Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Subject:Poker Signs Off

Subject:PokerAfter about nine months and a little over 70 articles, the investigative news site Subject:Poker has decided to call it quits.

Started in May 2011 as a conscious response to an apparent void created by other poker news sites, S:P presented itself as an independent outlet dedicated to reporting on items of interest to the poker community without bias. As noted in an early post announcing the site’s launch, S:P accepted no advertising from “gambling institutions and their affiliates” so as to eliminate even the perception of influence when reporting on those institutions. That post also explained how its founders, Thomas Bakker and Noah Stephens-Davidowitz, had “no expectation of profit from this site, nor do any of our reporters, nor do any of us have other affiliations that might taint our motivations” when reporting for S:P.

From the start, the site’s motto was “Poker News Done Right,” an obvious jab at other poker news sites that had failed to report on certain scandals, Black Friday-related matters, or other items of significance in poker or had reported on those items in ways that were tainted by various motivations (such as the desire to retain particular advertisers) or at least perceived to have been influenced so.

The site gained a lot of attention during its brief run thanks to several “breaking” stories about the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint, a few articles related to the small U.S.-facing sites that remained after the big ones left, Full Tilt Poker’s spectacular fall to go offline entirely and become subject to additional allegations by the DOJ, reports about the efforts by FTP to find a buyer including the eventual emergence of Groupe Bernard Tapie, as well as other items including occasional interviews with and profiles of prominent figures in the stories on which they were reporting.

Contacts with various “insiders” -- particularly within Full Tilt Poker and even the Department of Justice -- allowed S:P to report certain stories that other sites could not, although in many cases those articles had to be filed with the sources either listed as “anonymous” or without particular reference.

Breaking News!A recent report on “Chris Ferguson’s Secret FTP Bank Accounts and Threats to GBT Deal,” for example, reported a number of provocative statements without much indication of how they had been verified other than to refer obliquely to “multiple sources” confirming items or “one source, whom we believe to be credible” adding information.

Occasionally the site would report on items that caused some to wonder about its self-professed lack of agenda or bias. And every once in a while there would appear posts that raised questions about journalistic ethics, such as last September when the site reported that “‘DOJ Plans Action Against Merge.’”

The headline of that article appeared as a quote, although no attribution was offered in the article which began “Subject:Poker has recently been told....” The story reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland was about to seize assets of payment processors Merge had been using to serve U.S. customers. The report severely affected the traffic at most Merge sites, which in turn had other consequences throughout the industry (including upon other poker media). When no action followed by the DOJ -- a possibility accounted for in the article -- some speculated that the mere appearance of the article might have had some significance in affecting the DOJ’s plans.

Another story from late July reporting “FTP’s Financial Relationship With Two Pros” similarly raised eyebrows by its inclusion of information learned after gaining “access to [Phil] Ivey’s and [David] Benyamine’s account history on Full Tilt’s internal systems.” Among what was reported there, we were told Ivey had borrowed money from FTP a total of 18 times for more than $10 million, about half of which he had paid back. (We have learned in recent days that several other pros -- not all FTP-affiliated -- allegedly borrowed significant sums from the site as well.)

Such stories provide a couple of examples of how Subject:Poker sometimes itself became “poker news” during its brief run -- i.e., while reporting on the news occasionally also being part of the story. In fact, the site rarely reported “poker news” stories that were not somehow “exclusive” thanks to having special access to individuals with information other sites lacked. Thus a lot of the stories often provoked commentary and response both about the content of the articles and about the methods by which that content was obtained and provided.

As a result, the site enjoyed considerable influence, although in the end I think those involved might have found running S:P overly stressful and/or unrewarding (not just financially speaking) to continue. I’m just speculating here, but that is a sense I got from hearing Noah Stephens-Davidowitz interviewed a few times and reading some of his frequent posts as “NoahSD” on Two Plus Two.

As noted in their “Goodbye” post, Stephens-Davidowitz and fellow founder Thomas Bakker are starting a poker security consulting company, which may well be a good fit for them. Indeed, I believe it was after doing similar security-related consulting work for an online poker company that the idea for the S:P site initially arose.

Subject:Poker took as a motto 'Poker News Done Right'I’ll admit I was always a little cynical both about S:P’s claims to objectivity and that “Poker News Done Right” motto. With or without advertisers’ pressure (real or perceived), it is hard for anyone to report on anything without at least some bias, particularly when reporting on the types of stories S:P chose to pursue. And while I don’t disagree with the complaint that many poker news outlets -- often primarily for financial reasons -- haven’t reported as thoroughly as one might wish on certain stories (especially Black Friday-related), I also wouldn’t dismiss such sites as entirely without value or suggest they don’t “do poker news right” from time to time.

That said, S:P’s decision to step aside is worth noting, especially among those of us who find poker news relevant and/or interesting. As is the site’s unique contribution to our understanding of what exactly is happening with regard to the current legal machinations and other items of importance in the poker world, especially online poker.

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Blogger Unknown said...

If I used emoticons, I'd give you a thumbs up symbol.

2/07/2012 2:24 PM  

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