Answer: Theranos coverage . . . Question: What does the Silicon Valley press and the procurement industry’s media have in common?

Posted on May 6, 2016

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But if you peel back all of the layers of this tale, at the center you will find one of the more insidious culprits: the Silicon Valley tech press. – from The Secret Culprit in the Theranos Mess by Nick Bilton, Vanity Fair News May 2nd, 2016 

Back in 2010, I wrote a post that did not sit well with Spend Matters’ Jason Busch. In fact so much so, that Busch actually admonished me by way of the following comment: I thought more highly of you before this. Please don’t go down the path of becoming the Fenimore Cooper of procurement blogs.

To be honest, I had never previously heard of Fenimore Cooper, so I Googled him. Thanks to Wikipedia, I got the scoop on Cooper, and I have to tell you I took Busch’s comparison to Cooper as a compliment.

The fact is, Cooper went his own way, writing what he believed regardless of whether or not it was fashionable with his contemporaries. In other words, I thought of him as being courageous. After all, he wasn’t thumbing his nose at what was purportedly conventional wisdom for the sake of simply being disagreeable. He saw a real problem, and did not hesitate to take a stand – even if it was (and it was) unpopular.

Fast forward to today, and the recent scandal surrounding what has been called the Theranos mess, and it becomes quite clear that we need more Fenimore Coopers in the Silicon Valley tech press.

The system here has been molded to effectively prevent reporters from asking tough questions. It’s a game of access, and if you don’t play it carefully, you may pay sorely. Outlets that write negatively about gadgets often don’t get pre-release versions of the next gadget. Writers who ask probing questions may not get to interview the C.E.O. next time he or she is doing the rounds. If you comply with these rules, you’re rewarded with page views and praise in the tech blogosphere. – from The Secret Culprit in the Theranos Mess by Nick Bilton, Vanity Fair News May 2nd, 2016

The fact is, that with the exception of The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou, the Silicon Valley press failed to cover the Theranos story for fear of bucking the system. In short, they are too close and too invested in the companies about whom they are supposed be reporting, to be truly objective.

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Carreyrou  – who is an outsider from the standpoint that neither he nor the Wall Street Journal are part of the Silicon Valley consortium – had the courage and journalistic integrity to ask the tough questions everyone in the industry’s indigenous media were either afraid or reluctant to ask.

Even though Carreyrou and his paper were threatened with a lawsuit by a panoply of heavy hitting lawyers – including David Boies, who the VF News article described as “the superstar lawyer who has taken on Bill Gates, the U.S. government, and represented Al Gore in the 2000 Florida recount case,” both Carreyrou and the Wall Street Journal stood firm.

As a result, the truth came out about Theranos.

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While the final chapter of this story has yet to be written, there is now an air of uncertainty regarding the creditability of media coverage in the industry.

In quoting the blogger and founder of Weblogs Jason Calacanis, VF News’ Bilton would write, “If you look at most tech publications, they have major conferences as their revenue. If you hit too hard, you lose keynotes, ticket buyers, and support in the tech space.”

This raises the question, did the industry willingly turn a blind eye to what now seems like an obvious problem or problems at Theranos, because they are too close to be objective? When I say too close, I also mean financially dependent.

It is an interesting question, and one that everyone in the procurement industry should be asking about our own news sources.

Over the past year or so I have covered several stories and service providers, and have experienced similar “resistance” to what Carreyrou and The Wall Street Journal have faced.

These stories have garnered a great deal of interest – especially with procurement professionals.

But here is the thing . . . despite their obvious importance, no other media outlet in the procurement industry, be it a blog or analyst firm, has provided any meaningful coverage beyond Procurement Insights’.

While I appreciate both the interest and traffic, we need more voices. I am not talking about voices of consensus. What I am talking about is an open and honest dialogue regarding the issues that can (and will) undermine our profession’s creditability.

The elephant in the room question is why?

Our advisory offering helps solution and service providers better tailor their market offerings, improve their competitive positioning and better plan their product and solution strategies by providing objective insight, deep subject matter expertise and analysis. Typical inquiry discussions span the following topics: Market trends, Customer buying habits, Sales tactics/approaches, Solution positioning, R&D prioritization, Pricing Trends, Channel strategy, M&A activity. – from a procurement industry blog

Given the historic origins of many blogs – whose authors work or have worked for solution and/or service providers, to whom can procurement professionals turn to get the complete picture? Certainly not the analyst firms, as these same service providers are their clients.

With the paucity of real and objective industry coverage, one can’t help but wonder if a Theranos-type scandal is possible in our industry?

Like the Silicon Valley tech press, the lack of coverage of important stories including #CodeGate, would suggest that a fear of upsetting their financial apple carts are the ties that bind the procurement media to such a narrow reporting focus. When I say narrow, I am talking about Magic Quadrants and features, functions, benefits analyses.

If this is in fact the case, it raises another more troubling question; whose best interest does the procurement industry press serve . . . the solution providers or the procurement professional? You cannot serve both.

Queue Bob Dylan song . . .

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Posted in: Commentary