New Rules Fly in Our Face

I saw several stories today about business reporter Bambi Francisco (her blog) leaving MarketWatch for her video start-up Vator.tv.  It’s become another story on journalism ethics and new rules for communications as mainstream media and new/social media fuse.  Full disclosure and fair agreements are essential, but mistakes will be made that bring consequences.  Consequences that are opportunities for movin’ ahead better together.

CNET provided some analysis on the Bambi story.  Their story was titled “Rewriting ethics rules for the new media…”Some members of the so-called old-media establishment may no longer be able to wag a finger at what they say is questionable ethics among bloggers.”  Here are some interesting soundbites from the CNET story that show how things are movin’ ahead…sometimes boldly, sometime kickin’ and screamin’.

Bob Steele is an ethics adviser at journalism think tank Poynter Institute speaking generally here:

“Good news organizations have checks and balances that protect the independence of the journalist.  Editors challenge reporters who might get too close to sources. Organizational guidelines restrict financial investments to protect against conflicts and competing loyalties.  Those standards, practices and guidelines, while imperfect, are still important.”

MarketWatch Editor In Chief David Callaway gave Francisco his blessing before she accepted the Vator.tv offer:

“Conflicts and potential conflicts are something that journalists deal with every day. We often have to deal with them on a case-by-case basis and find separate solutions. We feel that the guidelines we set up work.  (Francisco is not allowed to write about any of the companies that make pitches through Vator, and she was supposed to steer clear of writing in favor of Vator’s interests.)  You can’t just totally rewrite the rules, but there needs to be some happy medium…the rigid rules of the past may not always apply to new media. Is there a potential for a conflict in Bambi’s case? Yes. Do I think we can avoid it? Yes.”

 Maybe this is the part where “transparency” might’ve helped Bambi?

Francisco said she has not revealed her relationship with Vator to MarketWatch readers, nor on her personal blog because she was waiting for the company to “truly get off the ground.” She said she has not written about any of the companies that have posted business ideas to Vator and that she would never give Thiel or his companies favorable treatment.  Francisco added that “old-media rules” are still important but that there has “always been a problem with judging objectivity.”

Michael Arrington has received plenty of criticism about conflicts of interest in his tech news blog TechCrunch about “insider information and conflicts of interest” and it’s acceptable because he discloses his investments on his site.

“Why would you give stock to a journalist? Put it this way: I’ve stopped accepting jobs as an adviser for companies. These companies don’t want me to be an adviser. They don’t need me advising them. What they want is coverage on TechCrunch.”

Craig Newmark, founder of online-classifieds powerhouse Craigslist and the member of an investment group that’s starting a news aggregation site called DayLife.

“Part of fairness involves disclosure of the relationships between the reporter and the reported, particularly if payment in money or influence is involved. I’d suggest anyone just state it, and leave judgment to the mass of readers who are smarter than usually credited.”

MSM journalist embracing citizen journalism?  Here’s an abbreviated post I saw on Bambi’s MarketWatch blog that shows what happens when MSM journalists participate in dialogues with new media enthusiasts.

Refering to “Confronting the Citizen Journalist,” a panel at the iHollywood Forum, where Bambi was joined by Leonard Brody, CEO and co-founder of NowPublic, and FeedBurner’s vice president, Don Loeb. They talked about the book “The Wisdom of Crowds” (audio excerpts of the book).  

Maybe we ought to begin trusting “information viewed and vetted by more people than a few editors. In the process of collaborating, people are accountable to one another. If an editor gets a story wrong, he’s disciplined internally. If someone in a collaborative process gets a story wrong, he’s publicly humiliated, Brody said. Moderator Michael Stroud, a co-founder of the iHollywood Forum, ended that discussion by saying that perhaps it’s not flawed facts that citizen journalists would provide but different information.Indeed, it’s different, but that doesn’t mean it’s false. It’s just a different perspective. And, at the end of the day, people are voting for this type of journalism. A recent study conducted by Piper Jaffray and comScore showed that 31% of traffic in October 2006 went to sites built around user-generated content, such as MySpace, operated by News Corp. (NWS); Facebook; Metacafe; and Google’s (GOOG) YouTube. That was up from just 3% in April 2005.Now, whether that percentage will continue to rise is unknown. It does seem that many attractive new ideas are quickly embraced by adherents, but people often lose interest. We cannot extrapolate that traffic growth — certainly not at its 2005-06 pace — because one contributor to the increased popularity is curiosity, not true demand or need. Additionally, the fusion of user-generated content and traditional content makes it difficult for anyone to know what users are going after. It’s likely a bit of both.Nonetheless, I believe that we’ll see more of it in journalism and across the Web. The Web has become an archipelago of tiny villages tied together not by proximity but by interests. In the old-style town square, passionate, informed people came together to debate and share news and create dialogue. Today the Web is that square.Traditional media have lost their monopoly on journalism, most people agree. And more and more, everyday citizens will be plying the trade — once they find the village they want to be part of.

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