Hi Steven,
Jessi Hempel

OK Jessi, thanks for your explanation. I appreciate you taking the time to explain, but your response is pretty unsatisfactory. I don’t understand why writing a story “about a member of the executive team who flies beneath the radar, and to explore what her role is at Airbnb” is inconsistent with asking her a few hard questions about Airbnb’s business model which is causing a lot of damage to a lot of individual’s lives. All the more reason to ask her — let’s see what another member of the executive team besides Brian Chesky has to say about these matters, you know? Isn’t that what a journalist should do? Otherwise your story (and your response, I’m afraid) has a “Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?” quality to it. If you were interviewing the US Deputy Secretary of Defense, would you defer asking hard questions because that person normally “flies beneath the radar”? (can anyone name who the DSOD is?)

In fact, in your article you write “[Belinda] Johnson told Chesky the company needed to sue the city of San Francisco.” So the subject of your puff piece is one of the prime advocates within Airbnb for legal positions that are defending the very policies that you say are “significant” and that you “have addressed [yourself] in stories written for Fortune and WIRED.” OK, so now you have in the “hot seat,” sitting right in front of you, the Airbnb lawyer who is the very architect of some of these policies, or at least the legal defense of these policies that is resulting in a lawsuit against San Francisco because it passed a law to plug the loopholes in the current law that clearly is not working — less than 20% of Airbnb hosts have registered with the city, which they are legally required to do — and instead of a hot seat you give Belinda Johnson a nice soft cushy love seat.

Frankly, what this piece looks like is an attempt for you/Backchannel to ingratiate yourself with Airbnb. I suppose you feel it’s good and right to do that so that you can gain access. Access is important for a journalist, no question about that. But isn’t this the type of thing that many others have criticized the NY Times (think Judith Miller, and her controversial coverage of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction), WA Post and other outlets — for being too cozy with their sources as a way to gain access?

I think Backchannel should aspire to something better, higher. I understand it’s not easy, and I understand the importance of having a degree of access to important public figures. But at what price? A balance has to be struck. As a fellow journalist, I feel your article did not find that balance. It was a puff piece. Meh. Who needs it?

I would recommend

“The two faces of Airbnb”


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