Venerable news journal Newsweek returned to the stands on Friday after a 14-month absence. Clearly a big cover story was needed, and they had one: the identity of the founder of Bitcoin, the digital currency with mysterious origins. Apparently, there’s still some mystery – and a lot of controversy over the article.
Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman said she had proof that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto was the founder of Bitcoin. Nakamoto, described by the New York Times as “a reclusive train collector,” then gave a two-hour interview to AP denying Newsweek‘s claims. At the heart of the debate is a brief conversation that took place outside Nakamoto’s home; Goodman’s interpretation of his response to questions about Bitcoin was that he was the founder. Nakamoto says he misunderstood her questions.
The magazine issued a statement saying they stand by the story, with well-worded acknowledgement of the online attacks toward Goodman, her reporting, even her character. Others in the media are calling into question Goodman’s proof and journalistic ethics. Given that Bitcoin has recently given investors a tumultuous ride, some speculate the Newsweek article has put Nakamoto in danger, without strong enough proof of association.
THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Newsweek.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: With great risk, there are two outcomes: great rewards, or spectacularly bad problems. Clearly, Newsweek needed a big story after over a year off the stands and many questioning the future of print media. (A few might also scratch their heads as to why the online version gives free access to the entire feature; isn’t the point of magazines to sell magazines, not give the content away?) This explosive story gave Newsweek the media splash they needed, and the negative attention they never wanted. Well, they got people talking. Should their sources be proven wrong, they may wish they’d gone with something slightly quieter.