On being a trade news provider

It’s not news to anyone that reads my personal blog that I run Post Status, a “WordPress news” website. It’s essentially your typical trade news publication. It’s my baby though.

One of the things I’ve struggled with over the last year and a half running Post Status is balancing information.

Balancing information

I’m both an “insider” and a news provider. Though I’m not a traditional “journalist”, I do have a responsibility to my readers to share what I know. Simultaneously, in order to sustain my ability to get inside information about the WordPress industry, I also need to maintain good relationships with business owners and influential community members.

WordPress is a huge software application that powers 22% (ish) of the web. But the business economy around it is still small. Most of the people I interact with are the direct business owners I’m writing about. This is different than the larger tech arena, where sources are often insiders, but not primary stakeholders, within organizations.

If I gain exclusive information about a company, I have to decide what degree of information I learn is the right amount of information to publish.

If I know how much the company is sold for, do I share that? If I know there are deeper reasons for a business move than what’s publicly stated, do I share that? What if the news is quite negative for an influential organization, do I share that?

These questions are hard to answer. And as I’ve gotten more and more involved with the community, and as the community matures, I encounter these questions more often. I want to be the news provider that gives all relevant information. I don’t just want to publish puff pieces about products I like; nor do I want to be a constant skeptic.

In the end, I have to trust my gut. I also have to be straightforward with both my audience and the people I’m writing about.

A real world example

A classic example of this struggle occurred recently. A company I respect a tremendous amount, WooThemes, got hit by a serious breach of their website, and they’ve been dealing with it ever since. As soon as I learned about the story, I knew it was my responsibility to inquire with the owners of WooThemes and publish what I knew about the breach.

To say it was a difficult conversation is putting it lightly. After all, this is the same company that I spent a week with in Cape Town, South Africa just six months ago. I also use their products, recommend their eCommerce solution, and consider many of them friends. And here I am, telling my audience about something that is quite damaging to their business.

At the time I was writing the story, Woo had yet to publicly state the situation at hand. They were still trying to get their hands around exactly what the situation was. Yet I pony up to their emails telling them I’m about to publish this breach and am seeking answers.

While the conversation with Mark and Magnus wasn’t easy, and I was even upset for a bit about how things unfolded, I think it turned out well in the end. I held my story for about an hour (this was already the middle of the night) while they finalized their own announcement, and then I published a complete “tick tock”, or summary of events up to that point, at the same time as they made a public statement about the situation on their blog.

I could’ve published an hour earlier. I could’ve not included insight from the company owners before I put my story out there. But that wouldn’t serve my readers or my relationship with WooThemes very well. Instead, I was able to put out an honest and complete summary of what I knew, without ruining my relationship with WooThemes, a company that is going to continue to be a big part of the WordPress ecosystem for a long time to come.

News is hard

I use the WooThemes story as an example, but variations of that situation have occurred dozens of times. What I’ve discovered is that writing trade news is really freaking hard.

It’s not exactly a well-paying hobby, it includes a decent amount of stress to always stay on top of the news, and balancing relationships with readers and newsmakers is always a bit tricky.

But man do I love it.

I find these challenges to be worthwhile, and I really enjoy the industry I’m in. I’ve gained just as much (or more) experience by writing about the industry I’m in than practicing the trade itself.

Sure, I still have to make websites to improve my skill set. But my big picture viewpoint of the “state of WordPress” is so drastically improved by running my little blog that I can’t help but feel how it also plays well into my ability to consult as a WordPress professional.

Have you considered blogging your trade?

A lot of people view blogging as a thing they need to do for their business’ SEO or some other less delightful metric. But I’d like to encourage you to just do it because it can be so rewarding.

By being truly invested in my trade, I enjoy it more, and find more fulfillment in my career than if I were just working in my field but not paying attention to its ebb and flow.

If you often think about blogging, but don’t know if you can keep it up or whether it’s worth it, I hope you’ll consider my story, and be encouraged to blog.

If you’re in the WordPress world, I’d love for you to write with me at Post Status. I’m happy to accept guest posts or even regular contributors.

And finally, if you’re a Post Status reader (and hopefully fan!), I hope that this helps give insight to the type of effort that goes in to its publication. Later this summer, I’m going to have ways for you to both be a bigger part of Post Status, as well as get more out of it. When that time comes, I hope you’ll go all in with me.

8 thoughts on “On being a trade news provider

  1. We appreciated your professionalism in your recent coverage of our breach. It was a chaotic few hours, before going live with our post, with much investigative work being conducted as to the true extent of the breach. Coupled with little sleep and stressed business owners.

    Your friendship is important to us, but as is your unbiased WordPress news coverage. Likewise, our transparency is important to us, yet the full implications of our transparency can easily be misconstrued in a crisis of that extent.

    We look forward to catching up in person in Chicago soon!

  2. This is a really great post. Before taking on web development full time I worked as a journalist on the foreign desk for a major UK newspaper, and then overseas as a reporter. Without a doubt the issues you raise strike at the core of what journalism is and how we view what it does.

    The tension between cultivating access with vital sources while remaining accountable to principles of honesty and openness is a struggle in every major news story. The day-to-day stuff is easy. But it gets hard precisely when it matters the most.

    There are those who view this relationship as a capitulation, and believe journalists should remain completely independent. And I have some sympathy with this argument. But the truth is that good information comes from inside, not outside, and that kind of information is only obtained reliably through strong relationships. When journalists are on the outside you end up with “echo chamber” journalism, where everyone is just repeating the statements and speculations that are floating around already. Journalism needs to be on the inside, for better or worse. That means journalists sometimes capitulate — like granting a good source an hour or two to get their response ready. The key is finding a good balance, and it looks like you’ve done that.

    As a blogger/citizen journalist/whatever you want to call it, I think this relationship effects you differently from more traditional media outlets in a couple of ways. When the relationship comes into points of tension, as it always will and as it did for you with WooThemes, there’s always the fear that your sources will abandon you. That can cause self-censorship. Traditional news outlets have, in the past, leveraged their size and scope to maintain access. For instance, a business isn’t going to blackout the New York Times because they still need the wide exposure the paper provides, sometimes on the news section, but maybe also the puff pieces in their lifestyle section. (This has declined a lot, particularly for newspapers, as powerful politicians and groups recognize that they have declining influence.)

    Being a trade journalist may be tougher because the market is smaller, so losing a valuable source to a competitor might be a big loss. The goodwill and friendly, cooperative attitude of the WordPress community will help ameliorate this — as Mark’s awesome response shows. But not all companies are as open.

    I think your great strength as a blogger is your ability to be open about this relationship. Traditional media outlets bend over backwards trying to maintain the appearance of neutral, unbiased coverage. Exposing your thinking and how you handle these situations is a great way to come clean about the whole process while still maintaining credibility. It’s a lot easier for you to say, “Hey, these guys have been doing great things for years. But here’s one situation where things have gone wrong.” Nobody cares if you’re showing sympathy for them because you’re honest about where it comes from (ie – experience).

    I think blog posts like this go a long way towards exposing how journalism can be done well: acknowledging your position and the biases it may create without being a fanboy ranting or raving for one side or the other. As Mark said, we all have an interest in honest coverage of the WordPress community.

    1. Wow, Nate. Thanks so much for the comment and your insight. I haven’t thought of many of these things in that context, so I really appreciate you taking the time to share.

      Untrained in this arena, I’m certainly learning all the time, and this helps me frame some of the things I’ve been thinking about much better. Thanks!

  3. This is some of the reason behind why I don’t cover breaking or daily news on WPLift – I think I would find it too stressful!
    I appreciate the job you do though Brian – you have carved out a nice area amongst the WordPress blog / news sites and I appreciate what you post, always something interesting and fresh 🙂

  4. I dig seeing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s going into gathering and curating news for Post Status.

    I can only imagine how easy it would be to make enemies when you’re simply just trying to provide news to the greater community, so props to you for handling it so well.

    Also, I’m eager to see the next iteration of the site – keep doing what you’re doing. It’s appreciated :).

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