Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Battle of the Tweets

I mentioned this earlier, but I think this is worth an item of its own: the interesting exchange between Time.com's new Technology Editor Peter Ha and some people at my alma mater, BusinessWeek, over a "tweet" from Ha this morning suggesting that BusinessWeek was closing.

Ha began at about 7 a.m. (Twitter, annoyingly, doesn't give exact times), tweeting to his 1,038 followers: "Just caught wind that BusinessWeek is shutting down. Can anyone confirm or deny?"

Now that's a pretty significant thing to Tweet, don't you think? Not only a sensitive thing to the people directly involved, but also potentially market-moving.

A BW staffer named Ron Casalotti tweeted back: "Hadn't you heard? BusinessWeek being sold, not to be interpreted as "shutting down" -- please convey to all your retweeterst."

Ha responded: "I know what's going on w/ BW. I'm simply inquiring about what I heard this morning, which I hope is untrue," and then "I never said BizWeek is shutting down. I know they're looking for a buyer, but heard this morning that it was being shut down."

Then came BW tech writer Arik Hesseldahl, and the exchange grew sharper, with Arik inquiring as to the nature of this "wind" that Ha "caught," and McGraw-Hill spokesman Steve Weiss being particularly, and justifiably, testy. Ha apparently had no idea who Weiss--one of the better known p.r. people in publishing--was.

BW people have a right to be steamed. Why? Because it is pretty friggin' irresponsible to "tweet" something you've heard from somebody on something as sensitive as this, unless you are pretty sure that the person you heard it from is reliable. Ha soon backed off completely. If this turns out to be true, of course, he'll be a genius. If not, this is major egg-on-face.

But in a way, BW has been hoist on its own petard. BW has embraced--to an almost ridiculous extent--the new media. Twitter is an essential part of the new media, as are rumors. Certainly my other alma mater, the recently deceased Portfolio, was subject to numerous rumors, some accurate, prior to its demise. Portfolio just took the position, rightly or wrongly, that the new media is like that, and ignored them.

That's usually the best idea, though I must admit that this rumormongering by Ha might have been an exception.

UPDATE: A day later there's still silence from Ha, who did not take up Romenesko on an offer to discuss my blog item. The last word from him is this stonewalling. Very un-new-media-like, if you ask me. Hell, if his source was reliable he should 1) say so and 2) do more that "tweet" on it and publish the report on his website.

Meanwhile, Keith Kelly strikes a glum note in the Post in a column on the silence following the Bloomber bid:
One banking source said that even as a high-powered team from Bloomberg LP pores over the books in preparation for a final bid, there's still division within the company as to how good a fit the embattled magazine -- which lost $43 million last year -- would be.

BusinessWeek's continued hemorrhaging of red ink this year isn't helping: One source estimated that with ad sales down more than 35 percent so far, the magazine will lose more than $60 million, and maybe as much as $80 million. . .

. . .And so, according to sources, the debate inside Bloomberg is over how buying BusinessWeek would help to realize that goal -- and how much investment is needed before the magazine is turned around.

Meanwhile, he says, there are "wild rumors that the deal will be simply a sale of the magazine's trademarks and customer lists." Ugh.

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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