This past week, the shady dealings of Palluxo were exposed to the Mac community by Phillip Elmer-DeWitt, author of the Apple 2.0 blog on CNN.com. It turns out that Palluxo not only steals original content, but the company also spreads false rumors about Steve Jobs. The post sparked a debate in the comments. Here are two opposing views. First, from Simon Turner:
If the story is so silly – which it obviously is – why are you dignifying it by repeating it? I would have expected Fortune to be above the usual “having it both ways” media BS. Disappointing.
Second from Dan Butterfield:
By calling BS on a site for consistently lighting these matches, PED [Philip Elmer-DeWitt] is alerting readers, blogs, journalists, news services, et. al. that they’re being played by Palluxo. “Consider the source” is a journalism golden rule. PED’s post is a clarion call for other news organizations to do just that … consider the source, and if you’re being played call BS.
So, what should we do? Lay silent and let silliness be, or proclaim that we've been scammed by a false media organization? Because of the role of reputations in doing business, I strongly encourage crying foul. In fact, Palluxo is a great example for how crying foul can work.
In online news, the reputation of your news source is as important as the content on the site -- at least for initially visiting a site. If you see a source you distrust, you don't listen to it, you don't click through to the next level and you do not take that source seriously. Reputations are important. This is why many people read the New York Times -- it's a source people trust. The Times has a well-established reputation and that reputation is valuable.
So, what can emerging news organizations -- ones without well-established reputations -- do to grow their audience? Palluxo's ill-advised strategy was to publish headlines that no one else would dare to publish. Doing so would garner attention. The more shocking the headlines, the more attention the headline grabs. The trouble is that these headlines were made up.
By consistently publishing false rumors and stealing original content, Palluxo developed a reputation for shady dealings. As this reputation spreads, fewer people will click on links that say Palluxo because Palluxo is a synonym for false or stolen information. If we just let silliness be, people will discover more slowly that Palluxo does not actually provide expert commentary. And, Palluxo will get more traffic in the long run.
When ordinary people are in the dark about a company's intentions, that company can get away with lying and cheating. Subversive companies like Palluxo thrive on this darkness and the lack of a well-formed reputation. That's why one of the best remedies is light. Let people know who scammed you. If they do the same, everyone will be scammed less frequently.
If you are an emerging news organization, know this: your actions today will determine your reputation tomorrow. You have a choice over what reputation you cultivate. Don't be the next Palluxo.