Some well-off professionals are learning to hate publisher Brian Timpone. The 37-year-old is an ex-journalist who with a friend created Blockshopper.com. The website reports on the home purchases of the kinda-rich in 15 U.S. metropolitan areas. Sample Blockshopper headlines: "Portfolio manager spends $2.975M for Brooklyn Heights 5BD," "Harris S.V.P. buys Wilmette home for $1.25M" and "Law firm partner sells Lincoln Park 4BD for $1.015M." The brief stories also appear in the real estate sections of the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and 50 or so other newspapers.
Timpone, a merry muckraker who worked as a statehouse reporter for a CBS-affiliated television station in Illinois in the 1990s, hasn't asked the homeowners for permission. That doesn't sit well with most of these folks, even though real estate records are public. Timpone's reporters go beyond the bare facts of a sale and run Internet searches on the names to capture a professional's online résumé or biography. They will call the prosperous buyer if that's what it takes to confirm an identity.
Every month a few dozen hit the roof. Some insist that by publishing their home addresses, Timpone is increasing the risk that baddies will rob them, steal their identities or kidnap their children. "Some of them try to bribe us and some of them threaten to sue," says Timpone. He gives in to neither variety of unhappy camper, insisting that his site is a journalistic endeavor, not a data-vending business like an Acxiom
) or Experian.
"I can feel my blood start to boil when I talk about it," says Matt R. Dunlap, a software developer in Oakland, Calif. Dunlap's wife, a real estate agent, almost lost an important client who discovered a Blockshopper story about himself and furiously accused her of providing the information. After Dunlap failed to persuade Blockshopper to remove the story, he dashed off a series of blog posts attacking Timpone.
Another of the aggrieved started an anonymous anti-Blockshopper blog, which professes to tell "the truth about Blockshopper.com and scumbag owners Timothy Landon, Brian Timpone and Edward Weinhaus." (Weinhaus was Timpone's cofounder; co-owner Landon arrived later.) Timpone's Chicago address, e-mail, wife's name, recent campaign contributions and photo appear there alongside an invitation for readers to "punch this asshole in the face" if they see him in person on the street. (The incitation to violence could be illegal, but Timpone hasn't bothered to report it to police.)
Some try to get their names pulled from Blockshopper or to get even. A Boston-area medical student, embarrassed when Blockshopper disclosed that his Chicago home had been purchased by his father, tried to exact revenge on Timpone: He created a phony female Web persona who claimed she had been raped after her home address was disclosed by Blockshopper. Timpone discovered the ruse and persuaded the man to pull down the website.
In April 2008 Cleveland law firm Jones Day sued Timpone and Blockshopper after the site outed the home purchases of two of its attorneys. The law firm argued in federal court in Chicago that Timpone had infringed its trademark by including hyperlinks in his Blockshopper stories to its attorneys' professional bios. The law firm claimed the links made it appear it was endorsing Blockshopper. Timpone settled the suit by making a technical change to his hyperlinks. The suit cost him $100,000 in legal fees.
No matter, Timpone is expanding. He is clinching a deal with Hearst that will vastly expand distribution of his news briefs in seven cities where Hearst runs newspapers, including Seattle and San Antonio. He is also trying to raise $5 million to $20 million in venture capital.
Timpone wants to use the money to start publishing stories based on parking ticket, divorce and bankruptcy records, again with the emphasis on pampered professionals. That ought to keep his enemy list growing nicely.
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