Responding to Peter Shankman

July 23, 2012 — 38 Comments

Some of you may not have seen this because it was buried in a lot of the other more interesting press, but last week I completely blew up the PR/blogging industry by revealing the fatal flaws in (HARO). The revelations garnered such an enormous outcry that HARO (and some lazy, entitled people in the journalistic and PR communities) had to respond. Naturally, they decided to strike back at me personally. It doesn’t surprise me that they did this, but that doesn’t mean I am going to tolerate it.

You can check out my reply at the Huffington Post: Honoring a Reporter’s Obligation: Dissecting Peter Shankman’s Hypocrisy

Did I expect people to have a strong reaction to this book? Sure. Did I think that, when faced with my accusations, some in the media would try to blacklist or marginalize me? Of course. But they forgot one thing: I don’t need them to get my message out. I never have. And unlike Shankman, since I am not repressing my hypocrisy–in fact, I have unloaded it–I am able to to look at all this calmly, and rationally and respond appropriately.

I hope you enjoy it. Let the discussion begin.

Ryan Holiday

I’m a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

38 responses to Responding to Peter Shankman

  1. The truth is, there have been MANY people ahead of you in ringing the alarm regarding the frailties of modern journalism. They just didn’t embark on an intentional campaign of deception to do it. Nor are they doing so for financial gain.

    You still mistake Publicity for Public Relations, which makes me question the foundation of just about all of your conclusions. (Not the conclusions… But damned near everything else.)

  2. I think this tweet from the SPJ sums it up:
    “Journalists: 1) Crowdsourcing is fine. 2) Fact checking is still a thing. 3) Heard of Google?”

  3. Nothing about this blogosphere shit-storm/debate matters except the fact that you are controlling the debate and selling books because of it. Hats off to you sir.

  4. When I received the bonus preorder materials, I went on HARO and opened an account. It’s true: while I didn’t deceive any of the reporters, I found that they were taking my comments on things outside of my “area of expertise” a little too seriously for comfort.

    I can’t believe that this grown man publicly threatened violence and called you an idiot and resorted to cast aspersions using the oldest tricks in the book. Is this guy really running a PR company?

    And he’s provided you with another great blurb:

    “You know what this guy did before he wrote this book? HE WORKED FOR TUCKER MAX. Enough said.”

  5. “The truth is, there have been MANY people ahead of you in ringing the alarm regarding the frailties of modern journalism.”
    Okay, sick. And I, as the average outsider to the media world, have never heard of them. So what good do these “MANY people” do me? Maybe they should’ve advertised a bit better.

    “They just didn’t embark on an intentional campaign of deception to do it.”
    If it brings attention to RH’s book along with proving every point he is making, I see nothing wrong with this.

    “Nor are they doing so for financial gain.”
    As a well-known NYC entrepreneur likes to say, never knock another man’s hustle.

    • Brian, lying is lying is lying. There are indeed people in this world who believe that ends do not justify means. I would have hoped that Princeton might have included more of them.

      The “many people” who have been debating the future of journalism and the perils of our rush to new models are out there. Some of them, like Ken Auletta, have been writing about this since 1986. Others, like Tom Foremski and Jeff Jarvis and Romanesko and Poynter and Jay Rosen have an extensive online record. You can spend a while catching up if you’d like. You don’t need a self-promoting huckster to put it in a book for you.

      Ryan’s premise is flawed. He’s trying to sell you on his solution, that PR (or at least his misunderstood flavor of Publicity) is toxic to journalism. What Ryan has really discovered is that there’s a large appetite for fluffy news, where the damage from liars is too small to care about. If Ryan wants to say we’ve got too much empty-calorie coverage, then he’s right. But his prescription for fixing Journalism is short-sighted misinformed and single-faceted.

      If he really cared about Journalism, he would have found a different way to share his results — one that left his hands cleaner and his motive purer.

      • While I have yet to read his book, none of the posts I’ve read really have a “prescription for fixing Journalism” (I might just have missed the one you’re referring to). From what I can tell, the “large appetite for fluffy news” is exactly what RH deals with in his everyday work. The recent posts he’s put out (and, I presume, his book) dissect what exactly causes this to happen, from deadlines, to quotas, to an unfortunate fixation on a story’s number of pageviews, etc, and explains how companies and organizations use these methods for their own gain.

        As for RH caring about journalism, he never really claims to be a journalist- yes, he’s an advertiser, a publicist, a “media manipulator”, but not a journalist. The ease with which he uses and abuses journalistic (a word?) tools like HARO simply illustrate how broken the journalism system is. Admittedly, he could do more to help fix this system, but, once again, that’s not his job. And obviously I don’t condone lying, but, in these cases, he’s illustrating a point.

      • How else would you have proposed that I share my results?

      • Amen, Ike.

      • Wow Ike. You are wrong, misguided and informed on so many levels. Get with the program, man.

      • TheCoconutChef July 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

        “If he really cared about Journalism, he would have found a different way to share his results — one that left his hands cleaner and his motive purer.”

        To share is result? Are you angry that he’s selling a book? Is having something to sell wrong? This seems nonsensical and more precisions on your part would be needed.

        Or are you rather angry at the way he got his results? This would make slightly more sense and I could see the reasoning behind it. “Ryan lied to get his result. Lying is bad. Therefore, what Ryan did was bad.” It’s a nice way to dismisses every point he’s making which is probably exactly why you’re saying it.

        But this is completely missing the point and especially if we compare what Ryan did with another activity which is widespread in the IT industry: penetration testing. Penetration testing is when a hired hacker try to gain access to a computer network in ways that were not intended for so that they can identify security vulnerabilities. This practice can be generalized to any industry and takes the form of various kinds of stress test which determine the condition under which the product the industry is making or the service they’re delivering fails. Any industry that gives two shit about what they’re doing will do these tests voluntarily so as to know the conditions under which they break, so that they can prevent them.

        So that what’s Ryan did. He stressed test the news industry and the reaction we’re seeing right now is more worrying than whatever it is that Ryan may have found in its actual tests.

        Not only does the industry not behave too well under what could be considered by us layman as stress in a journalistic sense, but it does not seem interested in the slightest in the idea that there should be anything like a stress test at all. In other words, the industry doesn’t want to find out what their weaknesses are because, and that’s the crucial point, its weaknesses are the business model.

        This can, and should, go farther. If we define the news industry as the system whose purpose is to transmit to the public accurate and relevant information, we may have a problem. But the truth is that this the previous definition is probably a lie.

      • Not lying has the decided advantage that if you expect to get ahead in a cheating, lying, rotten world where the baseline is several steps ahead of what you can do without cheating, lying, and being rotten … then you have to get good enough to actually change the world; a la Shaw’s “completely unreasonable man.”
        Doing so is the ONLY WAY TO ATTAIN TRUE NOBILITY.

  6. I’m not sure whether to be impressed by the multiple levels of manipulation. I have had positive experiences with HARO, but relaying that information isn’t going to ever land me on a major media site. A classic example is the Mayan Calendar and 2012. The person who discovered the calendar has largely been ignored by the media, because he won’t say that the calendar predicts the end of the world. People have become rich and famous by spinning events in the direction of publicity. So at the end of the day does the end justify the means? And does anyone really remember the manipulation, or just the results?

  7. Shankman’s vision of HARO is probably that of virtuous journalists finding sources faster so they have more time available to vet the sources. Its a great idea that ignores the amount of fluff in his marketplace, both on the sides of journalists and sources. Hopefully this gets more people to read your book and reintroduce healthy skepticism into the Wikipedia-as-gospel world

  8. perhaps once last stunt by two media manipulation geniuses? I just bought Ryan’s book and am considering using HARO for my business…Never heard of either until I stumbled upon the Forbes article.

  9. A word from a ‘general public’ representative person … I very much appreciated Ryan’s effort to sum this issue up with clear straight-forward ‘English’, without all the double-speak. The internet provides a wide-audience medium, quickly accessible, with rapid dissemination, where one can tell a lie, with complete impunity, no accountability, and have that message relayed, magnified and reported in worldwide traditional media. Marshal MacLuen’s phrase “The medium is the message” seems right-on, it could be said of our current government administration and all current politicians as well! Without responsible accountability, information (regardless of media it’s reported through) has ZERO VALUE to the public ! Like hens cackling in a barnyard!

  10. It’s kind of funny, that he accuses you of being a liar than lies about Tucker Max – “HE WORKED FOR TUCKER MAX, the man who’s written multiple books on how to lie to get laid. Enough said.”

    That made me laugh pretty hard, especially the “enough said” part.

    Good job on the book.

  11. Hey Ryan,

    I’m about a third of the way through the book, and it has been an interesting read so far. Anyway, had a question not really related to the content. Do you get to pick the color of the hardcover underneath the jacket?

  12. Hey Ryan,

    Enjoyed your book. I like how you manipulate the media and doesn’t afraid of anything.

  13. So what are your plans now?

  14. I like your blog and find it very informative. But I think in your recent article that created all this discussion, you are blaming HARO for the malpractice of journalists and experts using HARO. I think HARO is a tool and if journalists/sources abuse it, then it is not HARO’s problems. Can you blame a Google if a thief uses Google Map to navigate to a house and takes stuff from that house? You have every right to expose news media outlets for not doing their due diligence in their news stories but blaming the tools like HARO is misguided in my opinion and the owners of these tools or websites have every right to defend themselves. When they attack you, you call it “Personal” but when you attack them they are “manipulators”. Well, just pretend you are the creator of HARO and Mr. Shankman as Ryan Holiday and you will see what I mean. If Shankman was the impersonator you will cal him a “liar” or what ever label you feel fit.

    • Sure you’re right, HARO has ABSOLUTELY ZERO obligation to vet any of its sources in any way.

      • But let’s be real for a second–how the hell are the going to vet someone like you who claims to be “vinyl collector.” Are they going to fly someone out to your house? It would be a much different matter if you were claiming to be a geneticist from the University of Iowa. That’s easy to check. But the articles you commented on were inconsequential filler articles, were they not?

        • Not when they’re in the fucking NEW YORK TIMES.

          Actually you’re right, properly vetting sources would be an impossible task for a service like HARO to do. So journalists shouldn’t use it and it should whither away and die.

  15. I dont mean paper. You got it in the New York Times and that’s impressive but what I mean is that the article itself is not very important since it is not a front page article. My big problem with what your doing with Haro is that I dont see HARO at fault here, like Corona would not be at fault for a drunk driver.

    • Tom, I can’t speak for Ryan but I have been quoted on frontpage NYTimes stories and articles for countless other big name media outlets for my work reporting on the BP Oil Spill. Only one actually flew a journalist to my house to verify me as a source (Businessweek). A few asked me to fax or email proof of my history (WSJ, HuffPost) the rest (NYTimes, NPR and others) just found my name in the “contact us” section of my blog and did nothing more to verify my credentials. The system IS broken.

  16. Ryan,
    I just finished your book and thoroughly appreciated your honest engagement with a serious problem. It is great to see someone struggling to understand and explain the consequences of digital economies of scale on public knowledge.

    You diagnosed the disease. The subscription model of old journalism is far too expensive and slow to keep up, while the fact that people enjoy being outraged and that advertisers will pay for space on a site that gets millions of hits are not going away. Prioritizing the truth has become an unsustainable process.

    That being said, be the bigger man and stop engaging Shankman and his deluded vision of mechanized journalistic efficiency. HARO is a mutation in the virus, not the carrier. It diminishes your greater point to engage in a battle of integrity with an unbalanced middle-aged man and his murder of hashtag happy carrion crows. Keep the conversation that forms the heart of your book moving forward.

  17. What I like most about the discussion about HARO is one line Shankman added to the comments section of his post. The line says “This isn’t church, Ryan. Confessing that you lied doesn’t absolve you of your sins. If nothing else, your comment makes you look like an even bigger douchebag.”

    I guess he didn’t read your chapter on snarky comments which probably means he bother to read the book at all before calling your out.

    I also like the fact he put Tucker’s name in all capital letters 😉

  18. The Psuedo Event by Borstin is a version of this discussion. Ryan, heard your interview on Minske Wcco and loved your guys’ insights.

  19. For those arguing the problem is “lying”: I suppose you find the actions of Gregory Peck’s character in Gentlemen’s Agreement problematic, too, hmmm?

    Psychological experiments involving certain levels of deception to maintain scientific controls are not new. If you turn in two resumes, and one has a Jewish/African American/Female name and the other has a standard Anglo-Saxon name, are you a “liar” for testing the system? Is it your fault for lying, not their fault for showing bias in hiring?

    Fabrication to expose systemic flaws isn’t simply lying. It’s espionage. The question is what was the espionage for? In this case, it does seem like it sold a few books, but if the premise of the system being broken is true, then what’s the bellyaching about?

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