Newsweek Gets Press, and Controversy, With Bitcoin Story

 Newsweek Gets Press, and Controversy, With Bitcoin Story

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Newsweek.

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.

Tech King Quietly Acquires Washington Post

bezos Tech King Quietly Acquires Washington Post

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

That massive thud on Monday was the sound of jaws dropping at the news that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, one of the most venerated newspapers in the US, from the Graham family, which owned it for 80 years. The pricetag of $250 million is almost pocket change to Bezos, representing about one percent of his estimated $25 billion personal fortune. Perhaps that’s why some conjectured that Bezos, who pours millions into pet projects like spaceflight and a clock that will run for 10,000 years, made the purchase for the fun of it.

Media and business pundits will no doubt continue to try to explain, praise, or pan the acquisition. As one observer noted, Bezos and the Graham family eschewed the theatrics that often accompany major announcements where tech sector luminaries are involved. News of the sale went public quietly, initially in a hushed Post staff meeting and with a letter from Bezos posted on the WaPo website.

Well played all around. The understated announcement evinced the Graham family’s sensitivity to the interests and sentiments of gobsmacked Post employees (not to mention investors in the soon-to-be-private media property). For Bezos, whose retail empire began with antiquating the book industry, and who last year predicted the death of print inside 20 years, a more visible PDA – Public Display of Acquisition – might be a tad unseemly.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Graham family and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, for standing back and letting the most significant media acquisition of the year speak for itself.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When the news you have shouts on its own, tell it in a whisper. Two other major media transactions – the sales of Newsweek and the Boston Globe – occurred at virtually the same time as the Post sale, but does anyone remember? The Post transaction leaves open a lot of questions, stirs emotions, will have far-ranging impact, both in media and tech. By keeping things understated and matter-of-fact, both sides were well served in presenting a “business-as-usual” front on a transaction that is anything but.