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Tech journalist: others are doing same
By Bala Shah

In an ideal world, journalism is a noble calling.  A journalist is meant to inform and enlighten readers while holding governments and establishments accountable for their actions.  All without fear or favor. Sadly, in real life few of the articles you read are heavily influenced by lobbies, gifts and personal equations. Where compromise is the name of the game.

The New York Times (NYT) is one of the most powerful newspapers in the world.  Good, bad or indifferent reviews by its IT columnist David Pogue can help or hinder any tech company. Apple’s Steve Jobs always makes time to talk to NYT’s David Pogue. Earlier in Sept, 2009, Techgoss had written about how David Pogue had come in for criticism because even as he was reviewing Apple products for New York Times, David was independently writing books on Apple products.  Naturally, his books would sell more if one of the most powerful newspapers in the world gave a good review to that Apple product.

The New York Times decided to put a lid on the controversy by ensuring that they would list all of David’s commercial equations at the end of every article.  This would ensure that readers would get a balanced picture of the person reviewing tech products and services.

But the controversy refuses to die.  David Pogue has now told an American interviewer that he has ‘never billed himself as a journalist’. He then gave details of all other American tech journalists who were doing the same


Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?" Pogue said angrily. "Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?....I am not a reporter. I’ve never been to journalism school. I don’t know what it means to bury the lede. Okay I do know what it means. I am not a reporter. I’ve been an opinion columnist my entire career…..I try to entertain and inform."

LaPorte had been grilling Pogue on the points raised in Hoyt's column, that the popular columnist might be guilty of an apparent conflict of interest by writing books about new products while reviewing them for the NYT.

That's when Pogue seized the opportunity to point out that his counterparts at other top newspapers -- including one who had criticized Pogue for his conflicts -- were guilty of the same transgression:

In point of fact this is a problem with the industry. And not so much me alone….It’s about context. Dwight [Silverman] admitted to you that he writes for the Houston Chronicle. And he wrote a Windows book at the same time that he was writing about Windows for the paper. ….and Ed Baig, who writes for an even bigger newspaper than I do, he writes for USA Today, the equivalent column, he wrote Macs for Dummies, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, he wrote an iPhone book at the same time as he was reviewing those. Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal makes, I think The New Yorker said, $1 million a year off of the D Conferences, where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates make exclusive appearances, the very guys whose products he reviews.

Quite bizarre.  One of the top tech writers of one of the most powerful newspaper in the world does not see himself as a ‘journalist’.

One good thing that will come out of this controversy is that for the first time many tech journalists will be held accountable.  In the past,  tech journalism was a cozy club where tech tycoons and editors decided over a few drinks what could be published. 

In case you are wondering, it is the same in India.

 

(Techgoss had published the following story on Sept 7, 2009)

Tech conflict of interest
By Bala Shah

In an ideal world, journalism is a noble calling.  A journalist is meant to inform and enlighten readers while holding governments and establishments accountable for their actions.  All without fear or favor.

Sadly, in real life few of the articles you read are heavily influenced by lobbies, gifts and personal equations. Where compromise is the name of the game.

Kara Swisher and David Pogue are among the most powerful journalists in America and by extension the western world.  Both are multi-millionaires and have the power to make or break companies.

Kara Swisher (allthingsd.com) is one of the most respected names in American tech journalism.  After graduating from the Columbia University School of Journalism, she has had a distinguished career working at reputed media companies like Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.  Kara has also authored two successful books.   Perhaps, she is best known for teaming up with Wall Street Journal to start the ‘All things Digital’ conference which draws speakers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, George Lucas as well and the top managers of Google, Time and News Corp.  Just about everyone who runs the tech and media industries attends. Kara is very honest with her readers and publicly lists every business and personal equation in her life which may affect her journalism. Needless to say, this has won Kara the respect of the tech world.

David Pogue works for the powerful New York Times and his business and personal equations have not been very transparent till now.  He reviews tech products and services for the tens of millions of people who read New York Times while at the same time writing books whose success may depend on whether newspapers reviews are positive or negative.  David has also received preferential treatment by Apple computers.  Apple would never bribe a journalist but would ensure he gets new products to ‘review’ before his peers.  And Apple would leak information to New York Times when it had to be made public.

No longer. On the weekend, the New York Times decided that David Pogue should list all his personal and business equations for the benefit of their readers.


His multiple interests and loyalties raise interesting ethical issues in this new age when individual journalists can become brands of their own, stars who seem to transcend the old rules that sharply limited outside activity and demanded an overriding obligation to The Times and its readers.

Larry Ingrassia, the business editor, said that editors have decided to make disclosures to readers regarding Pogue’s outside activities. On his Times Topics page online, Pogue posted a statement of ethics, saying manufacturers have no involvement in his manuals and that from now on, if he is writing a book about a product he is reviewing, he will disclose it to readers. It says his personal investments are in a blind trust to avoid any question of reviewing products in which he has a direct financial interest

This is a problem in India as well.  Perhaps we will soon see Indian tech journalists disclosing such business interests as well.

 

(Techgoss had published the following on Nov 20, 2007)

Blogs, journalism and honesty
By Bala Shah

In an ideal world, journalism is a noble calling.  A journalist is meant to inform and enlighten readers while holding governments and establishments accountable for their actions.  All without fear or favor.

Sadly, in real life few of the articles you read are heavily influenced by lobbies, gifts and personal equations. Where compromise is the name of the game.

Having said this there are many technology journalists who follow very high standards of honesty and integrity. 

Kara Swisher (allthingsd.com) is one of the most respected names in American tech journalism.  After graduating from the Columbia University School of Journalism, she has had a distinguished career working at reputed media companies like Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.  Kara has also authored two successful books.   Perhaps, she is best known for teaming up with Wall Street Journal to start the ‘All things Digital’ conference which draws speakers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs,  George Lucas as well and the top managers of Google, Time and News Corp.  Just about everyone who runs the tech and media industries attends. 

Kara Swisher believes that good journalism is about your readers knowing about any potential conflicts of interest.  Check out the following ethics statement at her website.  Soon,  this may be in the norm in India as well.

As bloggers become journalists and journalist’s blog, such honesty and transparency will go a long way in increasing the credibility of journalism.  

 
(Ethics Statement at Kara Swisher’s website)

Here is a statement of my ethics and coverage policies. It is more than most of you want to know, but, in the age of suspicion of the media, I am laying it all out.

Let's begin with a critical piece of information every reader of this site needs to know about me: My spouse, Megan Smith, has been an executive at search giant Google since 2003, where she is vice president of new business development. A substantial amount of her income from Google is in shares and options, some of which she has sold and some of which she still holds. Megan makes all her own decisions related to these shares and options, and I do not own or control any of them. In addition, Megan still holds a number of shares and options (none of which I own or control) in PlanetOut, where she served as CEO before she moved to Google.

The Dow Jones Code of Conduct, which I am abiding by (see below), generally provides that no news personnel "assigned to report... on a specific industry may buy or sell securities in any company engaged, in whole or significant part, in that industry, nor may any member of the immediate family of any such employee do so." But in this case, Dow Jones has concluded that—with this disclosure and the interactive nature of blogging, which makes it possible to provide this detailed explanation and also a place for comment, both of which are not adequately available in the print edition—her financial interest in Google should not prevent me from writing about this industry. While some may raise objections, Dow Jones feels the transparency will give readers a chance to judge my work on its merits, especially in light of my extensive experience covering the technology industry for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and in two books about America Online I authored. In fact, I began reporting on Google itself in 1999, well before others did, and wrote many articles on it years before Megan worked there.

While I am no longer a Dow Jones employee and have become an independent contractor to the company, honoring its long-term commitment to high standards of journalism is key to the success of my future work for AllThingsD.com. I am well aware of the controversies surrounding ethics online now swirling about, some of which have resulted in giving readers some pause about the quality and honesty of some in the blogosphere. Such wariness is always a good thing for everyone and I encourage readers to ask tough questions and demand more of those providing them information of all kinds. I know that I am asking for a large measure of trust from readers of the site, and I pledge to do everything I can to be deserving of that trust.

I hope I am not being too obvious when I say I care about my reputation more than anyone and I have always sought to live up to the high standards set at Dow Jones, which I did as a reporter and columnist since 1997, and I will continue to do so in this job. In other words, if Google screws up (as they have many times and will again), I hope to be the first to say so; on the other hand, if they perform well, I would say so based only on my long experience as a reporter covering this sector. That same rule will apply to Google's partners. I also pledge to be fair and honest about covering Google's competitors, who also both perform well and screw up at various times. I have known and written about all of them for almost 15 years (making me a senior citizen in Web terms) and continue to have trusted sources. So, if Yahoo makes a smarter move than Google, or if I agree with Microsoft's position on some issue, rather than Google's, you'll read it here whether Megan agrees with it or not. If Ask.com buys a small, smart company that Google was also pursuing or declined to buy, I will report it and praise such a deal, even if Megan was involved on the Google side. This may result in some arguments at home, but it won't affect the coverage here. But to be even more clear, I will not discuss anything in this blog with Megan prior to publication and will not report any information I glean from her unless it can be attributed by name to her in that particular instance. I will always have a direct link in such cases to this disclosure.

Nonetheless, I urge you to make any comments you might have about my relationship with Megan on this site, especially if you think it is impacting my work adversely, as long as they remain civil and do not contain attacks related to my sexual orientation, which will simply not be tolerated and will be removed immediately. But please feel free to challenge me for my thoughts on all things digital, a topic about which I certainly always welcome a lively debate.

In other arenas:
Walt Mossberg and I have established a small limited liability company whose purpose is to manage payments to the independent contractors, including me, who work on the All Things Digital Web site, and to buy equipment and other services for the site. The site itself is owned by Dow Jones, for which I work as an independent contractor. While I still intend to break news on this site, as with my previous print column, I will make subjective comments on the business and strategies of technology companies and issues. Still, I don't offer investment advice (not to Megan and not to you either!).

I don't accept any money, or anything else of value, from the companies I cover, or from their public-relations or advertising agencies. I either use funds from our LLC or my own money when purchasing all devices I use, such as computers, digital media players, digital cameras, as well as my Internet service, cell-phone service, and cable-TV service. I also don't accept trips, speaking fees, or product discounts from companies I cover or from their public-relations or advertising agencies. I also don't serve as a consultant to any companies, although I am on the board of an independent lesbian social network called OurChart.com, in which Showtime and its corporate owner, CBS, have a majority interest, although I own no stock in it nor do I garner any fees from that seat (I also pay all my own expenses related to my board work).

I have investments in several group funds, which are managed without my input primarily by an investment bank, and they might from time to time put my money into funds that buy shares of stock in the companies I write about. But I do not have any knowledge about when they buy and sell any shares. I also have several general stock-index mutual funds related to my former employment at Dow Jones, but none is specifically technology-focused, although any one might, from time to time, acquire shares in some technology companies I write about. In this case, as with all my investments, I also have no knowledge of when they buy and sell any shares.

I never coordinate my work with our advertising sales staff, and I don't solicit or sell ads for the newspaper, Web site or sponsorships for the D conference. The Journal's separate ad-sales staff does this. Advertisers and companies I cover don't get to see my columns in advance, or select or reject topics. Similarly, sponsors of the D conference don't get to select or reject speakers on the agenda, or select or preview the questions we ask speakers on stage. We don't charge companies for appearing onstage at D to demo new products and we don't pay speakers to come to D.

I make a number of speeches each year, mostly unpaid. If I do accept a fee, I never make speeches at events hosted by companies I cover.

Beyond the issues discussed here, I also abide by the Dow Jones Code of Conduct.

 


(9/24/2009)
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