Tag Archives: Ethics

Has the business press failed the public trust?

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Below is the video of the panel held last week at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on whether business journalism failed to do its job in warning the general public before the economic crisis that began in 2008.

The panel included New York Times business editor Larry Ingrassia, Felix Salmon of Reuters, and Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman. Read more about the event here.

Biz columnist loses defamation appeal

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An appeal of a judge’s ruling that found Vancouver Sun business columnist David Baines had defamed a former senator has been dismissed.

Keith Fraser of The Province writes, “Lawson’s lawyer argued that Baines had crafted the column to imply that Lawson, former Canadian director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was corrupt.

“The judge concluded that while Baines was an ‘honest and forthright’ witness, Lawson had established that the words used in the column were defamatory.

“On appeal, the Sun’s lawyers contended that the words complained of were incapable of being defamatory and that the judge was wrong to find that they were.

“They argued that the trial judge had applied the wrong standard of review in the case.

“But in his reasons for judgment released Friday, B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Christopher Hinkson found that there were no such errors.”

Read more here.

Wall Street reporters who accept fees from Wall Street

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Paul Starobin writes in the March/April issue of Columbia Journalism Review about how some business journalists — he names Gillian Tett, Michael Lewis, Martin Wolf and Niall Ferguson among the defenders — accept fees to speak at events run by Wall Street firms.

Starobin writes, “Many journalists give paid speeches to businesses and business groups. And Wall Street, as it happens, is probably the top source of such engagements. Household names such as Bank of America as well as obscure hedge funds, private-equity firms, and others in the financial world frequently hire journalists — including scribes who regularly cover Wall Street — to deliver speeches at events ranging from publicized conferences to small private dinners with select clients. Millions of dollars have flowed to journalists in speaking fees in recent years.

“Is this a scandal, a dark and indelible stain on journalism, or really not such a big deal? What does Wall Street, which is all about the bottom line, after all, get from such engagements? Is this a matter of journalism ethics? Not surprisingly, what may at first seem a simple judgment call turns out to be a bit more complicated.

“Even though the practice of journalists speaking for money is not a new one, these questions are especially ripe for exploration because of the enormous importance of Wall Street as a political and economic story for the press. The US economy is still suffering from the 2008 financial crisis, and Wall Street, saved by a controversial federal bailout of some $1 trillion, is emerging as a core issue in the 2012 presidential campaign — especially with the prospect that the Republican nominee will be Mitt Romney, a former private-equity baron.

“The public needs to trust the press to get the story straight, all the more so because of pervasive distrust of Wall Street itself.”

The full article is not online yet.

All biz journalists have conflicts

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Dan Primack of Fortune doesn’t understand what all of the hullabaloo is about tech journalists and their conflicts, noting that at the end of the day, it is the quality of their content that matters.

Primack writes, “Most tech media site hosts live events, for the primary purpose of generating revenue. Yes, there are secondary goals — increasing brand awareness, generating exclusive content — but a well-attended conference can generate more money in a day than can a month’s worth of on-site advertising. Trust me, I’ve done them.

“And do you know why those conferences are well-attended? High-profile speakers. The higher the better. And do you know who usually recruits those speakers? Journalists, because they’re the ones with the existing relationships.

“In other words, journalists basically ask the people they are covering to appear at an event for the purpose of making money for that journalist’s employer (which then has more money to pay the journalist, or give them a raise). Not exactly the same as asking someone you cover for an investment in your employer, but not exactly in a different ballpark.

“Ultimately, it all comes down to reader trust, which journalists and media outlets gain over time by regularly publishing accurate, insightful and/or entertaining information. Anyone can publish unfounded rumors or gushy pablum about their own supporters. But those outlets won’t stand the test of time (and, consequently, won’t produce a good return on investment for their VC backers). Readers have limited time, don’t suffer fools lightly and have plenty of options.”

Read more here.

Tech news blogs and their conflicts

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Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times takes a look at the increasing conflict that exists among many tech news bloggers in Silicon Valley — they’re writing about companies and investors in which they have a vested interest.

Hiltzik writes, “The basic question is: Should you trust what you read in some of these blogs? In many respects, the answer is no.

“That’s especially so when a tech site goes beyond information gleaned from documented sources and renders subjective judgments about companies without track records or products that haven’t even been released yet. For a struggling start-up, a positive mention from Siegler or on PandoDaily can put it on the map. You think a venture investor with money in a tech blog is above exerting subtle, or unsubtle, pressure on said blog to get a good review? Think again.

“It would be unfair to suggest that tech bloggers aren’t earnest about trying to produce good reporting on Silicon Valley. They haven’t exactly sold their souls by taking money from the people they cover. But what they have sold was worth a lot more than the money they got for it.”

Read more here.

NYC panel to explore whether biz media failed public trust

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A panel of business journalists and business journalism experts will debate whether the field failed to fulfill its role of protecting the public at Columbia University next month.

The panel will be held on March 7 at 7 p.m. at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. To rsvp, send an email to events@publicbusinessmedia.org.

The panelists will be New York Times business editor Larry Ingrassia, Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon, Wall Street Journal banking reporter Suzanne Kapner, American Banker reporter Jeff Horwitz and Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review.

The moderator will be Maha Rafi Atal, executive director of Public Business Media.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the business press faces tough questions. In failing to sufficiently expose risk and malfeasance in the financial sector, and to explain the wider social and economic consequences of the crisis, critics say journalists neglected a fundamental obligation to serve the public interest. Many journalists counter that they reported as much as could be known, and defend their focus on companies’ financial performance as serving the needs of the investing public.

At its core, this is a discussion about mission: What’s the distinction between the public interest and investors’ interests, when are they in conflict, and how should news organizations balance the two? How has the broadening of the investing public affected the distinction? In a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Starkman framed the contrast and argued for a revival of public interest coverage.

Join Starkman, and a panel of distinguished business journalists, for a debate that asks, ‘Did the business press fall down on the job, and does the job itself have to change?’

Some tech journalists and their lack of ethics

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Newsweek technology editor Dan Lyons writes about how a tech journalist, Michael Arrington, who has started a venture capital fund, and his cronies are now bad mouthing another tech journalist for writing negatively about a company that they invested in.

Lyons writes, “Separately another VC recently told me his firm recently had passed on opportunities to invest in some new tech blogs that were proposing a business model he described as ‘hush money.’ Potential investors were being offered ‘most favored nation’ status for themselves and their portfolio companies if they put money into the site.

“This is what now passes for ‘journalism’ in Silicon Valley: hired guns and reformed click-whores who have found a way to grab some of the loot for themselves. This is perhaps not surprising. Silicon Valley once was home to scientists and engineers — people who wanted to build things. Then it became a casino. Now it is being turned into a silicon cesspool, an upside-down world filled with spammers, liars, flippers, privacy invaders, information stealers — and their grubby cadre of paid apologists and pygmy hangers-on.

“The most delicious part of Siegler’s rant on the tech media is the final paragraph:

The only thing I can offer is the advice to take everything you read in the technology press with a grain of salt. Perhaps several. The likelihood that at least part of it is nonsense is very strong. And stronger by the day.

“For once, I could not agree more.”

Read more here.

Marketwatch columnist also a white nationalist, reports Business Insider

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Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider is reporting that Marketwatch.com columnist Peter Brimelow is also a white nationalist who runs a website that argues against multiculturalism and immigration.

Weisenthal writes that he has reached out to Marketwatch and its parent, Dow Jones & Co., for a response, but has yet to receive one.

Weisenthal writes, “So it’s pretty obvious that Brimelow has too distinct modes: Racial polemicist part of the time, conservative, anodyne investment writer another part of the time.

“And maybe, at some level, it’s not that odd. A lot of what Brimelow writes about for Marketwatch is about what newsletter writers are saying, and the world of newsletters is filled with people who connect investing with dramatic, societal warnings (Hello Ron Paul newsletters!).

“But it’s certainly reasonable to ask Dow Jones whether it is 1) aware of, and 2) comfortable with Brimelow’s views on race and culture in America.”

Read more here.

Is Suze Orman a journalist?

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Bloomberg View columnist Susan Antilla writes about personal finance guru Suze Orman and her new debit card that she has introduced and explores the question as to whether she is a journalist.

Antilla writes, “Orman goes to pains in her disclosure to say she isn’t an investment adviser. O magazine calls her a ‘contributing editor,’ which sure sounds like a journalist to me.

“Meanwhile, Brian Steel, a CNBC spokesman, throws another possibility into the mix. Orman is ‘not a CNBC employee or a journalist,’ he said in an e-mailed statement, but the network does have ‘editorial guidelines in place to insure that the ‘Suze Orman Show’ maintains its editorial integrity.’ He didn’t respond to a question asking what the difference is between CNBC’s expectations of Orman and its standards for journalists, but did say that Orman will neither discuss her debit card on the show nor buy advertising time for it.

“Call her what you will, but Chris Roush, a professor of business journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says the public relies, in part, on the impression it gets.

“‘She comes across on her show as being a journalist who has vetted products and issues, and is speaking from a position of authority,’ said Roush, a former reporter for Bloomberg News.

“That impression can ‘keep the public confused’ when the same news organizations that hire professional journalists mix things up with ‘fringe’ people, said Kevin Smith, ethics committee chairman at the Society of Professional Journalists. Newsrooms generally have rules that prohibit journalists from selling financial products or trading stocks they’re writing about, Roush points out.”

Read more here.

Company blocking biz media from shareholder meeting

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Becky Yerak of the Chicago Tribune reports that insurance broker Aon Corp. is preventing journalists from attending its shareholder meeting to decide whether to move its headquarters to London.

Yerak writes, “Aon historically allows the media into its annual shareholder meetings in the spring.

“But a spokesman said special shareholder meetings are another matter; media wasn’t allowed, for example, into a special shareholder meeting held to vote on a merger with consulting firm Hewitt.

“Late Friday afternoon Aon was weighing whether to allow reporters to cover the meeting.

“‘While our usual process is not to have meetings such as special shareholder meetings open to the media, in this instance we are revisiting that process. Hope to have more on Monday,’ an Aon spokesman said in an email.

“As shareholder meetings go, this one has the potential to be livelier than most.”

Read more here.