The Twitter Story Fail

It’s amazing to me how wrong The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were on their Twitter fundraising stories last week. All claimed multiple independent sources, but everyone got the story wrong in the same way.

Financial Times: “A JPMorgan fund is in talks to acquire a substantial stake in Twitter, one of the fastest-growing social networking sites.

WSJ: “J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is in talks with Twitter Inc. to take a minority stake in the rapidly growing microblogging company, people familiar with the matter said…Discussions between J.P. Morgan and Twitter are continuing, and there is no guarantee a deal will be struck, the people added.”

NYTimes: “It is not clear whether the fund, known as the J.P. Morgan Digital Growth Fund, will invest directly in Twitter, or buy current investors’ stakes with the company’s consent, these people said.”

All of these stories were wildly inaccurate. I don’t remember a time when the big guys were all throwing around “multiple sources” so freely and all zeroed in on exactly the same wrong story. It makes me think the FT just flubbed it, and the WSJ and NYTimes, eager to get their stories up, just found some source who told them what they wanted to hear. Or didn’t have any sources at all.

The real story was this – J.P. Morgan held no shares in Twitter, and wasn’t negotiating to buy shares in Twitter, wasn’t in talks with Twitter of any kind, and never had been. They had simply invested in a fund that had already bought nearly 10% of the company over the previous several months.

I posted that correct story. And since then I haven’t seen any corrections or retractions at all. The NYTimes later wrote the correct story (by Evelyn Rusli, formerly with TechCrunch) and properly credited it. But they didn’t refer back to their previously incorrect story at all.

And then today Reuters rewrote part of the story as if it were all new news without any reference back to anything. See Dan Primack for more on the Reuters angle and how it confuses things even more.

When someone breaks a story, even if its partially or fully wrong, things start to happen. Sources who wouldn’t talk before start talking. Lots of bloggers and journalists focus on it. The correct story then emerges.

It’s Process Journalism. Too often the original person who broke the story then gets trashed for inaccuracies. I think the person should be credited with the first, hardest step in a big story, which is getting the ball rolling.

In this case it was the Financial Times. They were mostly wrong, but great stories came out of it from me, the NYTimes and Reuters. Credit to them.

But they then screwed up on the easy part – fixing the story with updated facts. Admitting the parts that were wrong. Getting their readers the most updated, correct data.

I know why these guys didn’t update. Because it’s embarrassing to get facts wrong and if you have to update, correct, or retract it’s seen as a weakness and you can lose reader trust.

It’s exactly the opposite. Admitting you were wrong isn’t a weakness.

The NYTimes has directly called us out over posting early rumors occasionally. This was my response. I think it’s time we had a longer conversation about Process Journalism, and a publication’s duty to its readers.