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Trading Journalism

Phil Harvey
7/2/2007

1:30 PM -- And now, a public service from your local department of Trade Journalism (and Journalism Trade).

One has to wonder about this blogging thing from time to time. The new trend appears to be that former journalists (and current bloggers) are taking a softer look at the companies they cover -- and being more open to commercial interests. Is it because most bloggers are also their own publishers, and therefore have no clear line of distinction between writing and sales?

It's a tricky business. And readers are always tipping The Philter off to potential conflicts of interest among the scribes we know and love. For some reason, recent developments in the bloggerdom set off some alarm bells. I'll list examples, and let you, the reading public, make the call:

  • Telephony editor-at-large Carol Wilson produced a couple of "JNews" podcasts that are, judging by the content, commercials for Juniper Networks. One of the podcast descriptions even identifies Wilson as a "Juniper Networks correspondent." Meanwhile, the later of the two podcasts also IDs her as Telephony's editor-at-large.

    Was she being paid by a company she covers while posing as the editor of a popular (yaaawn!) trade pub?

    Not exactly. Wilson says these JNews things were done while she was a freelancer and, technically, between journalism gigs. But why'd they ID her as a Telephony-at-large editor during the podcast? She says the last JNews update began before, but wrapped up after, she joined Telephony. That's why she used the title and that's why she didn't invoice Juniper for her work on that podcast.

  • Another fun tip came from Valleywag, which first alerted everyone that some big-time bloggers appeared to be on the take.

    What happened, according to Om Malik's apology/account, was that ad network Federated Media's clients were invited to "have a conversation" with Microsoft. That conversation made its way into an ad campaign, according to Malik: "Microsoft asked us to join a conversation, and we did. I wasn’t paid to participate in the conversation, but Microsoft ran an ad-campaign that paid us on the basis of CPM."

    For fun (and apparently, not profit), here are the conversations captured by Microsoft, and the comments on this page appear in various banner ads that run throughout Federated Media's network of Websites.

This raises questions about whether technology bloggers -- who are also their own publishers -- are other than completely neutral sources of reportage with no business interests in what they cover. In addition to being writers, they can be startup investors. Or PR consultants. And they are putting out lists of "HOT" companies while holding a stake in at least one of the companies on the list.

Can you trust the "blogosphere" as well as you can trust a traditional publication where these sales firewalls are more established?

— Phil Harvey, Barely Managing Editor, Light Reading

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DCITDave
DCITDave
12/5/2012 | 3:05:49 PM
re: Trading Journalism
I see your point. He probably should have been listed as LRTV's editor at large, since his function is that of a producer, presenter, and general keeper of all that is CMP TV.

But to my point, there's no confusion about what LRTV produces. It's always clearly labeled as sponsored content or pure editorial. I don't think you can say the same for most of the tech blogs out there, where the guy selling the ads is the same guy who's writing that day's editorial.

ph
net-hed
net-hed
12/5/2012 | 3:05:49 PM
re: Trading Journalism

Fritz Nelson is sometimes described as Light Reading's "Editor At Large," though he's not listed among LR's other editorial contacts. For example, when Nelson appears in videos for Cisco that talk about how great Cisco is (See "Ethernet-enabled DWDM," 3/21/07), you know he's purely objective because he's the "editor" of a news publication, not some guy that takes money from equipment vendors to produce videos.
Scott Raynovich
Scott Raynovich
12/5/2012 | 3:05:49 PM
re: Trading Journalism
Good point, though Fritz Nelson doesn't write for the LR Web site. He runs LRTV. And those documentaries are clearly marked as sponsored content. They aren't objective at all. Cisco is paying for them. Are you asking Fritz to change his title? Is that all that's bothering you?
Dredgie
Dredgie
12/5/2012 | 3:05:48 PM
re: Trading Journalism
People who live in glass housesGǪ
paolo.franzoi
paolo.franzoi
12/5/2012 | 3:05:47 PM
re: Trading Journalism

It actually took my first viewing of a "CP" LRTV program to realize that these were paid for. Once that this is understood, I can happily ignore them.

seven
paolo.franzoi
paolo.franzoi
12/5/2012 | 3:05:47 PM
re: Trading Journalism

It actually took my first viewing of a "CP" LRTV program to realize that these were paid for. Once that this is understood, I can happily ignore them.

seven
DCITDave
DCITDave
12/5/2012 | 3:05:46 PM
re: Trading Journalism
CP stands for custom programming.

Not communist propaganda, as some creative emailer suggested.
Mark Seery
Mark Seery
12/5/2012 | 3:05:44 PM
re: Trading Journalism
Phil,

>> Can you trust the "blogosphere" as well as you can trust a traditional publication where these sales firewalls are more established? <<

The question you pose has been asked by the blogosphere itself; for example the panel at the last VON on this subject. Given that, it is fair for you to pose the same question. It should be noted though that the blogosphere is taking a close look at this issue including recommending best practices etc. It is also worth noting that some bloggers are not supported by advertising.

However, the inference of your observation about established firewalls is that they provide a guarantee of independence; otherwise why make the point?

Independence can be encouraged by organizational structure, organizational culture, and organizational practices. However, I would still assert that independence is an attitude that has to be embraced and defended by each individual. In any organization where there is an implicit link between expressed views and revenue, there are implicit forces working against independence; and its hard to think of a commercial entity where this does not exist.

Independence has to therefore be supported by structure, culture, practices, and most importantly every individual. Simply discussing a single structural element does not do the subject justice, IMO.

Happy 4th........
LRInsider
LRInsider
12/5/2012 | 3:05:43 PM
re: Trading Journalism
Working for the vendor community is one thing, but transparency is another matter. Let bloggers work for the republicans, I don't care, but at least be upfront about it.

While LightRanting has been beating up on the industry for years now, it hasn't always been so upfront about its own actvities. Heywood and Saunders first launched LightReading on the backs of freelance work, some of it which is was for vendors.

And even once Scott came on board, we still had published editorials from Mr. Saunders even while he was selling le ads.

All in all, journalistic integrity and objectivigty is a noble goal, one which we should strive. Attaining that norm in conventional media is possible because of the organizational size. Doing so on the level of a blog is far more difficult precisely because there is no church-state seperation. The only recourse is to be transparent about your other committments so folk know where you stand.


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