Saturday, January 29, 2011

Twitter Twerps Drama: The VegasTripping Whine

I know I should let this go. I know it. And maybe I'll wise up and not post this once I write it. But I can't help it.

Chuck from VegasTripping is a terrific guy, a wonderfully talented writer and an important figure on the Vegas web world. But this week he also showed himself to be quite petulant and blinded by frustration.

You see, Chuck rightfully notes that he began picking on Twitter Twerps Bill Cody and Chris Rauschnot ages ago. Now that it required my Las Vegas Weekly column to really take the big tug on the string that is unraveling the Twitter Twerps' outrageous scam, Chuck is so pissed off that he can't help but to lash out at me and accuse me of all sorts of inane, ridiculous and nefarious motives. And, in the process, he's dredged up conspiracy theories about the press that I thought were beneath his sophistication.

First, here's an excerpt about me that Chuck wrote in his commentary this week on the Twerps:

And finally, there is the 'slightly less direct than before' approach:

24k: It's @VegasBill's birthday next week. Any #Vegas hotels/venues want to help us celebrate?

Upon seeing the above tweet, local journalist Steve Friess, who played a huge part in legitimizing the Twitter Twins via a supremely nauseating puff piece profile penned for the Las Vegas Weekly last year - suddenly joined the chorus of naysayers and started taking @24k and @VegasBill to task for their antics. So moved was Friess, that he unleashed his Kracken all over @24k's ballsy birthday request right onto THEfacebook where embers of discussion steamed, followed by selective deletions by Rauschnot. This proved to be the last straw for previously supportive Friess, who fired a cannonball across the bow of the S.S.#hashtag wrapped in a mea culpa for his endorsement of The Twitter Twins (née Twerps.)

But before we let Mr. Friess swim away from the T(w)itanic unscathed, pointing fingers at outlines slowly sinking on the poop deck, he needs to bear the weight of his baggage. Steve's talents lie in areas beyond technology, he fastidiously panned Twitter as waste of time until he saw how it affected change during the Iranian protests of June 2009, roughly at about the same time VT called bullshit on the Twitter Twins and their Tweets for Eats scam. I felt then and I still do now that his initial Las Vegas Weekly puff piece was the journalistic equivalent of a comped dinner, show tickets or event access. He opted to not do his homework on their profile piece and instead give them shred of legitimate press credibility which the Twitter Twins pedaled as a USDA stamp of approval. This resulted in a Las Vegas Weekly getting decent amount of traffic to the article (a metric a publisher uses to decides if the author is worth keeping on staff) as well Tweet pimping the authors Twitter handle and his blog. Did Steve pull this punch on purpose? Only he knows.

OK. So. I've no problem whatsoever taking guff for my mistakes, and publicly at that. What drives folks like Chuck nuts, though, is that I -- unlike almost any media figure in Vegas -- often take myself to task before others get to go at it. It defuses the power of their attacks and leaves them sputtering -- see above excerpt -- but that's not why I do it. I do it because I expect the same accountability from myself that I demand from other media folks. If I cannot openly state when I've failed, how can I ever hope that Sherm Frederick, Steve Sebelius, Jon Ralston or any number of other self-righteous and thin-skinned buffoons will do the same? (They never do, of course, but oh well.)

It so happens that Chuck was on the Vegas Gang podcast earlier this month telegraphing to the world that he had an expose planned for the Twitter Twerps. I don't deny this played a role in the timing of my column after I heard the show last week. I had been thinking quite a lot about this problem, that I had laid a rancid doody out there a few months ago and I needed to clean up after myself sooner or later. But I hadn't really been paying attention to Cody or Rauschnot since August because I was a little busy covering a major national election and a resort opening.

I don't keep as careful tabs on what everyone is saying on the Vegas Twitterverse as I should. I acknowledge that, but there's just so much going on there and elsewhere and it's easy to overlook things that flow by. So it was fortunate when I did spot early in January a @VegasBill tweet that crassly bullied @StationCasinos over unfollowing them, and my sniffer went up again. That, by the by, was long before I had any idea that Chuck was building his case against the Twerps. It just raised a flag to me.

Then, last week, Chris tweeted his solicitation for birthday goodies for Bill and, combined with hearing later that day about Chuck's forthcoming treatise, it seemed I needed to own up to my mistake sooner than later.

What was my mistake? In short, the original column was a lazy job. Period. I've often argued that the most likely reason for media incompetence is not ideology, greed or malice but laziness. And in this case, I'm guilty. Sometimes we journalists fall in love with a narrative, and as a columnist I get to pick and choose my narratives whimsically. The Twerps' back story was fascinating to me, I liked the idea of New Media figures popping up out of nowhere and gaining credibility and I was aware neither that Twitter numbers can, literally, be bought, nor that there were gauges for Twitter engagement that could disprove their claims of influence.

So I was uninformed and working too fast and went at it from a less skeptical perspective than I should have. And I heard about it from folks who were baffled by my atypical lack of cynicism, but I was obstinate and decided they were just jealous of the Twerps' success.

I doubled down on a bad bet for a while. Then the Station unfollow tweet reasserted the matter in my mind, and Chris lying to me that he wasn't fishing for comps with the birthday tweet really, personally offended me. Did this asshole truly believe I'm that stupid? Yikes. I'd been had. Chuck calls all this "sudden." That's kind of how I roll; I speak up as quickly as I can. I don't hang out for months nursing my grievance and then cry about it when someone cuts me in line.

That's how we came to this week, when the whole thing erupted in spectacular fashion after my column posted.

Chuck's response genuinely confuses me because he, of all people, has commented repeatedly and admiringly over the years about my willingness to take on powerful, influential people and companies. Quite a lot of the stupidity that has fallen from the mouths of Vegas moguls and celebrities that becomes fodder for Chuck's blog emerges from my reporting. In fact, interestingly, Chuck's own commenters seemed willing to give me the benefit of the doubt that Chuck denied me even as they regaled him for the rest of his excellent post.

I thought I'd earned a little more credibility with him than to have it suggested that I wrote the initial column to, uh, spike web traffic and hang onto my column gig. Seriously, that's what he's alleging. Read this part again:

This resulted in a Las Vegas Weekly [sic] getting decent amount of traffic to the article (a metric a publisher uses to decides if the author is worth keeping on staff) as well Tweet pimping the authors Twitter handle and his blog.

It is true, the initial column could have been better researched, better considered. I've admitted that. But to run directly for the Palinesque conclusion that I sold out for some nebulous notion of getting Twitter followers or blog readers or media attention of whatever sort shows that as much as Chuck has developed as a writer and, yes, a journalist, he remains quite a bit out of touch with how actual media operates. Also, it ignores the fact that all it takes for @24k or @VegasBill to pimp your Twitter handle is to re-tweet something they say. Duh.

This part is shockingly ignorant: My August column on Bill and Chris was a gambit to persuade my editor to keep me on? When the hell was I at risk of losing my gig? Doesn't he know that happy puff pieces don't accomplish that anyway, that controversy and drama are what the public finds compelling and gets people talking/reading/commenting? Does he know that in all the years I've been a journalist, no editor has ever even told me what my web traffic was on any single article? I don't have a clue. Fuck, I hardly ever even look at my own blog stats or download data for the podcasts! If I had to guess, the Weekly likes my column because it (usually) gives the publication some gravitas, not because it drives traffic. Weeks like this are just a bonus!

No, Chuck is peeved because he wanted to be the dragon slayer here -- and still fancies he is -- but I snuck in before his long-planned assault could be launched. Didn't anyone wonder how it was possible he could have such a well-considered rant, complete with screen shots and excerpts, up so quickly? He got scooped on his own story which, incidentally, I have been as well on the Vegas Gang, the Stiffs & Georges blog and elsewhere. It's no fun. But if I'm dumb enough to tell the world and/or competitors what big thing I've got coming up, then I guess I'll have to accept the only logical outcome for my stupidity. Them's the breaks.

Here's another thing, big guy. You don't get credit for feeling something. We've seen each other a few times since August and God knows how many blog posts you've written, although not a one about the lameness of my Aug. 18 column. You could've asked me privately -- and I would've told you of my regret if I was up to that point in my process -- or blasted me in public. You didn't. Tough.

Oh, and how do you know what sort of traffic the Las Vegas Weekly got? You chastise me for not doing my digital homework, but did you even look? I'm pretty sure that Aug. 18 piece never cracked the Top 10 for the site and to date has garnered just 5 "recommends" on Facebook and one or two comments. Yet here you state this as fact, as part of the premise for your simplistic media conspiracy argument, and you've got no proof.

Fact is, it required someone who dwells comfortably in both the online and mainstream media worlds to expose the Twerps in full. Chuck may not know this, but I've been called or emailed by publicists for years asking who is real and who isn't in the confusing Web world. That -- and Chuck seems to acknowledge this -- is why my initial column was so harmful, because I put my own considerable credibility behind the Twerps. It's also why this round is so damaging, because I'm pulling the plug and watching these cretins flail as the drain sucks them in.

I admire Chuck immensely. I think it's silly that he modestly suggests he's not much of a journalist or writer. He's outstanding at both, usually. That's why this whine is beneath him. He knows me better than this and he ought to know how journalism works better than this, too. Perhaps he went on this rant specifically knowing I'd react and drive traffic to or awareness of his site? I don't believe that, but it's the logical extension of Chuck's accusations towards me.

Hmmm. So should I post this? Let's see...Oops!


The Celiac Husband said...

I miss Vegas. Warts & all.

Stats. Checking mine daily. Weird habit. Useless really.

BigHoss said...

Can't we all just be friends? This, to me, seems to be a case of two good guys forgetting about the bad guys. Each of your perspectives is valuable in the big picture of this story. Journalists scoop each other all the time, even in the same newsroom. Deal with it. Check your egos and remember why you're writing this stuff in the first place.

Jeff Simpson said...

I read your newest LVW mea culpa column and thought it was a good move on your part. Owning up to your mistakes is a smart practice, especially for someone who likes to hold others' feet to the fire.
I also read Chuck's post on his Vegas Tripping blog and, overall, thought it was excellent. I disagree with him about his guess on your initial motive for your first tweet twerp column -- I think you were amazed at these guys' immense number of followers and how they had come out of nowhere, and you wanted to be one of the first to write about them.
So on that issue, I agree with you.
But on others I think you are in the wrong.
First, I believe you are too quick to resort to name-calling. You wrote about Chuck's supposed anger about your publishing your recent column before Chuck posted his: "But if I'm dumb enough to tell the world and/or competitors what big thing I've got coming up, then I guess I'll have to accept the only logical outcome for my stupidity. Them's the breaks."
Why the words "dumb" and "stupidity"? Were they really necessary? You admitted that his teasing his upcoming post about the twitter twits on the Vegas Gang podcast influenced your decision to revisit your earlier column. Journalism can be a cutthroat business and veteran reporters know not to broadcast their enterprise story ideas or their breaking news stories to their competitors -- that is undeniably true. But to call Chuck dumb and to refer to his mentioning the subject well before he wrote about it as stupidity is over the line -- the civility line.
Same with this graf in the above post: "If I cannot openly state when I've failed, how can I ever hope that Sherm Frederick, Steve Sebelius, Jon Ralston or any number of other self-righteous and thin-skinned buffoons will do the same? (They never do, of course, but oh well.)"
Did you really need to use the words "self-righteous and thin-skinned buffoons"? Ralston and Sebelius are two of the smartest and best journalists in the city and I know they have owned up to errors in the past. As have many others, although that must be news to you as you claim that: "I -- unlike almost any media figure in Vegas -- often take myself to task before others get to go at it."
Good for you for owning up to your errors, but you don't need to claim moral superiority to "almost any media figure in Vegas."
You also displayed a troubling willingness to resort to name-calling in a recent dust-up with Matt O'Brien (after your negative review of his new book turned into a comment-section flame war).
I admire your ability to generate breaking news from your interviews, to recognize stories that others have passed on and to pitch local stories as having national potential. You have a good sense of humor (albeit a sarcastic and snarky one -- like many good journalists).
But I also think you have an mean streak and a sense of superiority that are unbecoming in a professional journalist. If you are great and better than all of your competitors, let others say it for you. Don't tear others down. There's nothing wrong with criticizing a story, but don't resort to name calling. Let people draw their own conclusions.


Jeff... I'll think on what you've said and take it to heart going forward. But I didn't mean the bit about being stupid enough to tell all about my stories as in insult to chuck. I have actually done it, too, as I wrote. ANYone who does that can't complain about it later.

Jeff Simpson said...

Thanks, Steve. I truly believe that your talent speaks for itself -- and so does the lack of talent displayed by some others.

I hope you and Chuck can find common ground in your disdain for the Twitter Twerps, as you called them. Both of you have sharp and insightful voices about the city we love.

John said...

Totally agree with Jeff's post.

Steve, you lost a lot of cred in Vegas Medialand with that first 24k/VegasBill column. Me, who has really nothing to do with that world, have had literally dozens of conversations about it. You were laughed at, a lot. Just accept it and move on.


John, jeff didn't say any of the things you "agreed" with him on. And I think I've shown a willingness to accept responsibility for my work AND explain it. So on more than one count, I fail to see the purpose of your comment. :-(

Anonymous said...

Both Vegas Tripping and the Friess-ster are to be commended, and I, for one, will never use a hash tag again!

Russell said...

You did a good job admitting your past mistake. But then you insult and call Chuck names throughout the column. Real classy move, "big guy". You lost a reader.

David Hellmuth said...

Russell and Jeff: chuck accused steve of being on the take. He said he sold out his column and, essentially, was corrupt. I'd say given that, this is a balanced, overly complimentary response. If you can't see who the injured party is here, you have issues beyond what's here.


David - thanks. I've read this post over and over and find it fascinating that all of my PRAISE for Chuck is overlooked. I'd love to know how many people would be wrongly accused of fraud and then would be this nice, frankly, to the fellow who made the ridiculous, illogical and unfounded claim. I suspect not many.

robertw477 said...

I think we may have jumped the shark with all this twitter sniping. People grow up already! said...

I'm not so sure that I saw both articles as competing. Back in mid-2009, Chuck was already covering the Tweeps:

In the comments on that post, I pointed out how their metrics were not adding up. The story has been building momentum as the Tweeps' popularity grew.

BUT... VT isn't sitting there for free in (seemingly) every store I visit in Las Vegas like The Weekly is. Regardless of Chuck's reach inside the industry, the story needed to be widely distributed.

Since The Weekly isn't banging down Chuck's (nor my, nor most internet publishers) door to write articles for them, and since we don't have their reach, AND since Steve needed to write his own retraction... I think the way this all played out was for the good of the industry.

Side Note: The above shouldn't be read as a comment on Jeff Simpson's present internet-journalism status. Print publications should be banging down his door.

Between both articles, the news reached the widest possible audience. This is not the first time two different writers have covered the same story for different audiences. And at the end of the day, it's not Pulitzer subject matter. Not worth fighting over.

Michael said...

Weighing in late, after the dust up and back and forth, but I'll restate what I put on VT and my thoughts on Steve's rebuttal. (but I'll warn everyone it's worth about 2 cents).

I thought Steve's write up of the Twerps was flawed as Chuck pointed out and can completely understand the description of it being lazy. I can see Chuck's point that it gave them credibility they didn't deserve, but from reading Steve's column and blog for sometime I didn't agree with the question of Steve's integrity. (I think there are some flattering points Chuck makes about your work though in there as well, just not in the twerps case)

To your rebuttal Steve, I definitely read the praise for Chuck's work within the piece, although I also read the emotion and anger over the parts about you in his article and can completely understand it. I've always found you a passionate reporter, and I think it gets in the way at times in situations like this, where perhaps the rebuttal was a bit too emotionally filled, but I get that as I've seen it in your other work and I'm not necessarily convinced that you can separate the use of emotion in your writing and then totally separate yourself from it in a response to something directed at you.

Jeff in OKC said...

I love you, Steve, and I'm a huge fan of you and the rest of the Vegas Internet Mafia. But, it seems like you've fought in Las Vegas more times than Larry Holmes! That isn't something I'm a fan of. I'm afraid it will hurt your journalistic reputation and affect how other journos work with you in the future.

Hopefully challenging situations will work out differently in the future.

seesquared said...

You had me for about two paragraphs, then I found something better to do then finish your article. I love both you and Chuck- but really- who gives a f**k about this, I goto Vegas to have fun an not think about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

So seesquared, you believe in phony media 'experts' should be allowed to do as they please. Not to warrant them on their false sense of credibility as honest people?

Vegas in itself is a lie, and we lie to get you to come here. Lie about how clean your room really is. Lie about and make excuses or drop sorry when everything doesn't pan accordingly to plan. The point being lied to, is that you simply don't adhere or accept that all that is wrong is coincidental and rather accidental.

If i wanted to convince myself that everything is true upon what critics and opinions formed by others through various sites to be absolute facts, then maybe i could convince myself that everyone can be my friend.

The whole arguement, aside from steve saying "my bad, didn't intend to start mini fires with everyone here."

It's a pretty good article, though not everyone will agree.

Anonymous said...

Love the bickering among the Vegas internet mafia. All that's missing is Tim from FHBM whining about something and slurping his fellow hacky Vegas internet friends, lol.