The ethics of a biz journalist sharing passwords

Jenna Wortham

Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, writes about technology writer Jenna Wortham‘s recent admission that she shares passwords for Netflix.

Sullivan writes, “Another reader, Fred Goodwin, wrote to me: ‘I find it surprising that a NYT columnist would publicly advocate and actively participate in such a practice. This strikes me as tantamount to piracy.’

“They raise valid concerns.

“Ms. Wortham and her editor, though, see the matter differently.

“‘The column is supposed to be experimental, and Jenna is deliberately on the frontier – that’s the whole point,’ said Jeff Sommer, an assistant business editor who worked with Ms. Wortham to conceive the column idea. ‘It’s wonderful to have someone who’s ahead of the curve.’

“He said he did not see the column as endorsing subscription-sharing but rather describing the situation and looking at the business practices and implications. And he said he had encouraged Ms. Wortham to explore the ethical issues in another column or article.

“Ms. Wortham said she hadn’t been surprised by the reaction. ‘The column tends to be provocative,’ she said. ‘We’re trying to capture the rapidly evolving landscape.’

“As for the ethical issues, she said, ‘It’s a very murky area when the companies themselves don’t really seem to see it as a huge problem.’”

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