I received a nice surprise in my inbox this morning: Alexis Madrigal, senior editor for The Atlantic wanted to hear my thoughts on journalism ethics in trade publishing. Madrigal was reacting to the recent news of TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington starting an investment firm that would invest in companies that are reported on by TechCrunch. For good reason, there has been an outcry from the journalism world. How can you possibly report on companies that you have invested money into? Impossible. And I told Madrigal this when he and I started talking about the issue this morning.
But take it a step further – has this been an issue elsewhere in the journalism world? That’s exactly what Madrigal did when he started his research on the TechCrunch issue. I was impressed that he thought of trade pubs and how they operate. It’s not often anyone outside of trade pubs thinks about trade pubs. So score one for Madrigal. And yes, Madrigal was correct in his thinking that trade pubs deal with this type of ethical issue on a daily basis.
Journalism ethics are a big deal, and not enough journalists or writers even pay attention to it anymore. Blame this on the never-ending online reporting that is being done by everyone and their brothers, or blame it on the need for increased bottom lines. Nevertheless, it’s something more people need to care about and I appreciate the fact that Madrigal put a spotlight on the issue.
Madrigal asked me a great question: “As editor of RD+B who reports on custom builders, could you also run a custom building company on the side?” My first thought, “great question!” My response, no way. How could I be a builder where I make personal decisions to include certain products in a home such as putting Kohler in a home I’m building, and then expect Moen to advertise in my magazine? I’ve shown a bias towards Kohler by including them in a home. What’s the incentive for Moen? However, I did mention there are other B2B pubs who have editors that do this such thing. Madrigal asked me to share who they were and I just couldn’t – even though he said it was off the record. As a journalist myself, I know there is no such thing as off the record.
Madrigal also asked if advertisers are a given in editorial coverage. As an editor of a B2B magazine, I know where the money comes from to publish the magazine: ads. I have to always keep that in mind, but I also must maintain a separation of church and state (editorial vs. advertising). If I don’t, I’m not doing my audience any favors. People are not stupid. They will be able to tell that our content is all ad-based if it was. My job is to provide content to my audience that they need, and I will always think of them first.
Thanks to Madrigal and The Atlantic for putting a spotlight on journalism ethics. It needs it.