Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism
More Bad Behavior by 'Journalists'
Wall Street Journal (subscription)
How Companies Pay TV Experts For On-Air Product Mentions. Plugs Come Amid News Shows And Appear Impartial; Pacts Are Rarely Disclosed
Once again, we read a story of improper activities by people who appear to be journalists.

The most depressing part of this story isn't the individual behavior, though that's bad enough. It's the way these commentators' big-network employers -- maybe that should be enablers -- go through such contortions of logic to defend what's going on.

This is depressing. How can these people shake their fingers at us about our lack of blogging ethics. Would any blogger get away with secretly taking money for mentions?


This issue will continue to arise. I would like to see something that is akin to a privacy policy which would be a codified set of principles that journalist, bloggers and media outlets adhere to. I am talking about a written document that they publish on their web site(or where ever) so that their readers/viewers can check what their official policies are. They could write their own or use a policy developed by a third party company (like verisign) and audited. If a news outlet put into their policy "We sometimes take money from manufacturers to promote their products on our TV shows without revealing that we are promoting their products" as a viewer you would at least know that you are probably being marketed to in a non-transparent way.

I really believe that this development has to start in the Blogsphere and will only be adopted by traditional media after it gains acceptance out in the wild on the net and on blogs. This came up a while back when Joi posted something about a company which sends Blogging opinion leaders free stuff. If they like the gadgets they can blog about them. This is an "honor system" way of doing things. The system works if those who participate in it are honest. Unfortunately, some people will work the system subtley and recommend products to curry favor with sponsors. By doing this they can make sure they stay on the gravey train.

Anyway, I am rambling now. I think you all get my point, transparency is needed and it has to start in the bloggsphere.

Yjis is the link for the journalist's blog on the Poynter Foundation web site, which is run by Jim Romensko. Read it and you will see that this kind of behavior is just unacceptable but gets people who do it fired.

Eric Eggertson has compiled of an impressive list of debates in relation to blogger v. journalist:
Blogs Are Just the Medium, not a Profession

By the way, I gather Congratulations are in order Joi! My spies inform me that there is 1 Million of you in Japan ;-)

This is a link to an article in Slate about Jim Romensko and his impact on journalistic standards. Well worth reading. It refutes the idea that the actions of a few reflect the general trend in American journalism.

Let me see if I understand this. You are upset because the NBC Today Show's Gadget Guy isn't conforming to your ideas of "journalistic ethics?"

Next thing you'll be saying the Today Show's fashion maven should conform to makeup ethics. This is ENTERTAINMENT, folks, not journalism.

Charles, take a look what the official Today Show web site says.

"NBC News pioneered the morning news program when it launched “Today” more than 50 years ago, with Dave Garroway as host. The three-hour live program provides the latest in domestic and international news, weather reports and interviews with newsmakers from the worlds of politics, business, media, entertainment and sports. “Today’s” hallmark has been its ability to revise an entire edition in order to bring viewers breaking news as it happens."

So while you might think the Today Show is entertainment, the NBC people are saying it is news! In fact, I would guess it is the only news source for many of its viewers.

If they want to take money from companies to plug their products, they should perhaps change their corporate web site to reflect this. The whole point is that there should be transparency, which their clearly is not.

I understand that Bill Maher is not universally well-liked, but he made a comment on American students and teachers which I think is germane to this thread.

"I just feel like in so many parts of society, we have lost the thread back to what we used to feel at least was good and decent. I think politicians have lost the thread back to the Constitution. They don't know what's in that. I think the news people have no idea what covering news is anymore. They've lost that thread. And I think teachers have lost the thread back to education. I think kids are idiots because they're very often being taught by idiots." – Bill Maher

Not surprising that this came out. A lot of these nationally televised shows feel they are above whatever accountability is out there.

And yes, I agree that one or two bad apples does not make the whole harvest bad, but it makes you wonder, how much more of this is happening?

Ken, journalists on the Tech beat are inudated by offers from PR people. Some, like the free cup of coffee or the free lunch have no effect on coverage. Neither do review copies of books, music or software because you don't expect to pay to work. Glomming on to free travel is problematical
Taking money for endorsements for mentioning or endorsing products in a blatant conflict of interest. You can be a reporter or a PR person, but not both at the same time. Most of us are very careful
to observe the ethical boundaries because they are part of our self-definition.

What else can I tell you? Professionals don't so these things and prostition is not the only business to be ruined by amateurs.

What's new here?

A.) We know that journalists were taking money from the adminstration to promote policy positions, so a precedent was set there;

B.) We know that for years payola happened in the radio industry to make sure certain records were promoted, so there's a precedent there;

C.) We know that the major media mergers of the last 10-15 years --Time/Warner, Disney and whoever --have lead to "synergies" which means that a Time publication will promote Warner Bros. productions on a heavy schedule;

D.) We know that people don't tend to really pay attention or even care, because there's never been a real outcry about this sort of thing. This is nothing new, it's just more acute for a certain group (bloggers) at the moment because they've been attacked under the same auspices. If anything, it's something symptomatic of our culture writ large, not just a journalism and ethics thing.