On Reporting

Setting the record straight

I’ve known Shanley Kane, the prominent Silicon Valley feminist, writer and publisher for a little while—first through her writing, and then through close friends we have in common. And I’ve always admired her: The subjects she talks about are important, she is dedicated to them with an admirable ferocity—and she can be wickedly funny. At the same time, her approach is unflinching, and her arguments are full-throttle, which often makes her the center of controversy. For all these reasons, I wanted to read a profile of her and, naturally, I wanted that profile to be in Matter, the award-winning publication where I am a founding editor.

Some time ago we met for lunch, and I explained to Shanley that I’d love to run a piece about her and the work she does, and asked if she wanted to cooperate. Her instinct was no, but she said she would think on it. Not long afterwards, I asked again and, after consulting with her co-founder, she agreed to be interviewed for the piece.

We assigned Elizabeth Spiers—a superb, insightful and experienced journalist who was formerly editor-in-chief at the New York Observer among other places—to write the profile, and in mid-May Elizabeth flew out to San Francisco to conduct two extensive in-person interviews with Shanley that totalled more than four hours.

Elizabeth’s task was a straightforward reporting job, trying to find answers to questions in the way that journalists—and, in fact, all curious human beings—do: Who is Shanley? What is she like? How is her site, Model View Culture, doing?

That reporting job, it turns out, has not been as straightforward as we thought. Earlier this week Shanley took to Twitter to denounce us, accusing us of harassment and claiming that we coerced her and threatened to publish incorrect material about her if she didn’t cooperate.

None of these things are true.

Despite what you may have heard, we aren’t “investigating” Shanley, or threatening to dig up secrets from her personal life. We’re trying to produce an accurate profile of somebody doing interesting, vital, valuable work.

We are not preparing a story that would smear her.

We have never coerced her, blackmailed her, or threatened to publish mistruths. We have talked to her, asked her questions and said we will check facts.

And, since the moment Shanley told us not to contact her, we have done exactly that—apart from a single short note to say that it’s our ethical duty to contact her for comment when the piece is finished. There has been no harassment or stalking.

At many points, we’ve explained to Shanley how our reporting process works. It is, boringly, entirely typical: It involves talking to lots and lots of people. Not just the subject (even if they’re willing) but also friends, co-workers, contacts, and sometimes enemies too. It’s only with this kind of effort that you can ever hope to produce a realistic, three-dimensional portrait of somebody or their work.

We also made it clear that even though she had agreed to spend time with us, Shanley was at no point under any obligation to us, or under obligation to answer our questions. If she wanted to respond to something off-the-record—so that we’re better informed but she’s not endangering her privacy—that would be fine, and if she didn’t want to answer at all, that would be fine too. But, we pointed out, just because she didn’t want to respond didn’t mean we wouldn’t be interested in the answer. After all, we need to verify facts and triangulate information… or otherwise we’re simply publishing what we’re told.

This approach is entirely normal in the course of journalism. But, she told us, it was off-limits for her. While she agreed to sit down and talk to us, she objected to us talking to anybody at all about her. That, for us, is antithetical to the idea of fair reporting: it is merely PR.

Sadly, though, that’s how we find ourselves here.

We think our story will stand up for itself, and will provide a fair, honest, and accurate portrait of Shanley Kane—whose work we still admire. But we fully stand behind our reporter, and our right to publish stories that matter.

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