Tag Archives: Ethics
by Chris Roush
Norman Pearlstine, who recently left Bloomberg LP to return to Time Inc. as its chief content officer, said Thursday he believes Bloomberg editor in chief Matthew Winkler when he stated that the controversial stories about some of China’s elite were not ready to be published, reports Lucia Moses of Adweek.
Moses writes, “As it often does when native advertising is the topic, the conversation turned to Forbes, which has been one of the more aggressive users of the format. Forbes’ BrandVoice ads aren’t explicitly labeled as sponsored or advertising content, a distinction that some have criticized. With Forbes CEO Mike Perlis in the audience a few tables away, Pearlstine said that ‘some parts of [Forbes’ model] I wouldn’t be comfortable with,’ adding that ‘I do see labeling as critical.’
“The Q&A took place as Time Inc. prepares to spin off from Time Warner next year and is challenged to drum up new sources of revenue to fund investments as its core magazine business is shrinking. Pearlstine acknowledged the need to look at possible efficiencies and growth opportunities, but said he that felt Time Inc. could move faster as an independent company. Video and mobile are obvious areas of interest, but Time Inc. also has the opportunity to create new products for its audiences that cut across, say, its women’s brands, he said.
“Pearlstine came from the same position at Bloomberg LP, which has been expanding beyond its financial and data roots into the news business. Moving beyond Time Inc., he expressed concern about the news media’s ability to support quality reporting. ‘We’ve not yet come up with a business model to support the journalism needed for a free society,’ he said.
“He also was questioned about a recent front-page story by The New York Times alleging Bloomberg censored its China coverage. Pearlstine, who once led The Wall Street Journal’s Asia expansion, said any news outlet that goes to China runs the risk of government censorship. Taking the high ground with his old employer, he said he ‘take[s]‘ Bloomberg News editor in chief Matt Winkler ‘at his word’ when he told him that the story in question wasn’t ready for publication. Bloomberg’s business in China—which he estimated at 2,000 to 2,500 terminals, a tiny fraction of the total—wasn’t big enough to put its journalistic integrity at risk anyway, he said.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Dan Barkin, the senior editor of The (Raleigh) News & Observer and its former business editor, writes about how he perceives the issue of whether Bloomberg News has killed stories critical of powerful people in China.
Barkin writes, “The N&O pays a good chunk of change to get news and information from Bloomberg. I do not want to worry if the news service is self-censoring in order to keep its reporters in China.
“But the larger problem is not Bloomberg’s. It is China’s.
“China’s biggest challenge is to keep its economy growing to provide jobs and a rising standard of living for its people. But China is plagued by corruption and self-dealing in its government and business elite. Its environmental problems are well-known. Professionals and entrepreneurs are leaving.
“China needs more, not less, scrutiny of inefficient state-controlled industries, of crooked bureaucrats on the take. Of massive land grabs. Of well-connected princelings being hired by Western companies that want to do business in China.
“Without transparency, China’s economy may falter under the weight of corruption and mismanagement. And prospective investors in China and Chinese companies need transparency. They need to know that the economic data that they are getting from official sources is not cooked, and that companies are disclosing accurate earnings reports.
“They rely on news organizations such as Bloomberg to give them comprehensive reporting from China. When they hear that Bloomberg may be pulling its punches, that does not inspire confidence in either Bloomberg or China.
by Chris Roush
Edward Wong of The New York Times writes about Code 204, a code at Bloomberg News that is used to keep articles on Chinese politics and social issues away from the eyes of powerful people in China who might be offended.
Wong writes, “For years, Bloomberg has been careful about the news it distributes on its terminals in mainland China. Senior Bloomberg managers added Code 204 to the editing system in early 2011, around the time that Chinese officials were growing anxious over calls for Chinese citizens to start a Jasmine Revolution, which never materialized. Editors routinely apply Code 204 to coverage of Chinese politics and general news, not just investigative blockbusters. “It’s very loosely applied,” one person said. Some editors justify Code 204 by arguing that the Chinese government allows Bloomberg to publish only financial news and data on the terminals, not political articles or other information, employees said.
“‘Their rationale is that we’re operating under the laws of mainland China,’ said one employee, who, like others at Bloomberg, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired. The employee added that those editors defending Code 204 say Bloomberg has a license that allows the terminals to offer what is ‘narrowly defined as economic news.’
“Like Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg has official permits from China to distribute financial information and do reporting on a range of topics, employees said. A license from the State Council Information Office allows Bloomberg to disseminate financial information to subscribers of the terminals. Separately, the Foreign Ministry accredits Bloomberg’s news bureaus and journalists in China.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg LP and the current New York mayor, replied in a news conference Tuesday when asked to respond to a New York Times article stating Bloomberg News had killed articles in China for fear of government retribution, reports Colin Campbell of the New York Observer.
Campbell writes, “Asked about the report at an unrelated press conference earlier today, Mr. Bloomberg slammed any insinuation that his media company self-censors.
“‘Nobody thinks that we’re wusses and not willing to stand up and write stories that are of interest to the public and that are factually correct,’ Mr. Bloomberg told the New Tang Dynasty reporter who asked the question.
“‘And if you could get your facts right, then we could have another news service that does it,’ he further declared.
“Last Friday, the Times reported that Bloomberg News had quietly shelved two stories: one on the financial ties between one of the wealthiest men in China and the families of top Chinese leaders and the other on the children of senior Chinese officials employed by foreign banks. Bloomberg News strongly pushed back and denied the allegations, which the mayor reiterated today.
“‘Bloomberg did not do that. The editors said that was just not the case,’ Mr. Bloomberg said, pointing to the fact that the Bloomberg News website is currently blocked in China and touting tough stories the publication has printed on the Chinese government in the past.”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Dean Starkman of Columbia Journalism Review writes Monday that the incident involving Bloomberg News stories in China is much more serious for the news organization than when its reporters were accused earlier this year of snooping on clients using the terminal.
Starkman writes, “This is actually much more important for Bloomberg News as a news operation than the terminal mini-scandal was. In the latter case, the interests at risk were business interests, and Bloomberg LP moved in and stomped out the problem with a shock-and-awe campaign of scrutiny and disclosure. No one doubts that Bloomberg will protect its business interests.
“Here, the allegation is that journalism interests were sacrificed. Now, Winkler is quoted in the Wong story as saying on the conference call that his concern was about the organization being thrown out of China and left unable to report the news. That’s a legitimate journalistic concern—sort of—but news organizations and/or reporters are not infrequently thrown out of countries that object to one story or other. It happens. And it’s a problematic reason to not run a true story. After all, who knows what will trigger ejection, and how do you base editorial decisions on that probability? Coincidentally, we see that Reuters’s veteran Paul Mooney was just denied a visa by China. That, of course, speaks well of him and of Reuters.
“Bloomberg won’t comment on the accuracy of the conference call anecdote but says flatly that editorial considerations alone drove the decision. As Winkler told the FT: ‘The reporting as presented to me was not ready for publication. Laurie and other top editors agreed.’”
Read more here.
by Chris Roush
Matt Winkler, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News, sent out the following email to the news organization’s editorial staff in the wake of reports that it has spiked stories in China that it fears might get it kicked out of the country:
To Bloomberg News:
There have been several misleading reports over the last few days by rival news organizations about our reporting in China.
I want to assure you that there has been no change in policy on how and when we publish our stories. As stated in The Bloomberg Way, our mandate is to provide definitive coverage of economics, markets, companies and industries worldwide, and we will continue to hold all reporting to the highest standards possible.
by Liz Hester
The New York Times published a story during the weekend saying that Bloomberg News was self-censoring its coverage of China. Bloomberg won an award for its coverage of the wealth being amassed by Communist party leaders and now, according to the story, it was pulling back on publishing a similar story. Bloomberg denied the story was dead.
But the allegations that a new organization was voluntarily not publishing a story in order to remain in the country raises many concerns about Western news agencies’ abilities to work inside the tightly controlled country.
Here’s the beginning of the Times story.
The decision came in an early evening call to four journalists huddled in a Hong Kong conference room. On the line 12 time zones away in New York was their boss, Matthew Winkler, the longtime editor in chief of Bloomberg News. And they were frustrated by what he was telling them.
The investigative report they had been working on for the better part of a year, which detailed the hidden financial ties between one of the wealthiest men in China and the families of top Chinese leaders, would not be published.
In the call late last month, Mr. Winkler defended his decision, comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus trying to preserve their ability to report inside Nazi-era Germany, according to Bloomberg employees familiar with the discussion.
“He said, ‘If we run the story, we’ll be kicked out of China,’ ” one of the employees said. Less than a week later, a second article, about the children of senior Chinese officials employed by foreign banks, was also declared dead, employees said.
Mr. Winkler said in an email on Friday that the articles in question were not killed. “What you have is untrue,” he said. “The stories are active and not spiked.”
His statement was echoed by the senior editor on the articles, Laurie Hays.
Mr. Winkler and several other senior executives at Bloomberg declined to discuss his conference calls with reporters and editors in Hong Kong.
Several Bloomberg employees in Hong Kong said Mr. Winkler made clear in his call that his concerns were primarily about continuing to have reporters work in China, not protecting company revenues. Even so, they said, he gave the listeners a clear impression that the company was in retreat on aspects of its coverage of the world’s second-largest economy, a little more than a year after it locked horns with a confident Chinese leadership that has shown itself willing to punish foreign news organizations that cross it.
Bloomberg News infuriated the government in 2012 by publishing a series of articles on the personal wealth of the families of Chinese leaders, including the new Communist Party chief, Xi Jinping. Bloomberg’s operations in China have suffered since, as new journalists have been denied residency and sales of its financial terminals to state enterprises have slowed. Chinese officials have said repeatedly that news coverage on the wealth and personal lives of Chinese leaders crosses a red line.
The Financial Times followed the story and added some details from emails between Bloomberg reporters and editors.
Bloomberg’s decision not to print the story comes as China becomes even more aggressive in clamping down on the foreign media. Bloomberg’s website has been blocked since last year when it published an exposé on the wealth accumulated by relatives of Xi Jinping, China’s president. It is also having trouble getting journalist visas for reporters.
Censors have also blocked access to the website of the New York Times, which published a similar story last year about then Premier Wen Jiabao. The paper has had difficultly obtaining some journalist visas since then.
But the person familiar with the discussions between senior editors in the US and the team in Hong Kong said the story had been approved and just needed a Chinese government response.
“We had crossed the Rubicon,” said the person. “The story was fully edited, fact checked and vetted by the lawyers.”
The person added that senior editors in the US had given strong support all along to Michael Forsythe and Shai Oster, the two reporters who led the large team chasing the story. But, in October, they suddenly changed their mind, and said the story was not fit for publication.
“They said they were putting it on the backburner, but it was blindingly clear that it was being killed,” the person said.
On September 18, Laurie Hays, one of Bloomberg’s top editors in New York, wrote an email to the reporters in Hong Kong, which said the latest version of the story was “almost there” and that once she and other editors, including a managing editor Jonathan Kaufman, had taken a close read, they would review it with the company’s lawyers.
Nine days later, Mr Kaufman emailed the reporters to say the story was “terrific”. In the email, which was obtained by the FT, he wrote: “The story is terrific. I am in awe of the way you tracked down and deciphered the financial holdings and the players. It’s a real revelation. Looking forward to pushing it up the line.”
However, four weeks later, Ms Hays called the reporters in Hong Kong to tell them that the story was going to be put on the “backburner”, according to the person familiar with the situation.
The Atlantic wrote a piece calling the decision not to publish “craven” and stating that confident governments would allow reporters to freely cover their countries.
If the front page story today in the NYT is right, Bloomberg has made a craven decision that calls its larger credibility into question. According to the Times article, Bloomberg managers in New York decided to squash stories by their (aggressive) China-based reporters for fear of angering the Chinese government. The less-damaging rationale for this decision is Bloomberg’s concern that its reporters might be kicked out of China. The more-damaging suspicion is that the company was worried that it would lose subscribers in China for its cash-cow Bloomberg financial terminals.
Maybe this NYT story is off — though in the 24 hours since it’s appeared there has been no substantive response from Bloomberg (other than “it’s not so”), and the NYT account from Beijing is by the reputable Edward Wong (whom I know and trust). But at face value this is a really depressing illustration of a “news” organization knuckling under in the face of economic pressure. That’s how Bloomberg’s China reporters must feel as well: otherwise how would this case ever have gotten out? A nice way for Bloomberg to counter these suspicions would be to run the controversial stories in question — as it has done in the past with strong China stories.
Meanwhile, let’s not lose sight of the larger point: Bloomberg is (apparently) wrong for acquiescing, but the real problem is obviously with the parts of the Chinese government that are afraid of what domestic and international reporters would say. Which brings us to the day’s second bit of downbeat news: the Chinese government’s refusal to renew a visa for Paul Mooney, a well-respected reporter who has spent his career covering Asia. Apparently the government didn’t like his tone about Tibet. This is part of a much more widespread pattern of making it hard for international journalists to get into China.
None of this bodes will for Western news outlets trying to work in China, marking another blow to free press around the globe.
by Chris Roush
An animated video from TomoNews in Taiwan criticizes Bloomberg News’ editorial operations in China for acquiescing to the government.
The video claims that Bloomberg has spiked stories deemed too sensitive. A Bloomberg News spokesman declined to comment.
TomoNews is a product of Next Media Animation, the Taiwan-based animation studio. In launching its U.S. website in August, the company said its news coverage “will animate the most talked-about WTF stories on the internet. The craziest, weirdest, most unexpected stories will get an additional twist with our animations and snarky personality. And finally, TomoNews will continue animating satire, bringing to viewers the unique brand of humor for which the Taiwanese Animators are known.”
by Chris Roush
John Byrne of Poets & Quants reports Wednesday that Bloomberg Businessweek has revised its rankings of top MBA programs due to a calculation error that it is trying to keep quiet.
Byrne writes, “The magazine quietly revised its rankings online a month ago with little fanfare or notice. At the top of its corrected table, in small hard-to-read type is this rather vague, less-than-clear statement: ‘(Corrects to revise 2012 overall rankings, Ranking index and 2012 Intellectual Capital rankings following errors in the calculation of the Intellectual Capital score.)’
“Even BusinessWeek’s updated methodology does not acknowledge the mistake. Instead, the magazine simply crosses out part of the description of the methodology (see below).
“Even worse, the magazine had to admit that it had changed its methodology for ranking the intellectual capital produced by business schools without official notice or even a mention in an accompanying story describing the way it tabulates the results of academic research.
“In an email obtained by Poets&Quants, Bloomberg BusinessWeek Assistant Managing Editor Janet Paskin informed the schools last month that ‘we have discovered that some errors were made in calculating one element of the 2012 ranking, the intellectual capital score, which accounts for 10 percent of each school’s total score.’
“Paskin went on to describe the problem in more detail that the magazine has still failed to disclose to its readers. ‘In a recent review of last year’s intellectual capital rankings,’ she wrote, ‘we discovered errors in how we collected and tallied faculty research. We also realized that we had failed to update our stated methodology to reflect our current practice: Faculty are no longer awarded points for reviews of books they have authored, and the time period surveyed spans four years, not five.’ In response to a question on how the errors occurred, Paskin said in an email that ‘inn a few instances, changes in faculty names were missed; some articles were published online but not in print, and vice versa, and were missed.’
“The screwup by BusinessWeek resulted in some especially dramatic changes in the intellectual capital ranking given to some schools. Yale University’s School of Management, for example, zoomed up eight places to 9th from an inaccurate ranking of 17th. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business plunged to 11th from fifth. Harvard Business School dropped 10 places to 19th from ninth. Rice University’s Jones School climbed to 21st from 27th. And Notre Dame moved up six places to 31st from 37th.
“All told, BusinessWeek admitted that ‘miscalculated intellectual capital scores’ were made by BusinessWeek for 40 American business schools and 10 international schools – a fact that was buried deep inside the email sent to the schools. The detail regarding the significant drops in intellectual capital rank was in the eighth paragraph of the ten-paragraph email written by Paskin. In journalism school, they call that ‘burying the lead.’”
Read more here. Byrne once oversaw BusinessWeek’s business school rankings.
by Chris Roush
The Wall Street Journal launched “WSJ Shops,” an e-commerce site that is now a permanent addition to its homepage and the broader Dow Jones family of publications, reports Alexandra Steigrad of Women’s Wear Daily.
Steigrad writes, “Running year-round, ‘The Shops’ is essentially a souped-up version of the e-commerce gift guide the newspaper unveiled last holiday, according to Zachary Martz, WSJ retail development manager, who noted that the site may be accessed from the homepage of a variety of Dow Jones’ properties.
“Calling the site a ‘second step,’ Martz noted that the online catalogue showcases ‘curated’ picks from the newspaper’s various staff members — including its editorial team. Asked how the newspaper intends to remain objective with editors handpicking items from their favorite brands, Martz said: ‘There is a definitive line between church and state, between editorial and content.’
UPDATE: The editorial team is not involved and WWD added this: There is no involvement of WSJ “reporting” staff, a spokeswoman stressed.
“Martz added, ‘We’re still exploring the line between editorial and content. We are not accepting money from brands or retailers.’
“Underscoring the importance of ‘curation’ over ‘brand recognition,’ he added that shoppers won’t be aware of the product’s label until they click specifically on the desired ware.”
Read more here.