Why Exclusive Info is Dangerous

This post is a fairly serious one and it talks about my personal viewpoint when it comes to exclusive info and things like “scoops”. I hope it’ll offer some insight from this blogger’s perspective on why certain things have to be done the way they are and why secrecy is important (along with some arguments for it).

It’s a topic that has irritated me extremely to no end.

As a student, I’ve always been taught to cite my sources when it comes to papers or projects. I know that Syd would otherwise agree otherwise I’d be screwed over for plagiarism reasons. But this isn’t the same type of sources we’re talking about.

No, I’m referring to informational sources. People with inside and exclusive information about things that not everyone (such as the public) can know at the moment.

Before I continue, I need to make a disclosure and a disclaimer.

Disclosure: In case you didn’t already know, I’m a regular columnist for wow.com. I contribute their Raid Rx and Spiritual Guidance columns.

Disclaimer: My perspective does not represent any part of the wow.com staff, it’s affiliates, owners, or anyone related to the organizations therein. They’re just my own.

Wow.com has recently run a few questionable stories. A lot of players were skeptical about some of the stuff they had been reading and some even go as far as to harassing a few writers about where they hear this information from.

Now skepticism is good. Don’t get me wrong. I encourage everyone to really think about what they’re reading, where it’s from, and it’s reliability. Last thing that I’d want to happen is to see anyone falling for anything and being humiliated over their gullibility. What really annoys me is being asked to list who gave out the information that we know.

Honestly, do you really think naming a source is going to change your thoughts or feelings on that? Whether you believe it or not is entirely up to you and I don’t know how saying that Joe Smith from marketing told me is going to make that any more believable.

Even if I stated something as outrageous as Pandaren and Murlocs being playable and reported that it was none other than Ghostcrawler himself that e-mailed me that? It wouldn’t fly anyway.

So if you think that the favourite news site you go to for information (I don’t care if it’s wow.com, wowraid.com, MMO Champion, World of Raids or what have you) is lying to you, please consider the following before making a request to name where the juicy gossip comes from.

Reputation is on the line. You know, contrary to popular belief, no site wants to be known as full of lying crap. It’s against their interest. There is no viable reason why I as a blogger would want to lie to you. We’re not out to get you. If there’s some cool stuff out there that can be reported, it will be reported. If a site gets it’s information wrong, or worse intentionally lies to get traffic hits, that’s a line where once crossed it is difficult to get back. We want you guys as readers and fans. We want to share the information, the exclusives and the scoops. And if the sites are wrong, the internet will have a field day. Everyone likes to “rub it in”. It’s a big risk to the reporting site if they misinterpret or misread something.

Careers are at stake. Can’t remember where I got this from. It caught my eye on my Twitter timeline. USA Today (a news organization) has a policy section on the use of unnamed sources. It’s a great list and it displays the rules that their reporters and journalists are bound under. You can bet that most other news sites will have something similar to this. I don’t think gaming news sites have anything as detailed but you can bet there is serious editorial oversight especially when it comes to reporting information from a source that specifically asks not to be named. I respect and understand the policy that reporters should do what they can to name where they get information from.

But if someone’s job is on the line, that there is an ethical line that I am personally not willing to cross. Given the option between disbelief at information or accusations of lying versus the surefire termination of someone’s job? I’ll take the former. I cannot in good conscience condemn someone to lose their job because a bunch of people want to know who my source is. It doesn’t matter to me. If it were me, the fact that I am willing to report what I hear on a large news organization should already speak volumes about how trustworthy that information is. It’s not like every tip or lead is followed up on everytime an email is received.

The USA Today policy says to be as specific and as precise as possible. Understand that it is well within the realm of reason that anything more revealing than “anonymous source” could be enough to fry someone. These are real people with real jobs and real families. Don’t lose that perspective.

If permission was given to release a name, a position or job title, it wouldn’t be a problem. Sadly that’s nearly never the case.

Think about pot odds. It’s a poker term that doesn’t really mean anything in this context. But probability plays an effect here. The hockey rumor site run by Eklund over at Hockeybuzz is an example I’d point to. Eklund uses a 5 point system to assess the strength of the trade rumors he hears concerning hockey.

Here’s a quick example. It’s not the actual way it’s done, but it gives you an idea.

  • E1: 1 reliable source that’s not related to the players or teams involved.
  • E2: More than one E1’s. Different people from different teams.
  • E3: A source that is directly related to the players and teams involved.
  • E4: More than one source with ties to players or teams involved.
  • E5: Deal is 100% complete and is awaiting announcement.

That system is used as an indicator as to where and at what level the information that Eklund receives should ranked at. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be true. Sometimes deals change.

In the WoW context, if one major site reports something, it could be a mistake or it could be wrong. If multiple sites report something at around the same time, you can bet that something’s up. I don’t suspect every player in this business is using the same set of sources that the other guy is using. I don’t actually know. I’m not important enough to warrant any and I’m not a big enough fish in the pond to get first crack at stuff.

By that same token, when one organization hears from multiple sources that are close enough to the situation at hand, then something is up and it warrants investigation. If the sources are gold, expect to hear about it. There’s a lot of oversight involved when it comes to breaking news like this. Everything gets triple checked. Every bush is beaten, every tree gets shaken.

Anyway, that’s my viewpoint on the whole matter. I will never compromise anyone’s life or career like that. And I won’t lie, the job does suck. You know of some cool feature or storyline coming up and you really want to share it. But you can’t. Because someone else gets screwed. That kills the joy in it. I don’t normally break news. I love doing speculations and stuff and that will be labeled clearly. But unless I get the greenlight to break something, I won’t. It’s the job of the big news sites to tell you what they they know (within reason). They don’t have to tell you where. You don’t shoot your only milk producing cow. Otherwise you don’t get any more milk.

Why get the one guy who’s willing to share juicy insider information fired? The chances of getting access to such insider stuff would essentially be shot down to 0. No one would want to ever talk to me again if I did something like that. That would place me at a disadvantage to my “competition”.

I sure as hell would never tell you guys that Hogger’s mustache told me that Zul’Drak is getting a new raid level instance.

(I might have made up that entire last line).

(Or did I?…)

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.