Tag Archives: Ethics
by Chris Roush
Ryan Chittum of Columbia Journalism Review is critical of CNBC’s “Rise Above” campaign, which he argues is mere political posturing.
Chittum writes, “So it is with CNBC’s ‘Rise Above’ crusade, which has blanketed its airwaves and adorned its lapels since the day after the election with pleas for a solution to the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’
“You’ll note that CNBC has not Risen Above for the common good on issues like stimulating a depressed economy, ameliorating the housing catastrophe, or prosecuting its Wall Street sources/dinner partners for the subprime fiasco. But make no mistake: even if it had, it would have been stepping outside the boundaries of traditional American journalism practice into political advocacy. And that’s precisely what it’s doing here, at further cost to its credibility as a mainstream news organization instead of some HD version of Wall Street CCTV.
“The big question: Why is a news organization running what’s effectively a political campaign for Simpson-Bowles, complete with thirty-second spots and campaign buttons? Look, kids. You can get your very own Rise Above pin, wrapped in the flag, just like your favorite business-news personalities! Roger Ailes himself must blush at this kind of grandstanding, but I have a hard time believing the business class and CNBC would be so worked up over this austerity program if it weren’t for the major tax increases contained therein.
“The day after the election, Joe Kernen read off the prompter, with all the enthusiasm of a TASS newscaster, ‘We are ‘Rising Above’ the partisan rhetoric to find a solution for the fiscal cliff.’”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Bloomberg Businessweek has pulled an online poll and article asking its readers to vote for what business school had the best-looking female students after criticism from readers.
Aja Romano of The Daily Dot writes, “The poll was part of a new Businessweek feature called ‘Face/Off‘ that asks readers to vote on various short polls. Introduced just five days ago, the poll has already ground to a halt after the media outlet yanked its latest edition.
“What were Businessweek execs thinking when they put up the poll to begin with? Probably that this year would be no different from the other three years they’d published similar rankings of colleges by hotness.
“In 2009, Businessweek published an article called ‘Campus Life: A Report Card.’
“‘It’s important to understand what the universities that house the top business programs are really like,’ claimed the article. The next year, they repeated the article, this time with a slide show purporting to list the ‘Fifty Colleges with the Hottest Guys, Girls, and Nightlife.’ And by 2011, they were confident enough to declare it a yearly event.
“The lists generated virtually no discussion. In 2010, a Huffington Post syndication of the list garnered comments about the drug scene on certain campuses, but little else. On the Bloomberg Businessweek website, comments were absent altogether.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Colin Pope, the editor of the Austin Business Journal in Texas, writes about his no-voting policy.
Pope writes, “I started the no-voting practice in the 1990s when I was assigned to the City Hall beat at a daily newspaper. I was uncomfortable with the expectation of fairly covering politics professionally, and then personally I was allowed to pick sides. Wouldn’t that jeopardize, or at least slow down, my ability to report objectively? There’s little worse than a biased journalist so I recused myself from the political process as a precaution. At first only on City Council races I covered, and then on any issue or race I may need to report on — even presidential races.
“I also stopped sharing my personal political views with my friends, co-workers and even my wife. I wouldn’t think of giving money to a campaign, and I don’t sign most petitions.
“Some news organizations prohibit their reporters from making political contributions due to credibility issues yet few abstain from voting, but I’m glad I did. I held onto the philosophy when I moved to the Austin Business Journal and even when I took the role of editor.
“We cover only local business but politics still seeps into my job, seemingly always during the rare times when I put my reporter hat back on. I found myself talking about issues in the presidential race just recently when I interviewed HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples during one of our Face 2 Face breakfasts. He happened to work at Bain Capital alongside Mitt Romney. Wouldn’t you have a question or two about that?”
Read more here.
by Adam Levy
A growing trend in journalism revolves around branded or sponsored content — individuals or companies pay to place their editorial creations alongside the “real” journalism.
It’s not new; advertorials have been around for a while.
But more and more websites are allowing it — even some run by major news organizations — and the line is blurring. It’s not always clear what’s “real” and what’s someone with an agenda is placing.
On the surface, I don’t mind it. Yes, I know, it runs smack into the basic tenet of journalistic independence and all that. But, if it’s clearly labeled as a story told by a company and paid for by them than I don’t see the issue.
Last year, When Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn toured the carmaker’s earthquake-damaged plant in Japan a camera crew followed him around. That crew was in-house employees of Nissan’s newsroom. The content was posted on the company’s website and shown on YouTube. It was well done. I watched it.
Why not take the initiative and create your own story – about a product, about an issue (climate change, obesity), whatever the case be? In the days of shrinking news holes, I don’t mind companies standing up and going outside the traditional journalism box to tell their story.
I currently have a publicly traded client who is not getting a fair shake in the local media in which they operate. A litigator clearly has the reporter wrapped around his finger; the newspaper’s editor is not interested in hearing the other side of the story. In these cases, I believe a company should create its own medium. I don’t mind recommending a pay-for-play situation.
What I do mind is when the line is blurred and when I can’t tell when the content is company produced. I don’t want to name any names here, but on some sites (yes, major big journalistic enterprise ones), it’s hard to tell the difference.
That’s disingenuous. Clearly state who is writing this and who the author is working for and then – if the story is well presented – you’ll have an audience of at least one.
by Chris Roush
A Citigroup tech analyst has been fired from his job after he talked about Facebook’s initial public offering with business journalists.
Stephen Foley of the Financial Times writes, “Mr Mahaney, one of the most widely-respected and quoted analysts in his sector, was given a ‘letter of education’ in April this year about his failure to adhere to the bank’s internal policy about seeking approval before speaking to reporters, according to court documents filed in Massachusetts.
“Citigroup was one of the lead underwriters on the Facebook flotation in May and was given privileged access to Facebook management and financial information. That analyst, who was not named, was fired last month.
“The incident for which Mr Mahaney was fired this week took place in April. He told a reporter from the French business magazine Capital that he believed Google’s revenues from its YouTube video sharing site would outstrip his published forecasts.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
According to research conducted by the Carnegie Trust and Demos, the Financial Times is considered to be the most ethical UK newspaper.
The study, which surveyed a representative sample of 2000 adults across the UK, found that 57 percent of respondents thought the FT operates in an ethical manner, higher than any other title.
Duncan O’Leary, lead author of the report and deputy director of Demos said: “Following the phone-hacking scandal, trust in newspapers is at an all time low. Despite that, our survey of the public found the FT to be the most trusted of all UK newspapers, with a clear majority agreeing that the paper operates ethically, with due regard to the public interest.”
“Investigative journalism serves a vital democratic function in our society. The best journalists are already open and transparent about how stories have been obtained, so that readers decide whether they have overstepped the mark to get a story. Spreading this practice throughout the industry would go a long way to restoring trust.”
The full report, which explores public attitudes towards free speech, privacy and investigative journalism, can be found here.
by Chris Roush
Charlie Warzel of AdWeek reports that Forbes content will appear in ads for blue-chip companies as part of a deal with Martini Media.
Warzel writes, “The ads will let the marketer surround their own rich media with Forbes articles that are specific to the brand’s message. For example, one launch client, Emirates Airlines, will include in its ad travel and thought leader-related articles from Forbes that are aimed at high-income executives. When the Forbes link is clicked, the ad unit will redirect to Forbes’ site, where the sponsor’s ad content will surround the article.
“Advertisers will be able to choose from any Forbes staff-written content, and their bylines and photos may appear in the ad as well. The ads will then run as IAB Rising Star portrait units across Forbes‘ and Martini’s publishing networks, which includes such sites as Salon, LexisNexis and Kayak.
“It’s not uncommon for a publisher to seek wider distribution of its content; what’s unusual about this deal is that the content is being distributed outside the publisher’s own site. It’s a bold move, even for a publisher like Forbes, which radically broke with church-state convention in 2010 when it let advertisers publish alongside staffers in an overhaul of its print and Web products. While the marketers’ posts carry a BrandVoice logo, they, by design, look just like the editorial-produced content.”
Read more here.
by Liz Hester
Remember back in July when Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new CEO. Not only is she a woman; she was pregnant. Cue the stories about work-family balance and if someone just starting a family could hold such a high-profile position.
Even other women joined the chorus of questions, like this Miami Herald blog post by Cindy Krischer Goodman when Mayer took the job. Then there was this July post in the New York Times Motherlode blog:
Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy appears to be a first among new chief executives, and possibly (according to TechCrunch) a first among C.E.O.’s of publicly traded Fortune 500 companies. Coverage of her pregnancy is rampant, as, of course, is interest, spurred partly by all those firsts — including the fact that this will be Ms. Mayer’s first baby.
As an honest woman, I have to predict that the balancing of a new baby and such a high-profile job may be more challenging than Ms. Mayer’s blithe dismissal of the question suggests. (“I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she told Fortune magazine. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”) But that’s no reason Ms. Mayer can’t make it work — and kudos to her and to Yahoo for taking it on.
But would you have? One question raised as the media and the business world discuss Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy is whether a man would face the same scrutiny for taking a high-profile job during his wife’s first pregnancy. The answer? Of course not, although it would surely come up for discussion — witness even the observers who wondered if a father as involved as Barack Obama would, could or should run for the presidency while his children were young.
Well, yesterday, Mayer delivered on the earnings, only weeks after delivering her first child on September 30. It wasn’t perfect, and the coverage of earnings ranged from critical to glowing. But in a quarter of change, Mayer showed her detractors she is capable of turning the company around.
From the AP story:
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer turned in an encouraging report card covering her first few months running the troubled Internet company.
The third-quarter results announced Monday weren’t astounding, but they were better than analysts anticipated. Most importantly, Yahoo’s net revenue crept up from the previous year for the third consecutive year. That reinforced the belief that things are finally getting better at Yahoo after five years of financial malaise, especially with the hard-driving, well-respected Mayer at the helm.
And from the New York Times coverage:
Yahoo reported stronger earnings than a year earlier, but future growth remained uncertain. “We have a fundamental foundation on which to grow,” Ms. Mayer said in a conference call with analysts. “We believe Yahoo’s best days lie ahead. We intend to win.”
Those problems start with the company’s stagnant revenue, which was $1.2 billion in the quarter. Its income from operations decreased 14 percent, to $152 million from $177 million in the year earlier period.
With 700 million users each month, Yahoo remains one of the most visited sites on the Web, but it has been ceding its share of the online display ad market to rivals like Facebook and Google.
Its search business, which Yahoo outsourced to Microsoft in 2009, is on its last legs, propped up only because of a revenue-guarantee clause in its contract with Microsoft.
And the Wall Street Journal weighs in with a measured assessment as well:
Marissa Mayer has injected a feeling of hope inside Yahoo Inc., but her first quarterly report card points to a tough slog for the long-ailing Internet pioneer.
The Silicon Valley company on Monday reported third-quarter profit that soared due to Yahoo’s sale of part of its stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. But revenue fell 1%, lagging steady growth in the online advertising market.
Yahoo’s results were above analysts’ expectations, however, sending its share price up 4.3% to $16.45 in after-hours trading following the announcement.
Given all the speculation about Mayer’s ability to balance having a baby and trying to turn around a struggling company, I think her first quarter should help stop some of the criticism. It’s not perfect. But it takes more than three months to fix an ailing company and Mayer seems to be well on the way to accomplishing her plans.
One thing she could do better, according to nearly all the media stories, is explain what those plans are and how she’s going to execute them. While it seems she’s come a long way in three months, there’s definitely room for improvement. I just hope the next quarter’s stories focus more on the company and less on the new mother’s ability to lead it.
by Chris Roush
Liz Ryan writes for The Huffington Post about what she calls the nasty bias in business journalism — the lack of coverage about the people who work at companies.
Ryan writes, “People move the numbers. People build the products and have the ahas and design the supply chains. Without human mojo and pixie dust, we’ve got nothing, but the public business conversation denies that inescapable reality. People are meaty, earthy, milky, warm and wise. They power everything that happens in business, but we leave them out of the story and the equation. We don’t send journalists looking for data to support the idea that paying executives tons of money is good for productivity. We take it as an article of faith.
“I once had an editor of a big-city daily tell me that he couldn’t run my story (gently chastising a large employer for lying to its employees about a company HQ move — and looking back, I’m not sure why I was gentle about it) because the employer could turn out to be a big advertiser in the paper. I think that was an aberration — I don’t think it’s a fear of employer retribution (in the form of pulled ads) that makes business-page editors so weenified. I think it’s one of those unexamined American frames, just the way things are, never discussed, never considered through another lens, not even around the business-page editorial table.
“If we can’t say how a theme or a notion helps corporations make more money (pumping milk at work, for example, or reversing the steady mechanization of people at work that started with time-and-motion studies and continues through tighter and tighter turns of the screws in American workplaces every day) then there’s simply nothing to say about it.
“That’s wrong. It’s not responsible journalism, but more than that, it’s not responsible citizenship.”
Read more here.
by Liz Hester
Lost in the shuffle of Thursday’s news was a little nugget about private-equity firms agreeing to not compete for deals. From the Bloomberg story:
Top executives at buyout firms including Blackstone Group LP (BX), KKR & Co. (KKR), Bain Capital Partners LLC and Carlyle Group (CG) LP assured each other in e-mails that they wouldn’t compete on deals to avoid driving up prices and angering competitors, according to a now public court complaint.
The correspondence was cited as evidence that the firms rigged bids in 19 leveraged buyouts and eight other transactions, including the biggest deals of the leveraged buyout boom, according to the amended complaint unsealed yesterday by a federal judge in Boston.
“We would much rather work with you guys than against you,” Blackstone President Tony James wrote in an e-mail to KKR co-founder George Roberts in reference to the Freescale Semiconductor Ltd. (FSL) buyout, according to the complaint. “Together we can be unstoppable but in opposition we can cost each other a lot of money.” According to the complaint, Roberts replied, “Agreed.”
The extensive Bloomberg story goes on to chronicle many high-profile, expensive deals and their funding in detail. It devolves into a deal list. The story does mention the suit is being filed while private-equity is fighting for its reputation as Mitt Romey, co-founder of Bain Capital, runs for president.
Ok. But really, who cares? There’s absolutely nothing relatable about the story for the average person. That’s not Bloomberg’s core audience, but you’d think that somewhere in there would be a mention of WHY this is bad.
The reason, I think, is that pension funds have billions of dollars invested in private-equity firms like KKR, Blackstone, and Carlyle. That’s money that ultimately belongs to firefighters, police officers and teachers. It’s hard to think about not getting the best deals for pensioners.
According to the Associated Press (via WSJ):
A complaint released Wednesday by a federal district court in Boston details email exchanges between executives at Bain Capital, Blackstone Group LP, and other private equity giants. It’s part of a long-running lawsuit charging the firms with rigging bids for 19 buyouts during the wave of blockbuster deals before the financial crisis.
The plaintiffs in the class-action case are former shareholders in the companies bought by the private equity firms. Their lawsuit names nine of the largest private equity firms along with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. as defendants.
The plaintiffs say the firms colluded in some of the largest private-equity deals made between 2003 and 2007, such as buyouts for Neiman Marcus, Toys “R” Us and the hospital chain HCA, among others. They argue that the firms joined together to suppress competition and lower prices.
Blackstone spokesman Peter Rose described the complaint as far-fetched and a “fabrication.” Rose said the plaintiffs have imagined a conspiracy “involving hundreds of investment professionals, 11 firms and 27 transactions” lasting years. The emails, Rose said, are “wrenched out of context.”
Private equity deserves the benefit of the doubt. And it’s an important point to make that none of the pension funds are part of the suit. That means they’re likely happy with the returns they’re receiving for their investments, which is the whole point.
It’s hard to complain when you get what you want. But I am surprised that journalists aren’t immediately pointing out the link between regular citizens and private equity. It would make the story much more relatable to the average person and would help them understand something about their investments.
Fierce competition in business journalism for the attention of sophisticated readers is causing some outlets to forget that there’s a broader audience out there. Most people need to feel connected to fully engage in a story. This is something that some business news outlets should remember.