Should bloggers avoid conflicts of interest as journalists do?

    by Mark Glaser
    November 17, 2006

    With so many journalists now blogging — thanks to so many mainstream media websites adding journalist blogs — the question is whether this new wave of bloggers will bring a different ethos to blogging. Say what you will about mainstream media’s various foibles and biases, but professional journalists often keep the interest of their readers — instead of their own self-interests — paramount. The journalist’s code of ethics requires that a reporter should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” But in the blogosphere, the rules are a bit fuzzier. Silicon Valley insider and TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington recently reacted to the lastest charge of his conflicts of interest like this:

    TechCrunch is all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends. I genuinely like these people and want them to succeed, and they know it and therefore trust me more than they trust traditional press.

    So what do you think about this stance and others by bloggers who feel that they can give honest commentary even though they have conflicts of interest? Will bloggers lose credibility by having these conflicts, or will disclosures help keep everything transparent? Is there something bloggers like Arrington can do to minimize conflicts? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll run the best ones in the next Your Take Roundup.

    Tagged: comments ethics journalism weblog
    • The key word is transparency. For me personally being a PR person means that I have to be seen to be above board so I have a personally imposed policy of not talking about current clients or my current employer. This meant that I couldn’t respond to some things that a prominent blogger said about my employer a few months ago.

      Also the first time I mention an ex-client I try to disclose the past link. You can find in the about section of my blog a pretty comprehensive list of current and former clients that I have worked on (however briefly).

      Do I think that some bloggers are not handling conflicts of interest well, absolutely, how can micromedia people have the luxury of a separation of editorial and advertorial when they may be struggling to pay their rent, their hosting costs and put food on their table?

    • Why! Our government does’nt avoid conflicts of interest. As a matter of fact everything I’ve read about the government in the last month says they’re guilty of more than conflict of interest…

    • you’re way too kind to traditional media here…

      bloggers are largely leading the way in disclosing conflicts, perhaps because they know online readers can simply click away to another, more transparent blogger in the blink of an eye….whereas traditional journalists have had monopolies in, say, local markets (e.g., daily newspapers) for far too long

      it’s the bloggers who are keeping the journalists honest here, not the other way around

    • good question mark – so i’ll bite given that i am a blogger who happens to work inside traditional media ;)

      its all about disclosure & the realization that whatever you post (or comment on) can be read by anybody and could be available forever…

      so each time you post, ask yourself – should i be simply listening and learning or do i actually have something to add to the conversation and can i stand behind it even if i have to defend my motivations for posting…

      my blog is personal and has nothing to do w/ my employer but i do post about the industry i work in and sometimes about companies i know or used to work for, so i always open a sensitive post w/ a disclosure on how the post topic relates to me if needed as well as i’ve always made sure to state the following: “this is a personal weblog. the opinions expressed are mine and not related to my employer in any way.”

      i also make sure to list my affiliations such as the boards i serve on & when pertinent the stocks i own…

      this disclosure philosophy works for me, but of course if i think something will be a conflict of interest if i make a public statement about it (even w/ disclosure) – simple, i just don’t make the statement…

      in this regard i follow the robert scoble school of blogging – “be smart” :)

    • Transparency is only the prelude, and disclosure can be faked. For example, who cares if a PayPerPoster declares that they’re paid to promote (or attack) something?

      What matters is the agenda, whether hidden or confessed. We do not wish to hear from paid enthusiasts or hired flamers. We want to hear from unincentivized, uncoached, unrehearsed, unscripted users who have no axe to grind and no butts to kiss. True word of mouth buzz in the blogosphere is based on this peer-to-peer recommendation system.

      In online journalism, we expect the same lack of bias and good breeding. Plus, the ability to post comments in a thread directly connected to the articles, and not shoved aside to some forum space where few readers venture.

      This is the global democracy revolution: from now on, everyone is on a level communications playing field. Political, governmental, religious, family, commercial, and other domination systems give way to the voice of the individual.

      Journalism is not known for universal high ethics, but they used to be good at keeping the interest and loyal readership of an audience. That has now changed.

      I don’t think the question is: “How will the blogosphere benefit from professional mainstream journalists?”

      The question is: “How will the blogosphere continue to destroy the very fabric and foundation of mainstream journalism?”

      And: “How do we keep the creepy agendas and bias of mainstream journalism OUT of the beloved blogosphere?”

      As far as TechCrunch, and other bloggers who are suspected of dubious or detrimental policies, we have our ways of dealing with such things in the blogosphere.

      Influencers and friends of influencers can cause rapid avalanches when necessary.

      Basically, we want most [that is, the corrupt, arrogant, and greedy] businesses and journalists to stay out of the blogosphere. We don’t need or want them.

    • As long as I’ve been blogging, I have been struck by the ethos of serious bloggers that the key to ethics is transparency and honesty, not a phony stance of objectivity. That has long been considered the key differentiation between bloggers and MSM reporters. As blogging exploded, we’ve seen a rise of bloggers who maybe less aware of the need for transparency and honesty, but the key advantage of a typical blog is that it is one person with a clear personal agenda.

    • Yes…many bloggers are almost Too Transparent, and if they have an axe to grind or a butt to kiss, they stridently proclaim it.

      Bloggers tend to be, and I include myself, a bit too confessional, too much focus on self, and Mark brings up a very astute point about MSM journalists: they are not narcissistic in their writings.

      While MSM journalists often have more subtle bias, whether left or right or whatever, at least they don’t blabber on and on about their favorite music, their relationships, or their children.


    • T

      “Old Media” journalists have become stenographers in the way that they practice objectivity. Evidenced by the NYTimes new color-coding method of identifying articles so, god forbid, readers don’t find any opinion.

      Full disclosure, yes. But lifting the veil of objectivity in the blogosphere allows the writer to not have to include all sides in order to purport to some sort of fairness, no matter how crazy some arguments may be.

      I’m feeling scattered right now — not too coherent — but bloggers are on the right track. We all have to be concerned with transparency, but it’s the bloggers leading the way, not the other way around.

    • Um, bloggers aren’t journalists. Of course, some are, however, the lions-share are not. If you’re a good blogger, you have two characteristics:

      1. You’re an expert
      2. You’re passionate about your expertise

      If the above is true, then you have one-heck-of-a blog and much to offer.

    • rachelle

      “Should bloggers avoid conflicts of interest as journalists do?”

      wow. even the title is filled with assumptions. i propose that there are very few actual journalists left in the us. certainly only two or three who work in TV; as far as print goes, ditto. we are down to three major media outlets, and even PBS was neutered in the early 70’s. the loss of such a giant as Ed Bradley is a real tragedy. i trusted him. i do not trust the vast majority of those left behind. i trust dan rather–why did he get screwed? michael moore and several others published the same info, and it was not proven to be untrue. oh well.

      my point is: true journalists are few and far between. poor grammar, misspellings, misinformation and misquotes are commonplace. journalistic skills are not as important as a pretty face, and talking heads only need to be able to read a teleprompter.

      the question is moot.

      journalists have ethical standards to which they can be held (in theory); bloggers are private individuals, and can be held to no standard (unless there is one put in place by their blog host). most often they are self-deluded blow-hards who feel the need to see their viewpoints in print (of a sort)–it allows them to experience immortality. they write an open-ended op-ed column. WHO CARES?

    • Aron P

      “Um, bloggers aren’t journalists”

      Aren’t they? That sure wasn’t the line they were taking when the FEC was in the process of rulemaking re: the internet.

      The problem is that some bloggers want to have it both ways. They want to take their government-paid-for junkets to Amsterdam; they want to be paid political advisors; they want to be industry insiders (firing offenses in my world)… but yet they want to be called journalists at the same time.

      So, I’d say the question posed is up to the individual blogger to answer, much as it is often up to the individual journalist. Companies (like mine) have policies, but often it is up to me to make judgment calls on the fly when a source wants to pay your lunch tab, or when someone offers information you know was acquired in a less-than-legal manner.

      It ultimately comes down to credibility. Bloggers have to decide whether they want to be taken seriously by readers as information brokers, or dismissed as shills. It’s their choice. Personally, I think this is THE single biggest issue noone in the blogosphere is really talking about. Kudos for raising it.

    • Uatu

      “Should bloggers avoid conflicts of interest as journalists do?”

      Actually I have no opinion. I either know or I don’t know. There is no other view for me. So in that sense I write as if the only thing that matters is the information. It does not matter which point of view someone sees it from, nor mine, since I have none. It only means something if the information is real, factual, and trustworthy or does it? The main question is: What is real, factual, and trustworthy? I myself trust no one, because everyone sees even the same incident differently. No one has the same eye’s nor the same brain, but which of them actually “sees” anyways? Reality is in the eyes of the viewer, no matter who sees it, or how they see it. All I can do is present information that I feel is trustworthy and non-trustworthy and hope that people are intelligent enough to distrust me and every other journalist. With the hopes that they will research for themselves. Hopefully, they research it all the way back to the person who saw it on the street or wherever something took place. Then of course comes the question: Can I trust hear-say? Well in all actual fact, everything in the world is hear-say; everything. So who too trust? Well it leads to the ultimate quote: “I know that I know nothing.” Everything I hear and see is but my perception of those events, not that of those who experience it with me.

      That being said, “I care not for what emotions I evoke in readers… though I love that it does.”

      “Knowledge is freedom… Research is the path to attain it!”

      Benjamin Franklin
      “The great secret of succeeding in conversation is to admire little,
      to hear much; always to distrust our own reason, and sometimes that of our friends; never to pretend to wit, but to make that of others appear as much as possibly we can; to hearken to what is said and to answer to the purpose. ”

      Patrick Henry
      “Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”

      Samuel Johnson
      “In order that all men may be taught to speak the truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.”

    • tim sheehan

      Who says journalists avoid conflicts of interest? Bill Moyers is a paid head of a foundation which has a goal to convince government to action on global warming along with other agendas. And yet he has a free hand at PBS to produce “documentaries” on global warming and other news worthy items. The NY Times ombudsman also recently made a statement that went something like this “of course the Times is liberal…and then went one step further and stated that they have an out right agenda when it comes to gay marriage.

      Sorry don’t agree with your premise as any thoughtful citizen would.

    • tom

      yes. otherwise they are no different from journalists.

      How do I rate the corporate media? Lousy. You are propaganda hacks or castrated poodles on a leash. That’s for journalists. As for the networks, they are corporate America’s propaganda outlets. There to push the interests and agenda of Corporate America, the Bush regime and conservative ideology. Your purpose is to shape the opinions and attitudes of the American people so you can get them to vote for the issues and candidates corporate America and conservative ideology favors. You do this by censoring the truth, managing the dialogue and manipulating the debate. You filter out the other voice, the other perspective, especially the liberal, progressive perspective on the issues we face, so the American people will never hear their side of the argument. Meanwhile you constantly reinforce the conservative ideology of corporate America, conservative Republicans and the Bush regime on your news talk shows. You never question or challenge the party line, and if you do its only to answer the critics-who never get to speak for themselves, answer the points raised or allowed to pursue their point. All we get is a one sided discussion that is highly biased to begin with. It allows you to rewrite not only current events but history. In the process creating a distortion of the truth, a false reality and a deluded understanding of the situation. Don’t call yourselves journalists. Call yourselves pr people. Then you can claim just a little honesty for yourselves.

      Here’s what I wrote before being given this marvelous opportunity to give my opinion about the media. No surprise it should occur on the Now web site. If all the corporate media propaganda outlets were like Now it would make everything I write here a lie. They aren’t, so I stand by everything I write here.

    • A very interesting site, I think. The Idea of Technometry was new for me but worth to be read and thought abot it (although I’m not a native english-speaker and have some difficulties whith this language)

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