Paywalls cast long shadows over stories. Readers don't want paywalls. They do want transparency.
We'll leave it to others to opine about whether VC-celebrity Paul Graham's comments to the tech website The Information, which I haven't read (for reasons noted below), unveiled some kind of deep sexist sentiment on Graham's part, or whether sexist sentiment is deeply embedded in tech culture writ large and Graham's comments are merely the symptom-du-jour, or whether neither of those claims are true.
Graham said two other important things in his rebuttal to the criticism he's faced after giving his interview to The Information. One, he says that his controversial quote was actually given to the interviewer on background, which means he wasn't expecting to be identified with the quote. Two, he says that if his quote hadn't been changed, his point would have been more clear, and more easily understood.
Excerpts of Graham's interview can be found online, but the only place to find the interview in its full and glorious context is via The Information, a completely paywalled site that charges $40/month for access. That this is a real thing is worth its own discussion at some point.
We don't know if Graham specified that his comments were on background, like he claims. The Information says Graham was "fully informed." If he was speaking on background, he would've been well advised to disallow any recordings of his on-background discussion.
But the tape rolled on, and Graham posted his version of the raw transcript. If true,his quote was clearly changed.The Information "stands behind its excerpting and editing for clarity."The press, often critical of their public-relations counterparts for practicing the "dark arts" of information gatekeeping, are all-too-often willing to dabble in the dark side themselves when it's convenient.
While the community is thrashing about this story, it seems very unlikely the vast majority of commentators have paid the $40 toll to actually read The Information story in context. The total paywall blackout, in this case, has buried the actual issue underneath a conversation of imagined issues, imagined contexts and imagined wrongs. The paywall is hurting the narrative.
We can transmit messages between planets. I can instantly stream a movie from China on my laptop with no planning or delay. Yet news organizations continue to struggle with the basic concept of providing their source material, even in the instances when that material is at the center of a story. Here we have a technology-based news company with a sophisticated website, speaking with one of the world's foremost technology entrepreneurs, and somehow I can't even get a excerpted audio clip or unedited text version of the quotes in question. It's not that we lack a technological solution to this silly problem, it is merely the news industry that isn't interested in this kind of accountability.
Update: After this post was already written, The Information decided to publish a chunk of the interview in question. In the interest of transparency.
One last update: the Editor of The Information followed up with her own thoughts on the story, which are worth considering as well.
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