
The New York Times Company article is titled “’Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at the King of Crypto Start-Ups.” It gave a platform for former employees to publicly charge the company with racism for things like a manager whom one former employee claimed “excluded her from meetings and conversations, making her feel invisible.”
Coinbase’s pre-emptive public statement drew resentment from NYT staffers, like tech writer Mike Isaac, who saw the move as a slight against big media. “This attempt at front-running is mind-blowing,” wrote Isaac, saying Coinbase “torched any semblance of trust or relationship they had” with the media. In the same thread, Isaac acknowledged a double standard among journalists that companies must keep information secret, although no such policy formally exists.
“I agree there’s a power differential,” Isaac continued, “though I would argue that has changed drastically in the age of corporate blogs.” It used to be that companies had few alternatives to voice their opinion, and share alternative views. Today, tech companies possess the technical knowledge to set up their own publishing capabilities and, like The New York Times Company, push their news through social media distribution channels.
Balaji Srinivasan shared a tweet from Recode’s Teddy Schleifer saying any reporter writing about Coinbase now has the incentive to give the company “zero time to comment on their reporting.” The Verge editor Casey Newton warned of retaliation, saying, “Reporters have long memories. Facebook did this once (with Cambridge Analytica) and its relationship with reporters still hasn’t totally recovered. Coinbase just made things much harder on itself.”
well, any reporter writing about Coinbase now has the incentive to give the company ~zero time to comment on their reporting.
good job, Coinbase!https://t.co/L3yHgHNVrN
— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) November 26, 2020
Nowhere in the New York Times Company’s recent critique of Coinbase do they mention problems with the Times’s black employees, which go far beyond discontent. This past summer, several black staffers protested their own employer for publishing an op-ed written by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., calling for the cessation of violent protests. Editors removed the article, and replaced it with their own opinion, stating that the senator’s influential position posed a threat.
In late September, Coinbase’s CEO Brian Armstrong released a blog post asking employees to leave political activism at the door. The move drew praise from those who saw the action as a strong stance against heated social movements and ideologies that have made their way inside organizations and consumed the rest of the world.
Armstrong wrote, “It has become common for Silicon Valley companies to engage in a wide variety of social activism, even those unrelated to what the company does, and there are certainly employees who really want this in the company they work for.”
More than any other publication, The New York Times Company has called for big tech to aid in censorship activities that align with their objectives, and their coverage of the startup and tech industry has been overtly hostile. “Ironically, the NYT is essentially a tech company,” notes product engineer Anirudh Pai, “so I imagine it’s growing competition in a zero-sum environment.” The New York Times is indeed a listed company on the stock exchange.
Several reporters’ use of their platform at the NYT hinges on overt harassment that resembles envy and resentment more than it resembles fair and equitable reporting. Reporters who are quick to castigate U.S. tech, startups, and venture capital are the same ones who voice unbridled support for Chinese tech platforms like TikTok because their relevancy and livelihoods depend on it.
The depravity of big media has come to a point where many in Silicon Valley have called for a ban on engagement when asked for comments or quotes. Reporters have a history of making strategic plays politically and within industries, which raises doubts about their objectivity.
1) Harass you, then complain about harassment
2) Try to get you fired, then pretend cancel culture isn't real
3) Crash a company's stock price, making everyone poorer, while pretending to care about employees
Anything for clicks. So, stop talking to them. pic.twitter.com/fbMmG0pLHW
— Balaji Srinivasan (@balajis) July 7, 2020
In October, industry blog Electrek had confirmed that Tesla dissolved its own U.S.-based PR department, with team members either leaving or moving to other roles in the company. In the past, Elon Musk has complained that the media treats Tesla with hostility, and has a “systemic negative & political bias about almost everything.”
“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” Musk tweeted in May 2018.
During times of intense conflict, it becomes increasingly important to have good journalists digging into events. Companies like Coinbase have the ability to share their side of the story, and it should become best practice to do so, not only to bridge gaps where traditional reporting fails, but to control the narrative, as founders have a right to do.
The NYT dos not have sovereignty over information, and it is not their place to decide what is true and false, nor is to control what is said, where it is said, and by whom. The tech community has a message: The New York Times Company does not reserve the right to speak first, nor does it reserve the right to speak last.