Trust and spy chips
Remember a few weeks back, when Bloomberg said China had put secret spy chips into hardware used by Amazon and Apple, and everyone involved except Bloomberg said it was total rubbish?
Supermicro’s announcement has me wondering what the hell is going on at Bloomberg.
If I was responsible – or if someone on a team I was managing was responsible – for a story that was widely regarded as untrue, I’d be doing everything I could to make sure my reputation as a trustworthy journalist stayed intact:
- I’d be ‘showing my working’ as much as possible. Even though this story relied on many sources that would never want to be named (for good reason), there are technical details of how this operation would have worked that could – and should – be shared and opened to scrutiny.
- I’d be looking for additional information to back up my story. The fact that Bloomberg and no other outlet has come up with any corroborating information at all in the past two months is a huge red flag.
- If I conceded that the story was in all likelihood false, and I’d been misled or mistaken in my reporting, I’d want to tell my readers as soon as possible. If I was the editor or senior management, I’d want to support the reporters behind the story as much as possible but in the end (and I repeat this mantra all the time) respect for readers is the most important thing. Without it, your publication loses credibility and value.
Holding your hands up to a mistake – even a big one – is a key part of journalism. Outlets focused on spreading misinformation will never do that, but 'real’ journalism is human, and humans make mistakes. And they should own up to them.
I remember the early days of tech blogging, when sites like Engadget fought really hard to be seen as credible, trustworthy sources of information. This meant they wore their ethics on their sleeves. To be seen as deliberately misleading would be an admission that blogs could never match up to the quality of big, established news outlets.
Nowadays, big, heritage news orgs often pick up stories from highly trusted blogs (which often aren’t blogs anymore, but major news orgs owned by venture capitalists or telecoms and media corporations). Those older news sites – Bloomberg included – seem to be relying too heavily on the inherited trust that comes with their brand, and not living up to being trustworthy, at a time when overall trust in the media is in decline.
There’s simply no scope for Bloomberg to stay quiet on what went wrong with this story.