Media's milquetoast moment: Censoring Dan Lyons

Dan Lyons appears to have been pressured to stop blogging, which would be a blow to candor and a win for weak journalism.

I never liked the Fake Steve Jobs blog because I didn't like an author to be able to hide behind anonymity. When Dan Lyons, the then-Forbes and now Newsweek reporter, revealed his identity as Fake Steve Jobs and decided to continue blogging as Real Dan Lyons, I cheered. I know Dan and respect the reporting he's done over the years, even when it hasn't been favorable to open source.

Why? Because I can always count on Dan to tell the truth, as he sees it. Dan pulls no punches.

This past week, that tendency toward brutal candor caught up with him, as The Guardian reports. Dan lashed out at Yahoo! for lying to reporters like him and at The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher for conceit, only to have both blog posts removed. (I caught the Yahoo! post in my RSS reader before it disappeared. You can find it here.)

The Guardian seems to think such censorship is a necessary evil:

...[I]t must be tough for Dan Lyons. He could say more or less what he liked as Fake Steve because it was satirical (many a true word spoken in jest, as they say), and that brought him a big audience. He can't say the same sort of things as Real Dan and a Newsweek employee, so he doesn't have a big audience. And there certainly isn't enough money in blogging for him to give up the day job.

Are we happy about this? That Dan may have "bailed on blogging" due to pressure from Newsweek? I know I'm not.

Dan stepped over the line, perhaps, but I still prefer it to the watered-down non-news that most media publications shovel out. And, closer to home, Newsweek is talking out of both sides of its mouth in censoring Dan's blog. On one side, it apparently forced Dan to remove the posts. On the other, it headlines his blog in this way:

Newsweek

So, which Dan Lyons does Newsweek actually want? The answer is most likely "both," but it seems to believe it can have both without the occasional bout of squeamishness. It's not going to happen.

The people who read Dan's work in Newsweek are generally not going to be the same people that read his Real Dan Lyons blog: grit in the latter does not affect his credibility in the former for 99 percent of the population.

That "grit" is sorely lacking in most reporting, which pretends to take a safe, neutral, and distant view on everything from Yahoo!'s change in executive leadership to child-rearing tips, perhaps afraid of the hovering specter of a lawsuit. Well, I for one am glad that Dan takes risks, even when I don't agree with him, and even when I think he steps over the line. Bring back the blog, Dan. We need the raw commentary.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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