The times they are a-changin' indeed, not just because my young millennial hipster Vermel thinks of Bob Dylan only as the father of the Wallflowers' lead singer. No, I'm thinking about the recent contretemps between two of San Francisco's most so-called free-speech publications: Wired and the SF Bay Guardian.
Although Wired has long embraced the "information wants to be free" meme and the weekly Guardian proclaims that "it is a newspaper's duty to print the news and raise hell," a fracas has them both looking like their mastheads might as well read, "You will hear from our attorneys!"
It all began when former HotWired writer Brooke Shelby Biggs's Net Effects column appeared on the Guardian Web site last Wednesday, bearing the title, "Wired Straits: Can Wired survive its own bad judgment?" With the caveat that she was proceeding with a "heavy heart," Biggs outlined the conflict-of-interest-o-rama regarding Wired and its business partner, New York online financial firm Wit Capital.
First, Biggs wrote, the magazine had published a "big, sloppy, wet kiss of a story" about Wit Capital written by Wit owner Andrew Klein. Furthermore, the relationship between Wit and Wired was disclosed on page nine of the ten-page story. Then, Wired Digital spammed its mailing lists--reportedly for $50,000--with an offer for a free month of Wit trading. Biggs also alleged that Wired might be in trouble with the SEC for possible violations pertaining to the spam, and that the spam might have endangered Wired's relationship with its Internet providers, BBN and Sprint.
The bouillabaise soon thickened: Later that day, the pungent column with all of its spicy allegations was gone, pouf, replaced by Biggs's column of the previous week. Thoughts raced through my mind faster than interns through the Oval Office: Someone had dropped a dime to put the kibosh on the big Biggs story, and the Guardian--whose raison d'etre is to "raise hell"--had assented. I scratched languidly under my fedora, lit up a Macanudo, and knew it was time to start asking questions. Such as: What's with all this success for the Spice Girls? Has the world gone mad?
Fast-forward to Friday afternoon: The Biggs Wired/Wit column was back--with some changes. The initial line about Wired being in deep trouble with los federales had morphed into a more prudent concern about "the relationship between the company's editorial content and its advertising." The original second paragraph, which had waxed alarmist about Wired's possible SEC violations and jeopardized Net access, was eliminated. And throughout the new version, references to SEC or Web presence problems were considerably toned down.
According to one NEWS.COMmie who spoke with Guardian managing editor Jon Maples, Maples acknowledged that the new piece had been pulled and changed but denied that it was Wired that made the call. When my colleagues managed to contact the auteur herself, Ms. Biggs said it was in fact Wit Capital that had contacted the Guardian, concerned over even the appearance of impropriety in the eyes of the SEC. The Guardian apparently let its lawyers have a look-see, made the changes, and then reposted the piece. Biggs said she understood why the Guardian pulled the original version. Any changes, however, were merely clarifications, she asserted, because nothing in the original had been inaccurate.
To add to the mix, Skinsiders forwarded me an email that shows that Wired still had a major beef with the revised column. The company's PR director, Andrew DeVries, complained in the message that "there are still several points about this story that are highly inaccurate" and that ex-Wired writer Biggs had "an ax to grind." The email also referred to the Guardian as the "thought police" and called its actions regarding the Biggs piece "a scary form of journalism." I haven't yet heard of a response, but the column remains up as-is today. The flying fur has subsided, for now...
Now that the Super Bowl has subsided as well, sources in San Diego unearthed an industry huff between the organizers of the Demo conference and the Internet Showcase. In charge of Showcase is tech pundit David Coursey, who used to be the Demo man. In jumping from one ship to the other, he has apparently left behind some bad blood. Both shows have stipulated to each of their exhibitors that they must agree not to buy space at the other competing show, according to my people at the Showcase showdown last week. So much for open industry standards.
Back by the Bay, Sun CEO Scott McNealy has gone forth again to procreate. Not satisfied with one roustabout on which to practice the zingy one-liners he tosses about with aplomb, Papa Scott and madame were expecting a second bundle of joy this past weekend. McNealy made the announcement at the first day of the Sun annual analysts' conference, apologizing in advance if he were to run out and hail a cab at a moment's notice.
Scott had dubbed his latest "T-Bone" in utero, according to a Sunside source; I doubt the name will stick. Given that the wife went into false labor a couple of weeks ago, the DuBauds wish the McNealys nothing but good health and the best this time around. Best of luck with the college tuition! Let us know when the kid is ready to give up the skinny. Whether you're five days or fifty years old, your rumors are my bundle of joy. Send them in: I will hug them, love them, and name them George.