The sordid tale of cash for comment that has embroiled up and coming teen blogger Daniel Brusilovsky and TechCrunch has the tech blogosphere engrossed this week, but it’s time someone threw Daniel a bone.
If you’ve missed the story so far, check out TechCrunch sacks 17-year-old intern for trading toys for coverage and TechCrunch and its lost Teachable Moment for more; the short story is that Daniel has been sacked from TechCrunch for allegedly asking for a laptop in return to write a post about a startup.
It always staggered me that Daniel (I’m going to use his first name in this post because his last name is too hard to get right each time, besides pronouncing it) ended up writing for TechCrunch to begin with. He appears to be a smart kid, and without doubt a pretty solid self promoter. But the key here is that his fame, and rise to the halls of TechCrunch came about because of his ability to self promote, vs any actual real world experience in writing, be it as a blogger, journalist or combination there in.
But lets put that experience in context: he’s 16-17 (a kid,) and he came to online fame via a post on TechCrunch which swallowed Daniel’s spin that a basic WordPress MU install with a handful of users was an amazing teenage startup that would change the world.
People in glass houses
If we accept the laptop for content claim as real (and as Mark Hopkins points out, we haven’t heard Daniel’s side yet) Daniel is guilty of greed. That greed though isn’t something that is unique to Daniel, and anyone who suggests that it is unique has never worked in the tech blogosphere before (journalism isn’t any better I’d note.)
The reality is, and always has been that the content wheels of Silicon Valley have always been greased by freebie and favor. That could be something as simple as free drinks or a free meal, and can go as far as freebies from basic promotional material through to free to-keep products. Lets also not forget one of my favorites (I only managed one free trip to the US in my time): free travel. It can also mean access: Valley startups have always been picky on access, giving it to those who are more favorable to them.
There may be nothing wrong with most of that, but it begs the question: at which point is the editorial compromised by the facilitation of freebie or favor?
Daniel’s mistake was that as an inexperienced kid, he didn’t understand the subtleties of the system. A couple of years older and he’d know you don’t ask for something upfront, and asking for a Macbook Air is full blown greedy; but likewise he was thrown into that system and saw that everyone else was getting something, and he wanted his slice as well.
What Daniel did (if true) was wrong, but lets not confuse one point: he is not the aggressor here, he is the victim. He is a victim of a system that is no place for kids, let alone a place for those with a faint heart and any serious moral basis. I’ve slept so much better at night since I walked away from it, and I know others who feel exactly the same. There are those inside the system who have families to feed, and I don’t blame them either, but lets not lose site of the bigger picture.
If anything good comes of this, it should be a serious look at ethics within journalism and by extension blogging. What happens in blogging now is really just an extension of what has gone on in journalism for the last 100 years; that doesn’t excuse it, but to note that the problem is one ingrained in reporting of all sorts.
I don’t know Daniel, and I’ve never particularly liked what he had been doing, but I’m willing to throw the kid a bone on simple fairness, and that I actually feel sorry for him. Your career (as some have suggested) should never be over at 16, and we all make mistakes.
I hope those mentoring Daniel (and I know there have been some solid people previously helping him) give him the support he needs at this difficult time, and that having learned a lesson he may return a better person to the tech space.