You interview someone by e-mail. You write up the story and edit what they said, condensing their quotes to a few saliable points. Your story runs, and that's that, you think. But to your surprise, your source decided to post all the interview questions and answers on their Weblog, showing the public that you cut something important to them.
More and more, blogs are giving sources the power to strike back and making journalists think twice about what they run in a story and how they conduct an interview. Case in point: Billionaire technology entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who also owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks basketball team, launched a blog last spring and quickly posted an e-mail exchange he had with Dallas Morning News sports columnist Kevin Blackistone.
While Cuban wrote that the best thing about a blog was that "I get to respond to the media," Blackistone wasn't too thrilled that Cuban had posted their e-mail exchange. "I didn't think much of being surprised by having what I thought was a private exchange with Mark Cuban posted on a public Web site," Blackistone told me via e-mail. "That is a reason I stopped responding to readers years ago, because I discovered they started posting my personal responses to them on message boards."
Giving Cuban his own blog megaphone seems almost redundant, as the outspoken businessman has garnered attention befitting a celebrity. He founded AudioNet, an online audio sports broadcast service that expanded to become Broadcast.com. Cuban later sold the company to Yahoo at the 1999 dot-com boom price of $5.7 billion in stock -- helping bring his net worth to $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.
Now Cuban funds various tech-related ventures, including a high-definition television startup called HDNet, which has two cable channels with wall-to-wall programs and movies shot in high-definition. And he's put money into Jason Calacanis' Weblogs Inc. Network, which not coincidentally is hosting his personal Weblog.
Cuban has been a high-profile NBA owner for the Mavericks, answering fans' e-mails personally and also getting fined for bad-mouthing referees, something usually reserved for the players. And finally, he's got a prime-time reality show on ABC called "The Benefactor," where he invites people to his mansion to figure out a way to please him and earn $1 million. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Laura Urbani called it a "televised ego trip" for Cuban and wrote that "there's no escaping his smug smile."
But Cuban has done more than just pump his ventures and correct the media record on his blog. He took on rival reality show star Donald Trump for saying "The Benefactor" would fail and also tried to augment "The Benefactor" with behind-the-scenes details as well as a set of "tests" that helped him decide who won and lost. Of course, Cuban is almost always pumping his ventures, but he also takes a minute to explain his take on politics and outsourcing labor.
So should every high-profile technology exec and TV personality have a blog? That remains to be seen. Spinmeisters would worry that the wrong thing could come out without their scrutiny, but Cuban seems to flaunt those conventions, responding directly to my query for an interview within hours instead of days. And as you can tell in the Q&A below, he rarely holds back.
Here's an edited transcript of the e-mail exchange we had over the past few weeks. Very little has been cut or edited, and just in case it does rub Cuban the wrong way, he always has his blog for a heated response.
OJR: What was your motivation for starting a Weblog now? Did you feel like the media wasn't being fair to you in interviews?
Cuban: Not that they weren't being fair. Fair isn't part of media's charter. Selling media is their charter. It was more that it wasn't unusual to find a two-hour visit abridged into a 500-word article. There is no way to convey two hours' worth of discussion in 500 words. As a result, more often than not, what was written wasn't what I thought was important.
The blog allows me to correct that and provide my perspective.
OJR: How has the dynamic changed between the media and high-tech execs when they can release their own news on blogs, such as the one Jonathan Schwartz runs at Sun?
Cuban: The media has always known that the power of the word can be immense. With one paragraph, execs and businesses can be impacted significantly. Blogs create a balance. Now if a blog is well read, or read by those in the media who are looking for any chance to swipe at their competitors, a smartly written blog can turn the tables.
I think this new checks-and-balances scenario will make media much stronger. Look at the controversy over whether Bush's records were forged or not. It's bloggers vs CBS. That's a great example of the power and value of blogging.
OJR: Do you think more executives will embrace blogs as a way of communicating with customers and the public? Why or why not?
Cuban: No. It takes a lot of time, and it requires honesty. Not that it's difficult for most execs to be honest; rather execs have so many vested interests and rules around them, whether it's customers, vendors or the SEC if they are public.
A blog is only valuable if you can be brutally honest. I think that's why tech execs have probably been the leaders so far. It's pretty safe to talk in-depth on technologies.
OJR: What's your media consumption like on an average business day?
Cuban: I read everything and anything related to technology, HDTV, NBA, TV and cable, any entertainment-related industry. I'm up early and spend at least four hours per day just consuming information.
OJR: How has online media shifted in the past five years, as far as people getting news, sports, and entertainment online?
Cuban: Obviously it's been a huge change. People now turn to their browsers for information rather than calling home and asking someone to turn on the radio or TV to get an update on breaking news.
OJR: Did Yahoo get its $5.7 billion worth by buying Broadcast.com? How?
Cuban: Absolutely. First, we got paid in stock, rather than cash. So the pricing was relative to Yahoo's stock price and market cap at the time. In terms of impact, there is no question that the Net is going multimedia. Yahoo just acquired MusicMatch, as an example. You need to have the infrastructure and expertise to distribute media if you want to sell it.
OJR: Do you feel like you were ahead of your time with AudioNet and that now is the time for broadband-delivered broadcast content?
Cuban: No. To be ready for when broadband is readily available, you have to build in anticipation. That is exactly what we did. If you waited till today to start, you have no shot.
OJR: When do you predict people will start switching en masse to high-definition TV? What year do you think it will pass 50 percent penetration? What have been hurdles for public acceptance?
Cuban: It's already happening. Twenty-five percent of TVs sold in the U.S. this year are HDTV-compatible. The prices are falling like a rock and will continue to do so. More importantly, TV manufacturers are discontinuing their analog TV lines. They started with big-screen TVs. You can't find a big-screen analog TV anymore. Slowly but surely analog will go away and everything we buy will be HD.
OJR: Have you got HDNet's high-definition channels onto Comcast cable systems yet, and what has been the obstacle with them?
Cuban: We are talking to them. Have all your readers call their cable providers and tell them they want HDNet. If they can't provide it, switch to satellite.
I promise HDTV is an amazing viewing experience and HDNet and HDNet Movies are the best of the best.
OJR: What's the most exciting tech development you've seen related to broadcast TV, news and journalism in the recent past?
Cuban: HDTV for now. The fact that prices are falling as rapidly as they are.
OJR: If everyone gets HDTVs, and broadcasters all embrace broadcasting in hi-def, then what would differentiate your channels from theirs?
Cuban: Why aren't you asking how they would differentiate theirs from ours ? We would program to the best of our ability just like they would. Ninety-five percent of TV shows that come on the air fail. I can do that well. We aren't capital constrained, so we can go after the same producers and pay the same license fees for programming we think we need.
OJR: In general, what do you think sports owners could do technologically to improve their image and communication with fans?
Cuban: Nothing. A sporting event really isn't about technology. It's about getting out of the house and having fun with the kids, spouse, boyfriend, friends, whatever. I want people standing and yelling, not sitting staring at a screen.
OJR: But what can sports owners do to improve their images as out-of-touch elitists? Is there something you might suggest to your fellow owners that they could do to make fans happier by being more responsive?
Cuban: Give out their e-mail addresses and read it. Nothing smarter than listening to your customers.
OJR: Your TV show looks like a big head game with contestants. Is this a big prank or will you explain in detail what your rules are at some point?
Cuban: Why does the show have to have rules ? Because other reality shows do? The show reflects what I think it takes to be successful in life.
When you wake up in the morning and try to get fired up to achieve your dreams and goals, no one tells you exactly what you are supposed to do and how you will be evaluated. No one walks in the door or calls you when the alarm rings and says, "OK, we all will be selling lemonade today, or we all will be eating bugs today. Whoever does the best gets a promotion."
You have to figure out what those who can impact your future are expecting from you and how you can fulfill that expectation. More often than not, you don't even know what events in your life will have the biggest impact and when they will occur.
That's what "The Benefactor" is all about. I know exactly what I'm looking for from the contestants. The tests and challenges are their chance to excel and for me to see if I think they have what it takes to be successful.
[Note: Not long after we e-mailed, Cuban posted a list of "Benefactor Tests," which explained in more detail how he was testing contestants on the show. Among his truisms: "No Balls, No Babies" and "It's OK to Yell and Be Yelled At."]
OJR: Which will come first: a Mavericks championship, an HDNet IPO, or an Emmy award for "The Benefactor"?
Cuban: First, I have no desire to go public [with HDNet]. Second, I couldn't care less about an Emmy. But the last two questions are perfect examples of the value of blogs.
The questions are leading... You imply "The Benefactor" should have rules. That's a leading question that to me, implies that you think shows, possibly reality shows, should have rules. The last question implies that going public for HDNet, or winning an Emmy is an event that is so important that it equates to an NBA Championship for a team owner.
You couldn't be any more wrong.
With the blog, if you happen to condense the interview and your bias comes through, I get to post all the questions and answers on my blog.
OJR: That last question was meant to be funny. I apologize if it didn't come out that way. Maybe you can tell me your goals for HDNet and "The Benefactor." Do you want to sell HDNet or make it profitable? Get good ratings from "The Benefactor"? Have Donald Trump as your intern? [Insert leading question here.]
Cuban: My goal with HDNet is to have it in 80 million homes and competitive in the ratings. My goal with "The Benefactor" is to have a great experience and put out an entertaining show that might even shed a few entrepreneurial lessons. I'm confident we have done that.
OJR: So you have at least three babies to juggle (Mavericks, HDNet and "Benefactor"). How do you split your time with them all, and what's your personal relationship like with each one?
Cuban: "The Benefactor" has all been shot, so that's easy. The Mavs are run by great people. I just have to deal with things a few hours a day, and HDNet takes up the rest of the day.