Because I know you’re dying to know: here’s how I’d have handled the Bitcoin story
March 7th, 2014
Newsweek could have had the best magazine relaunch in recent memory today. Instead, no matter whether they turn out to have found the creator of Bitcoin or not, they fucked up the story. AP is the hero of the hour now, and Newsweek is the villain.
I get it. They panicked. They had what they were sure was the story — but they couldn’t quite lock it down. The guy wouldn’t confess.
But relaunch date is this week. This is it: their big splash. The story that puts Newsweek back on the map.
Unless it’s wrong.
But it can’t be. This is the guy. Has to be. He near as dammit admitted it.
It’s an agonising decision for an editor to have to make: hold the story until it’s locked down and risk losing the scoop of the year, or run what you have?
Here’s what I would have done: I’d have held the story.No question.
I’d have held the story, and then encouraged the reporter to send Nakamoto a registered letter. In it, they’d lay out our evidence. We’re publishing in a week, the letter would say, but we don’t want to get the story wrong. We know you value your privacy, so how about this: I’ll come to your home at a time that suits you, we’ll go for lunch to a safe, public place and you can tell me the whole story. I’ll then publish the first exclusive interview with the real man behind Bitcoin — let the world understand the man behind this remarkable invention. But what I won’t do is publish any information that might lead to you being identified. Won’t describe you in any distinct way, won’t even say what state you live in. Deal? Here’s my number, please give me a call. Otherwise I’ll try you in a few days.
And then we’d have waited. No one else was close. This guy wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t going to run. There’s every chance, if he’s the guy, he’d agree to the sit-down. You can always publish later.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is a hell of a scoop. And this relaunch issue is really important for Newsweek. But I’d still have held the story. Not because Pando has only ever published stories that are locked down. Not because we’ve never taken a risk, or made a mistake.
I’d have held it for two very simple reasons…
1) If the story is wrong, or even if it’s right, a guy could be killed. At the very least, his quiet life is ruined. No cover splash is worth that risk. You’ve got to give the guy a chance to stay anonymous. It would still be a gigantic scoop. Now, best case scenario, Nakamoto is the Bitcoin guy and Newsweek is embarrassed. Worst case doesn’t bear thinking about.
2) This is the Bitcoin community you’re dealing with. Hacktivists, Redditors, doxxers. Whatever the truth of the story, you doxx the guy who invested Bitcoin and your week is about to get very, very annoying. I genuinely feel bad for Newsweek’s Leah Goodman who said earlier that she had only just learned the meaning of the word “doxx”. I fear she’ll be much more familiar with it soon. Newsweek just hung their reporter out to dry because they needed a big relaunch splash. Whoever Goodman’s editor is should be ashamed of his or herself tonight. You just don’t put a reporter in this position.
Relaunch issues fuck with editors’ brains. When the New Republic relaunched, Chris Hughes lost his nerve at the last minute and canned Steve Brill’s incredible “Bitter Pill” story in favour of a presidential handjob. Time got all the glory, and the circulation boost. At least no one got hurt. This time it’s Newsweek who handed a rival — the AP — a huge story (the first interview with Nakamoto!) while covering themselves in ten tons of shit.
Tomorrow’s grand Newsweek relaunch party at SXSW is going to be interesting.