Tag Archives: Ethics

Business journalism, investors and Twitter

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TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

A story in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal reports that Pacific Investment Management Co. invested in Lehman Brothers bonds before the Wall Street firm filed for bankruptcy court protection and went out of business.

However, those who follow PIMCO’s Twitter feed knew that the story was coming back on May 27, when PIMCO posted a comment from Bill Gross, who is a PIMCO co-founder.

The habit of sources tweeting information before a business news organization can get the details into print — or even online — is raising new questions for reporters and editors. How fast should a business reporter rush to get potentially market-moving information into print so that he or she is not scooped by their sources? And should business journalists use information posted on Twitter by well-known investors?

There are no easy answers. However, at least one news organization, Bloomberg News, has issued a warning to its bond reporters about such tactics, noting that “Pimco and others may do the same to us some time,” according to an e-mail sent to reporters and editors on the bond team.

The practice of trying to beat a business news story to the punch is now new, unfortunately. Some CEOs have been known to post transcripts of interviews they have done with the media before a story is published. And a handful of CEOs also have their own blogs where they write about their interviews.

Still, tracking Twitter feeds for major business news sources could become popular for reporters and editors looking to find out what the competition is working on.

Montana publisher apologizes for “anti local” column in biz publication

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Stephanie Pressly, the publisher of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana, has apologized to its readers for publishing a column written by a freelancer that argued in favor of buying from national chains instead of local stores, saying it offended some local business owners and should have been spiked by editors.

Pressly writes, “It’s not much of a defense that this was the writer’s opinion and doesn’t reflect the views of the paper. The column did not run on the opinion page but rather in our monthly business publication, a publication with a mission to enhance the local business climate.

“Well, I’m writing on the opinion page and can tell you that there were a number of things wrong with that column, not the least of which is that we printed it: It only gave one lopsided example, quoted only one professorial source, and jumped to conclusions that were clearly off the mark.

“The fact is that local retailers often have lower prices than their big-box competitors. And local businesses actually know what they’re doing when it comes to pricing, inventory, marketing and especially service. To imply that buying local necessarily means ‘overpaying’ is ludicrous.”

Read more here.

How Google tries to manipulate the biz media

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Ben Jacklet of Oregon Business magazine writes Thursday about how Google’s PR team has tried to get free publicity from the business media for its new Groupon-like venture.

Jacklet writes, “The problem with Google is, for all of its laudable ideals about open access to information, the company is exceedingly closed with its own information. Google controls its corporate PR just as zealously as do Monsanto and ExxonMobil. When the news story involves the marketing launch of a new Google product, the information flows freely from company to journalist to the web, where it is searched for and found through Google. When the news story involves electricity use at a Google server farm, user privacy concerns, or other less promotional subjects, Google does not comment, and the information flows less freely, if at all.

“The pitch I received the other day from Google was really a marketing ploy. It was not a news story. This fact was verified the following day, when a Google rep showed up at our office with free cookies from the coffee shop being used to launch the new Google product in Portland (I turned him away). News stories generally don’t come with free cookies. PR blitzes do. The one specific question I asked the Google PR rep about Google’s coupon deal involved revenue sharing between the local business and Google. How exactly does this arrangement work, and how does it differ from Groupon? Didn’t get an answer.

“As a business journalist, I spend a lot of time dodging PR campaigns disguised as news stories. When it’s Google calling, my interest perks up. Perhaps we will finally get some relevant information about Google’s August 2010 purchase of Instantiations and the resulting work being done in Portland. Or the server farm in The Dalles. Or exciting new open source initiatives in Oregon. No such luck. The last news story Google shared with Oregon journalists involved Google Hotpot, the company’s response to the success of Yelp”

Read more here.

Does NYT tech columnist Pogue have a conflict of interest?

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Dan Lyons, writing for The Daily Beast, notes that the relationship between New York Times tech columnist David Pogue and public relations executive Nicki Dugan raises some ethical concerns.

Lyons writes, “Pogue has been dating Nicki Dugan, a vice president at OutCast Agency, a San Francisco PR firm that represents top tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Cisco, Netflix, and Yahoo, since last year. (On April 24, things between them had grown serious enough that Dugan announced their relationship on her Facebook page.)

“During the time they’ve been involved, Pogue has written articles about OutCast clients and their competitors without disclosing his personal connection to a senior staffer at the firm.

“Pogue’s editor at the New York Times, Damon Darlin, says that Pogue told him about the relationship last December. ‘He was concerned that there might be a perception of a conflict of interest, so we went over it,’ says Darlin, adding that he determined that as long as Pogue didn’t write about companies that Dugan personally represents, there would be no problem. He says he also asked OutCast not to pitch stories to Pogue. ‘People have romances all the time,’ says Darlin. ‘He hasn’t written about any companies that she is representing.’ (Neither Pogue nor Dugan returned a message for comment.)

“Still, the fact that Pogue frequently wrote stories of great importance to his girlfriend’s firm without disclosure makes some familiar with the details uncomfortable. An in-house tech company public relations executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of rankling Pogue, says the issue is more about disclosure than bias.”

Read more here.

Covering the tech industry and ethics

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Anthony DeRosa, the Reuters media product manager, weighs into the current conversation about conflicts of interest that journalists covering the tech industry encounter — or thrust upon themselves.

DeRosa writes, “Many of the same people writing about these startups are good friends with the principals, and the nearly flawless fawning coverage reads more like an extended arm of their public relations group than anything resembling real journalism.

“On top of that you have people who hop between being journalists and working as either advisers or evangelists who participate in promotional events for products. The conflict of being an adviser or an evangelist is obvious, diluting the person’s journalistic ethics and their ability to be impartial.

“The participation at various events can be harmless in some cases if it’s simply to cover the event and gain information about a product. Too often, though, the participants wind up becoming a shill for the very product and, in fact, in some cases, are even used in the promotional material. They also make their affinity for the product or service known through social media. These folks can no longer be taken seriously on any journalistic level.

“Would disclosure help fix this problem? If there was better transparency of the investors, would the relationship the writer has with their subjects lead to a more informed reader who could take those biases into account when reading an article? In a study I was directed to by Boston.com’s Courtney Humphries, the answer is that disclosure may actually make writers less ethical.”

Read more here.

How the media portrays business

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Phyllis Furman of the New York Daily News interviewed CNBC anchor Joe Kernen, who has written a book about  how the media and others portray business interests.

Here is an excerpt:

Q: Give us some examples of how you see business people portrayed in the media.

A: There was a study done of TV which looked at hundreds of hours of prime time. You were four times more likely to commit a crime if you were a CEO than if you were a drug dealer or a gang leader.

How about “WALL-E”? The company that ruined the world was called Buy n Large (a fictional version of Walmart). So the entire planet was ruined by, as far as I can tell, Walmart.

Think about the guys who have created wealth in this country. Walmart not only held down the consumer price index, but I think there are a million employees at Walmart.

Q: How much have your views been shaped by your years of grilling business leaders on “Squawk Box?”

A: A lot of it, obviously. I was also a stockbroker before that. I guess I have always been pro-capitalism. A sportscaster doesn’t have to like the teams, but at least you have to like the sport.

Read more here.

TechCrunch editor: Screw the tech press

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Michael Arrington, the editor and founder of TechCrunch, responds Saturday to criticism he’s received from others in the tech media for hid disclosure last week that he’s investing in tech companies.

Arrington writes, “Look, I’m still new to this journalism thing. I treat our readers the same way I’d like to be treated. With full and complete disclosure. I’m really sorry if that upsets the old guard. But the reality is this. The people complaining the most are the people who are the most deeply conflicted. They’re the people who are, at best, vague about their own conflicts of interest. Right and wrong don’t seem to be concepts they worry about too much. Nor do they seem to be overly concerned with hypocrisy or even the basic underlying lack of logic in their rants.

“Really, it all came into focus for me this week. A major news publication asked for ‘my side’ after all this complaining. I spent a half our on the phone with him at his request. And he never wrote. Why? ‘My editors want to leave Arianna dangling in the wind,’ he said, referring to the fact that Ariana Huffington, my boss, was taking heat for this situation. It never occurred to him that he just killed a story because that story might help a competitor (Huffington Post), and how screwed up that was.

“I have little hope for this industry until the last of the old guard have finally been put down. They do NOT control the news. They do NOT control opinion. They do NOT get to say who gets to write content and who doesn’t. And they do NOT get to rant about their ethics when they constantly fight against simple transparency.”

Read more here.

Arrington: Bigger ethical issue for tech reporters is friendships

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TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington, in an interview with Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson, defends his investing in companies in which his site covers and says a bigger ethical issue is the friendships that many who cover the tech industry have.

Here is an excerpt of what Arrington said:

“I just don’t care anymore about what the tech press thinks about the fact that I invest.

“I read an article this morning. It was saying [all this worry about investments being a conflict of interest is] kind of ridiculous because this is actually one of the smallest conflicts that tech journalists really have, but it’s one that people really freak out about.

“It talked about [how] friendship conflicts are the real issue. And they are. We all have our friendships and the people who have done right by us. And I’ve written about this before, that’s the real issue and there’s not much you can do besides trying to be an educated reader.”

Read more here.

Investing in companies in which your tech blog is covering

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Kara Swisher of All Things Digital writes Thursday about TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington, who has recently become an investor in some of the companies his site, which was purchased by AOL in the past year, covers.

Swisher writes, “On Tuesday night around 10 pm (just when I just start getting revved up), I wrote a testy email to Arrington’s bosses at AOL – Huffington and CEO Tim Armstrong – as well as the Internet portal’s sharp PR head, asking for a response about what seemed to me to be a glaring conflict of interest at TechCrunch related to new investment activity by Arrington and the site’s coverage of those particular companies he had invested in.

“It was all disclosed, of course, but it still felt, as I said, icky.

“And, given the recent and loudly stated goal of promoting quality journalism by Huffington – including the recent dismissal of AOL’s Moviefone site editor over what the company considered ethical lapses – it seemed pertinent to ask.

“Mostly, because I don’t think they actually knew much – if at all – about Arrington’s increasing investing action. Both Armstrong said as much in an email to me and Huffington assured me they were going to check it out tout de suite.

“But rather than an answer I was waiting on, up popped Arrington’s missive yesterday, which I assume came after his bosses asked for some info on this.

“In it, he explained his controversial decision to go back into investing again, in what is clearly a more significant manner.”

Read more here.

Covering Bloomberg for Bloomberg

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Ashley Parker of the New York Times writes Wednesday about Henry Goldman, the Bloomberg News reporter who covers New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who happens to be the majority owner of Bloomberg.

Parker writes, “While much of Mr. Goldman’s work is praised by his colleagues, Bloomberg News’ coverage of the mayor has come in for some criticism. Last month, an article in Editor & Publisher magazine criticized the New York news media for the way it covered Mr. Bloomberg’s handling of the December blizzard that left the city paralyzed. Bloomberg News, the article reported, ‘totally ignored the intense debate over the mayor’s whereabouts as 20 inches of snow closed in on New York.’

“‘The news service,” said the article, written by Allan Wolper, ‘behaved as if City Hall had sent over a city editor to make sure the majority owner of its company wouldn’t get into trouble during any of his snow days.’

“Mr. Goldman, 61, has covered some of the central controversies of the mayor’s tenure: his successful push to win an extension of term limits, and his unsuccessful appointment of Cathleen P. Black as schools chancellor. But Mr. Goldman’s coverage of Mr. Bloomberg is generally in connection with news events, rather than investigatory work.

“Mr. Goldman’s portfolio includes topics other than the mayor. Bloomberg News describes him as a state and local municipal finance reporter, and says that differentiates him from other reporters based at City Hall. Mr. Goldman declined to be interviewed for this article, but in 2002, he told American Journalism Review, ‘It’s a difficult assignment.’”

Read more here.