Journalistic Ethics

I was looking through the webite of a journalist, whose work I’ve really enjoyed for a long time, when I found something unsettling. Recently, he had written a long, positive story about a company… and now that company turned up as a sponsor of his website.

What to do?

This is probably the wrong thing to do, but I worte him a note. And, actually, I was mostly satisfied with the answer I received.

Dear (name removed),

I have been a fan of your writing forever. However, I am distressed to see your site ‘sponsored’ by (company name) after you did a full, extremely positive, magazine column on them recently.

In my opinion, this would be different were it not on your own personal site. At the publications you write for, there is a (or at least there is claimed to be) a separation between sales and editorial. Once you personally take money from (compan name), that separation ceases to exist.

Is there something I’m failing to see?


Geoff Fox

Here’s the answer I got:

you are correct..that was put up beforehand as I was working on a story about the usefulness of associate programs (not very) …thanks…and you are correct….it’s gone now. The separation continues to exist since I received $0 from (company name) which seems suspicious. The easiest way to do this research is via my own home page which tends to be used by people not looking for what appears to be ethical dubiousness. Research continues. Also the article should have been perceived as more positive toward (the industry) than (company name). More interesting is the new fact that the relationship between (company name) and the traditional companies has deteriorated since I cannot now (edited). There is a follow up coming that will not be so kind and will mention the new competitors.

I removed his name and the name of the company because, though this shouldn’t have happened in the first place, it stopped quickly. As I said, I have read this guy since the beginning and will not fry him for one misstep.

That’s one.

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