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?…)

Error, no group ID set! Check your syntax!
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.

Comments

  1. Suicidal Zebra says:

    I take your point when it comes to outing anonymous sources in that they certainly shouldn’t be published in the vast majority of cases (and this certainly isn’t a case where they should be). My issues stem from the article itself.

    Adam Holisky’s scoop really has no journalistic value, it amounts to saying ‘we heard it from multiple people but we can present no additional evidence at this time’. We learn absolutely nothing new and it’s written under the assumption that his word as a reporter has value in itself. No offence to Adam, but it doesn’t. The entire ~150 blog post is structured like the worst sort of hit-whoring that a for-profit reporting service can do: ‘confirmation’ with no new evidence and an easy out if it turns out not to be true (our anonymous source was ‘wrong’). This ‘sources close to the person in question’ is the same sort of rumour-mongering that has caused DC Insider press to take a reputation hit in recent years and makes weekly gossip rags an absolute joke.

    Until new evidence could be presented Wow.com would’ve been better served to continue to let the story run as implied but never outright stated. Yes, they may be a little late to the party, but in my mind it’s better to garner a reputation for evidence based accuracy and thorough reporting than the alternative. Unless, that is, WoW.com wants to be the Warcraft version of Drudge Report.

  2. “But if someone’s job is on the line, that there is an ethical line that I am personally not willing to cross.”

    Good for you, Matt. However, there is another option available to you: not reporting the story. It’s not like we’re talking treason or secrets which are harmful to the public here.

    The thing is that you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to report gossip, but you’re unwilling to back that gossip up with sources. Instead of doing the right thing, which is staying quiet until you can convince someone to go on the record, you chose to throw up some fluff about being concerned about other people’s jobs.

    And there are consequences to this. Look at a modern newspaper. It’s pretty much entirely anonymous sources spinning each other. Government departments conducting turf wars in the press. Anonymous sources are something which need to be used with care, and used sparingly. And Blizzard’s plans for their next expansion simply are not important to warrant their use.
    .-= Rohan´s last blog ..Simplifying PvE Retribution =-.

  3. wow.com is a pile of crap and meaningless garbage filled with content lifted from mmo-champion and other spots as their own, by mediocre raiders at best.

  4. Zebra suicidal said exactly what I was thinking. We learn absolutely nothing new. Whether wow.com can confirm or not doesn’t matter, until Blizzard confirms something, people will still be sceptical. Even those people that say they believe in Wow.com’s reporting, they still will not be 100% until the announcements.

    Rohan also said it perfectly. There is always another option: not reporting the story. Honestly, just let the story go with the flow. The only thing Wow.com has done is deplete their reputation of an up-to-date trustworthy resource. And seriously, what happens if they’re wrong? It will be such a discredit to what they have worked so hard to build: an excellent wow resource.

    “You don’t shoot your only milk producing cow. Otherwise you don’t get any more milk.” – Sure, but I’d like to know that the milk that said cow is producing isn’t sour before I start drinking…

    I believe there is no difference between the sources you have distinguished as ‘informational’ and the ones you write on your papers. I too am a student plagued with citing my original sources, and I believe these are informational. If only exclusive content is informational, what is normal content? Non-informing?

    I do believe, as a business, Wow.com has done the right thing, they’ve caused a stir, they’ve caused controversy, but they’re getting a butt-load of page-views. And any publicity is good publicity right? Judging by the content of this post I can’t help but think your intentions are the same.

  5. The whole “insider source” angle makes the article sound bad. Even if it’s true, they need to STFU and play it like an ace in the hole, not use it to add some desperately wanted legitimacy to news another site broke weeks ago. We’re going into another xpac development stage, and this isn’t the attitude towards breaking news I want to see. Boubouille gets his data from bluetracking and datamining, publishes it before anyone else, and he doesn’t try or need to back up his “sources.”

    I know your hat is in the ring with WoW.com Matt, but they need to stop trying so hard, and play to their strengths – corporate backing and a large but shallow community.

  6. “Why get the one guy who’s willing to share juicy insider information fired?”

    Maybe because you are participating in his utter lack of ethics? You talk about not crossing ethical lines, but to publish information that you know Blizzard does not want public and was leaked without authorization (as opposed to “leaked” with authorization) is no better than stealing.

    The problem I have with anonymous sources is their information rarely is in the public’s wellbeing (and can’t be when the subject is Blizzard) and frequently actually hurt the public’s wellbeing.

    If you actually had journalistic integrity, you wouldn’t run stories that you couldn’t name sources on.

  7. Well I’m not really bothered about this argument, I hardly ever visit wow.com but after this article I bet that Joe Smith from marketing is now being watched by his bosses 😀

  8. It doesn’t really effect anyone if wow.com decides to leak information about the game. You can choose whether or not to read stories there. Writers that have Blizzard contacts can either choose to leak information or they can choose not to. However, if they are talking about things other people have been talking about for a while, then at that point it’s not even really news, and then it’s not even worth people being upset at the writer over.

    Basically, it comes down to a quote from the “Fight club” movie: “The first rule of fight club is there is no fight club.” In WoW, if you know things you aren’t supposed to know, you can either choose to tell people or not, but if you reveal your sources, you do more harm than good. For example, when you participate in Alpha testing, you are under an NDA, and so it’s better if you remember that: “the first rule of aplha club is that there is no alpha club,” because if you screw up, it’s your sponsor that pays the price with his or her job. Sometimes, it’s better just to keep secrets from people.

    However, when you are a prominent news source, it’s really hard to keep the content secret, and when it’s already common rumor, it doesn’t hurt anything to restate it. Sometimes it’s better just to let it out and protect your source, because half the people still won’t believe you anyway. Being able to scoop information and know things others don’t know is actually a lot of fun. If you don’t like spoilers, then avoid reading sources that release spoilers. It’s that simple. No one is going to get their friends fired from their jobs, and asking the wow.com writers to get their friends fired is just ridiculous.

  9. Christopher Schmidt says:

    “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.”

    Unless it’s reporting that there will be 31 bosses in Icecrown?

    In general, I don’t see the problem with Adam’s article, and I think people complaining about it are out of line. Adam is stating “We have insider information on this topic now” — something that no one claimed before. Data mining and having a human contact are two different things. Saying that they’re the same is silly. With mmo-champion’s “new halloween masks”, it was simple to understand the source — and there’s nothing there that indicates that data points *only* to new races. With wow.com’s post, you have to consider whether you trust the reporters/bloggers. If you don’t, fine, but that doesn’t make the news not-newsworthy.

  10. Matt, what you’re describing hints at a very basic journalistic procedure, the protection of anonymous sources. I wouldn’t expect random commenters to have any comprehension of how a profession (other than their own) works. There’s a very good reason that traditional print media don’t let every person who writes a letter to the editor set their policy.

    That said, I do think WoW.com needs to watch its plagiarizing tendencies. I’ve seen material from blogs lifted without citing, and that’s not cool at all. There’s a difference in the two types of neglecting to name a source. In my observation they’ve gotten better about this since the shift to WoW.com, but I don’t read them as often as I used to.

  11. “If you don’t, fine, but that doesn’t make the news not-newsworthy.”
    Actually it does, assuming that the majority of readers doesn’t get anything new out of it. (Which I can neither confirm nor deny)

    My main issue with the post is that it contains no information whatsoever on how trustworthy these sources are. “Sources close to the situation” could literally be anyone. And the whole “after the break” spiel for zero information that hasn’t been on their front page before, alluring to a huge leak? Lame.

    A simple “sources that we trust but can’t name have revealed that the rumour about Goblins and Worgen being the new races is, in fact, true” would have been fine. But no, they have to stretch it into a two parter with 0 information.

    Completely irrelevant aside: Fight Club very much exists, you just don’t talk about it. So much for citing correctly 😉

    Edit: I have to absolutely agree with Sydera on both points though. Just keep in mind that a good journalist won’t make a story out of thin air. (Many do, but I don’t consider them good ;))
    .-= scrusi´s last blog ..You can pry these 40 bucks from my cold, dead hands =-.

  12. I don’t have a problem with the story per se. If the story turns out to be inaccurate, wow.com’s credibility is tarnished with the community and once that happens, it is something that they will never be able to repair completely.

    For that reason, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Holisky’s story and congratulate him on the fine scoop (although, whether or not wow.com was the ‘first’ to report it is pretty subjective considering mmo-champ speculated on the races a while ago. But it was at least reported there as speculation, not as fact like it was on wow.com.)

    Anyway, your blog post was a great read as always Matt.

  13. Apparently WoW.com readers don’t read the NY Times or the Washington Post very often. They’re just mad that the mask-based speculation was right, because they thought it was a stupid way to determine the new races at the time. And now they’re even closer to being proven wrong, and they’re throwing a Cheney-esque fit about anonymous sources.

  14. Yup, Sydera is spot on here. It has to do with reputation. Wow.com is getting called out on stuff because it’s been guilty of plagiarizing an uncountable number of times. Wow.com’s comment section being mean spirited didn’t happen over night. They created the monster themselves.

    The reality is whether it’s true or not, most believe that Wow.com gets it’s “insider” information the same way as the rest of us…. from mmo-champion.com, worldofraids.com and similar sites.
    .-= Veneretio´s last blog ..Over Taunting isn’t just Bad Manners anymore =-.

  15. @Veneretio – Whether or not people believe in wow.com’s sources, it’s not that hard to develop contacts within Blizzard entertainment. Their company is huge, and right now, if they are planning to release new races at Blizzcon, they have to already started things like printing all the promotional stuff and making video clips for their announcements, and so forth (likely even programming content for the next expansion, since they plan things a long time in advance).

    Even people as insignificant as myself have had to keep secrets before & not tell people things I desperately wanted to share. I know wow.com has to have insider links with Blizzard people that they’ve developed relationships with over the years, because that’s what news sites like that do. I know wow.com has employed at least one person who used to work at Blizzard as a GM, and even GMs can make contacts with other people in other departments much more in the “know”. Just because people don’t want to believe them, and sometimes they do things to make themselves seem less reputable, it doesn’t make them any less right. The last 2 races got leaked way before they were officially announced just based off people guessing or leaking info. It wouldn’t surprise me if articles like this were true.
    .-= Lissanna´s last blog ..Onyxia deep breaths more in 3.2.2? =-.

  16. This is actually why I hate reading blogs before writing my own posts. All too often I’ll have a thought or idea stewing in my head, and then see that someone else posted on a similar topic. Now I risk looking like I swiped their material, or at best just borrowed their idea. This is why I try and stick to theorycrafting, guild notes, and my own personal thoughts and musings.
    .-= Adgamorix´s last blog ..Some thoughts on ToC =-.

  17. The problem with trusting anything from wow.com is that they’ve been known for their unreliable reporting before (see: the whole “Your account can be hacked with an authenticator” debacle.)

    They shouldn’t be announcing something as “confirmed” until Blizzard actually confirms it, until then it should be treated as rumor.

  18. I have to add… If I see another “around azeroth” artical … i.. I.. I … well I should… well I don’t know… ok I’ll quit visiting that site.

    pile of shit.

  19. The real problem is more that news regarding Warcraft falls into three categories:

    – Data-mining
    – Blue Post Recycling
    – Speculation

    It’s hard to make a real news website out of these, especially when the biggest source of news is readily available to readers through Blizzard’s own website.

    Websites like MMO-champ do thier business by filtering out the crap and showing you the important stuff as well as doing the Azerothian equivilent of investigative journalism. The only informer is the game client itself.

    What websites like WoW.com do, which is something I admire in a wierd way, is take the very business like manner of WoW news reporting and try and spice it up.

    I honestly think that most of the reporting on that site is somewhat good-natured and honest, but when you ham it up as much as they do you’re bound to make a slip up and sound more serious than you are.

    As for plaguerism, when I used to write for the Warcry WoW site I found that it was damn near impossible to ‘break’ a story when we’re all getting our news from the same source. I got lucky once finding some screenshots and details from the Headless Horseman encounter on the Test Realm forums days before other news sites, but even then I was just rehasing (and crediting) some random player on the forums.

    So at the end of the day, I think that the nature of WoW news makes it nearly impossible for the same rules of journalistic integrity to exist as do in real life.

    That said, how often have we really gotten ‘zomginsiderinfo’ from a source at Blizzard? They’ve got us eating out of thier hands!
    .-= Criseyde´s last blog ..Onyxia to return, DOTs suddenly in demand! =-.

  20. The only reason this is even a controversy is because a lot of the commenters on wow.com are just above the level of trolls. A big company like Blizzard knows that there will be leaks here and there, and this is no different than all the “anonymous sources close to the situation” in the government who get cited by The New York Times, Drudge Report, etc. The fact that a number of anonymous sources confirmed the new races in Cataclysm almost leads me to believe this was a planned pre-Blizzcon leak on Blizzard’s part. However, they are not going to come public with confirmed information until Blizzcon, which is why they can keep such high demand for tickets for the convention.

    And again, most of the people with problems don’t understand the ethics or real life consequences of journalism…they just hate Adam because (a) they do not like the news, or (b) they are jealous of his inside sources. The playerbase does not understand that it is better to have anonymous information than none at all, so kudos to wow.com for putting up with these people.
    .-= DFitz´s last blog ..The Spirit of Kindness: Pay It Forward =-.

  21. If you don’t trust a site and what they post as news, don’t go there for information. If wow.com posted this not as a rumor, but as confirmed news, I don’t care if they report the sources or not, I trust them enough to know they wouldn’t put it out there for nothing.
    Can they make mistakes still? Yeah, of course.
    In fact, maybe all those sources are actually leaking bogus info on purpose, and we’ll all get really surprised at the news from Blizzcon. Maybe the sources are legitimate, but the info is not. There’s no way of knowing. If the leak is intentionally false, I’m gonna guess wow.com is falling for that too.
    If it turns out the information is false and we learn wow.com knew it was not legit, but posted it for some other reason, like to be a part of the whole red herring, then we should reconsider our trust and perhaps stop visiting that site.
    Until then, if they say that’s confirmed news from good sources, I dont care if they name them or not, I’ll choose to trust them – and complain that the Horde didnt get the worgen! Unless the goblins get a racial that earns them 10% more gold from mobs – because then I’m rolling one for myself!
    .-= Wangari´s last blog ..Fast Finger Action =-.

  22. Bloggers are not journalists. The end.

    Wow.com is not a ‘news’ site, it’s a blog. The end.

    Get your news from the front page of the official site. Everything else is commentary, opinion and rumor.
    .-= Petal´s last blog ..RAF Update! =-.

  23. Canegardriene says:

    I already know that Zul’drak will have a raid instance.

    Vanilla has/had one
    Burning Crusade has/had one

    WotLK already has a full zone dedicated to trolls and their animal gods. Only some of the lore exsisting and/or potential has been realized. Trolls are a big part of a different evil in WoW, the Trolls in ZD specfically fight with the scourge(some not all)

    Ultimately its one of those things that everyone feels and knows will come.

  24. @ Lissanna

    You seem to be stating News reporting websites shouldn’t hold any responsibility for what they post and that they should post anything they hear regardless of authenticity or reliability of sources?

    You also seem to be of the opinion “You don’t trust their stories? Don’t read them” which is an incorrect attitude to take. I don’t read many of my countries newspapers but still end up hearing about some of the ridiculous stories in them. What I’m saying is even though I don’t read Wow.com I still end up hearing of their stories as speculation and stories spread from one unreliable source to another.

  25. I completely agree with Matt on this point.

    One of the things I’ve noticed as my blog has grown is that the “blowhard commentor factor” grows along with your blog exponentially. I realize that WoW.com has problems, but I blame most of the nasty comments on the fact that WoW.com is the biggest fish in the sea. We all know that people like to tear down the leader and call him an idiot.

    I also think a lot of the nay sayers miss read WoW.com’s post. Many of the people I saw saying that WoW.com was wrong are people seemed to think that WoW.com was using MMO-Champion as its source, when the post clearly says that that many people speculated that they were two new races and linked MMO-champion as a source of that speculation.
    .-= Graylo´s last blog ..Patch Notes 3.2.2 =-.

  26. @ Cat – I think Petal had a really good point about wow.com being a blog and not actually a journalistic news site.

    It doesn’t bother me what wow.com does or doesn’t post about because they’re basically just a blog and not the New York Times or Blizzard’s official website…. Also, print media that claims to be actual news publishes all sorts of dumb and untrue junk all the time. I’m just saying that you can choose to trust the National Inquirer, drudge report, or the New York Time’s stories, or you can choose not to. Information sources can decide how reliable and respectable they want to be. I’ve seen news stands in the grocery store say the most horrible things about people, and fake things that are obviously not true. There are also more reputable sources that have more integrity and don’t purposefully publish false information. The public doesn’t get to decide how reliable or respectable they are, they are basically allowed to build or destroy their own reputations as they feel fit.

    However, there are times where it’s more respectable to not reveal who your source is… like when revealing your source would get them fired from their jobs and cause the person who gave you the great story tip to live in a cardboard box on the side of the road…

  27. “Apparently WoW.com readers don’t read the NY Times or the Washington Post very often”

    heh byron actually it’s because of the NYT and Wash Post, and NY Post, Star Trib, LA times, and others, over the past decade that I’m sick of anonymous sources. The Sulzbergers have run it into the ground. Any time the NYT wants to publish a hit piece on some politician their editors don’t like, they drudge up an anonymous souce who agrees with them. The most ridiculous stuff gets printed right on the front pages with no evidence but rumors.

    A whistleblower and a disgruntled employee are two different things, but some newspapers that used to be the most respected don’t seem to understand that.

  28. @Petal

    Exactly, and WoW.com is all-too-quick use “we’re not a news site” as an excuse when they wrongly report something or have a questionable opinion piece.

    The vast majority of WoW.com’s posts aren’t news, keep in mind, because as others have said, it’s very difficult to break news on a game that auto-tracks developer forum posts and data-mined incessantly. Just an example of topics they cover:

    – EIGHTEEN separate posts about preparing for Blizzcon 09 (really, we needed that many?)
    – A weekly gossip column that links to drama on guilds’ forums
    – A screenshot and machinima of the day
    – “Guides” for just about everything, such as leveling your Druid to level six, or new gear for Warriors from the new 5-man.

    I actually believe Adam when he says he has reliable sources, but ultimately it came of as just a way to attract attention to their site.

Speak Your Mind

*