Does the end justify the means?

Old question, but I’ve been asking myself that as I watch a particularly whiny blog entry shoot to over 500 Diggs. Short version: We called Sony for a loaner review unit of a Bravia HDTV and they said no purely out of PS3 solidarity. I thought that was short-sighted and ridiculous — especially as a happy Bravia owner myself! — so in a fit of pique I posted a petty article about Sony being petty and, for good measure, attached a sensational headline (“Sony Doesn’t Want Your Money”). The result was a good chunk of traffic and, as always with the internet, a ton of snap judgments (not that mine weren’t!) and assumptions. People seem to think we were trying to scam a free HDTV, but the truth is that we sign a loan agreement for hardware that we review and return it by a specific date. The more comments I read, the less understanding I see. The internet is nothing if not full of noise and the gap between reader and audience is not getting smaller, as I’d hoped it would.

The morning after, though, I regret posting the story the way I did. I wish I’d gone with a more accurate headline (“Sony to OXM: No TVs for You” didn’t occur to me at the time but would have been more accurate) and I wish I’d left off some of the nastier assumptions toward the end; commentary on the severity and depth of the console wars would have been better. I didn’t want to edit it today because, well, good or bad, what I wrote is what I wrote, and I have to stick with it. I’m chalking it up to a learning experience, but it’s been on my mind a lot today.

But here’s what bothers me: I sunk to a lower level here, going for the sensationalism angle, something I’ve always wanted to do to see what would happen. Now I can’t help but wonder whether we would have gotten the traffic/attention without the cheap shots. Would just opinion have been enough? I’m honestly not convinced. I look at the stories that get heat on other sites and the bulk of them — especially gaming related — are tilted or snarky or sensational. And the audience often says things like “that’s not professional,” yet they reward that unprofessional behavior with traffic and Diggs. Walking the line between what the audience clearly responds to and what I feel comfortable publishing is going to be a daily challenge.

I have much to learn as I get more involved in the web. This is just one early lesson.

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