James Whatley: An apology for an accident of publication

[Update 4 August 2009] Hey everyone – So I think we found the culprit that gave rise to this whole episode. Our best guess at the moment is that a problem occurred involving the XML-RPC protocol when the draft post was first submitted to our site using the ‘WordPress for BlackBerry’ software. For whatever reason that set the post to go live without us knowing, causing us to be taken unawares. We are, in fact, now in contact with Automattic, the company behind WordPress, to isolate the bug so hopefully other sites won’t fall victim to this kind of accident. Thanks to all for this great discussion. We’ve learned lots. Mike Butcher.

Original article:

This weekend, TechCrunch Europe contributor Milo Yiannopoulos heard a rumour that James Whatley, who as head of social media for Spinvox has been a vociferous supporter of the company, might be quitting his job. This was not confirmed by James and we had not spoken to him yet, as it was the weekend. We started working on the story in draft on the site, in anticipation that the story might break this week, if confirmed. We planned to talk to James on Monday first thing. Working on stories in draft is common practice for blogs like ours as others in the team can see what is being worked on and prevent duplication.

However, although the story was marked as “draft”, and was not in any way intended to be published, it somehow appeared in our public RSS feed. We do not currently know the reason for this and we have our technical guys looking into it. However, we know it was not published manually. Unfortunately the post was also deleted from our system before we had a chance to edit it into the story we did have. Once deleted, it remained on our feed but couldn’t be changed directly by editorial.

A number of people noticed the publication, took screenshots of this completely unfinished, unconfirmed story and started republishing those images. It’s worth pointing out that the story was clearly marked DO NOT PUBLISH.

We’re working to discover how this accident happened. But as this occurred late on Sunday night when only a few people were likely to be watching our feed, and in an attempt limit any any personal damage to James Whatley, we did ask some people to delete their tweets and twitpics when we first saw them appearing on Twitter. As I said, the story was unconfirmed and it would be crazy for James’s position to be made untenable by this accident. We were not trying to suppress the post for our sakes, but for James’.

Unfortunately, Twitter and RSS being what it is, we were unable to stop this accident from propagating across Twitter and then subsequently to other blogs.

We apologise sincerely for the error, and most of all to James Whatley for any distress this may have caused him.

Update: I’m glad someone else has noticed how this often works. As Ewan points out in this post:

He’s [James] just one special guy at the centre of a burning Twittercraze. Special enough, it seems, to have his own just-in-case template standing by at one of the world’s leading technology sites — the ubiquitous, the influential, the downright brilliant Techcrunch…. A slip-of-the-hand and woosh, the story, not ready for publication, was shooting across the wires.


‘Tis the practice, of course, of many a national and international media outlet to keep draft copies of obituaries of the rich, the famous and the royal, so that, when the news breaks, they’re ready-and-waiting to simply fill in the blanks. It seems Techcrunch UK were, sensibly, preparing (or future-gazing) for what they deemed inevitable. And you know what, it would have been one explosive, explosive story for the first Monday of a very sleepy August. I trust that Mike and the team at Techcrunch UK have got their Ewan MacLeod Quits Mobile Industry Review After Surprise $800m Lottery Win; Buys Motorola, Promptly Discontinues All RAZR Production template ready and awaiting. It’s gotta be any day now…

Indeed, it is common practice to keep draft copies of stories ticking over. In this case, we got bitten in the drafts…

Update II: “RT @reallymobile Damn! We only meant to hit ‘preview’… http://trmp.tv/?p=1245 #ReallyMobile”