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Techcrunch conflict highlights business journalism ethics

Michael Arrington, founder and a former editor of TechCrunch.

Michael Arrington, founder and a former editor of TechCrunch. Photo: NYTimes

Not quite sure why Alexis Madrigal has made a dig against trade magazine editors and their ethics, but we get his point about the continuing drama about Michael Arrington and the TechCrunch/CrunchFund/Arrington conflict.

Madrigal writes in The Atlantic: Arrington’s Techcrunch Moves Even Startle Trade Mag Editors

I’m not going to pick sides on the Techcrunch saga that’s bouncing around the Internet right now, but I do think it’s more important than it appears on the surface. In essence, Techcrunch’s founder Mike Arrington wants to run an investment fund that would put money into the companies that his website covers. Prominent journalists like David Carr and Kara Swisher argue that this is an unbelievable conflict of interest. The drama continues, but Arrington is going to run the fund and Techcrunch will continue, probably without him.

Madrigal quotes John Bethune, who he says “has been watching the trade publication industry for 27 years and now runs B2BMeme.com. He said that it would be very “unusual” for a trade magazine writer to be investing in the companies that they cover.”

Well, thank goodness. Trade magazines have had to deal with conflicts of interest in a more focused way than many general business news organizations. I’m sure Madrigal is using the ethical sensitivity of trade magazines to highlight how serious the Techcrunch issue is.

It’s not easy to keep up with the journalists chiming in on the Techcrunch story, but try here at Mediagazer which is pulling links together.

We too, don’t intend to take sides in the Techcrunch/Michael Arrington/AOL saga, but the ethics of covering businesses is something we should all take very seriously.

There are no set guidelines in business journalism. Although many business journalists agree on certain issues, such as that trading in stocks of companies they report about is unethical, there are just as many other issues that there is disagreement. Here is a handful of ethics guidelines at major business news organizations.

And I particularly like the ethics statements attached to the profile of each writer at All Things D. Here’s Kara Swisher’s ethics statement.

What I like about this policy and its implementation is that the declarations go beyond a posted policy. No one is left unsure of the ethics and coverage policies of individual All Things D writers. As Walt Mossberg says at the top of his statement, “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.”

About the Author

I am digital director at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, which I joined in 2009. Before that I was Online Community Manager for azcentral, the online site for The Arizona Republic. Before arriving in Arizona, I worked at Newsday where I was Deputy Business Editor. I was the small business editor at BusinessWeek Online. I teach journalists to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools to expand and manage their networks. And I am a cofounder of #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat about web journalism. You can reach me at Email: Robin.Phillips@BusinessJournalism.org OR RobinJPhillips.com OR @RobinJP

Comments (1)

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  1. loucovey says:

    I have to disagree that there is not standard of ethics in business journalism. Every code you mention is based on the Society of Professional Journalists code that originated in 1973. Seek truth, Minimize harm, Be transparent, Be accountable. The problem is that very few journalists actually know the code and not many actually knows it exists.

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