Buzz, blogs, and bucks

The Wall Street Journal tries to find a story in bloggers being on the advisory board of FON and blogging about it but they don’t come away with much because most of those bloggers disclosed that they were on the advisory board.

This raises a question about conflict of interest — a question with a pretty simple answer: Disclose.

But it raises a bigger question about whether all these bloggers are trying to be journalists. They’re not. Some are just people. Some are advocates. Some are journalists. Newspapers tend to think that if it has words it must be somebody trying to be like them. But that’s not always the case and it’s a mistake to think that all bloggers are trying to be minimedia. They are what they are: people.

And those people do, indeed, need to care for their credibility. If a neighbor told me to go buy tile at a great store and didn’t tell me he owned a piece of it, I’d be pissed if I found that out after I had a problem with the place; I wouldn’t trust his next recommenation much. Credibility and trust matter in life as they are supposed to matter in journalism. Trust is the organizing principle of life.

But that doesn’t mean that we all have to take some journalistic vow of uninvolvement. What, David Isenberg can’t both write about open networks and be involved in them? Of course, that’s ridiculous. David Isenberg has a stance on networks and I expect him to live and talk from that perspective.

Similarly, considering my health hiccup of late, I’ve been reading lots of sites and blogs and articles and PowerPoints by lots of people, including some from the company that makes the drug that I’m taking now. I know their perspective. I take that into account. But I find them all valuable. In fact, I find what some of the affiliated people have to say more valuable than some of the unaffiliated precisely because I do know their perspective.

The secret to this is disclosure. And the irony of this is, of course, that journalists are the worst at disclosing. They think they shouldn’t or don’t have to but they are the ones who demand that everyone else should disclose. Doctor, take your own medicine.

: Don Dodge also writes about how much easier it is to launch a company today in part because you don’t have to do through the gatekeepers of the press. Witness the launch of CoComment this week, upon which I commented along with many others. They launched via blogs and they got help doing that from the guy who understands spreading a message via blogs better than most anyone: Hugh MacLeod. Says Dodge:

We now live in a meritocracy. Money, VCs, and the press no longer decide what will be successful. Great products/services with intuitive designs that solve a real problem win.

The people who are in the best position to know what’s good are often those are most deeply involved in the arena a company is entering. Once I know their relationship, I can judge what the say accordingly, can’t you?

: And here is my disclosure.

: LATER: David Weinberger responds to the article. He’s nicer about it than I would have been. But then, he’s nicer than I am.

: Doc has links to much more discussion.

  • “But that doesn’t mean that we all have to take some journalistic vow of uninvolvement. What, David Isenberg can’t both write about open networks and be involved in them? Of course, that’s ridiculous. David Isenberg has a stance on networks and I expect him to live and talk from that perspective.”

    That’s not what the article implied. Rather, you have Google and Skype and two VC firms investing $21 million in a company. There’s no good reason for advisory board members to avoid noting that they may get a financial winfall, but may not. The way to avoid appearing biased is to disclose–which you do, so I don’t know why you’re carrying water on this one.

    I love David Isenberg to pieces, and the fact that he and other bloggers (outside of two I know) didn’t mention there might be a financial connection is because they aren’t thinking about the money. I argue that bloggers need to think about the money, because when you’re involved in industry disruptive technologies, it’s better to expose biases rather than have them exposed.

    Just look at the folks who opposed municipal networks–most of them are being paid directly or indirectly from the incumbent monopolies. It would be in the public interest to know about the ones that won’t disclose any funding sources and yet speak the loudest on the topic. If they get not a cent, that would be just as useful to know as whether 90% of their budget is paid by a telco giant.

    There’s no good reason to not to write, “I am on an advisory board and may be compensated for my opinions.” It’s oversight now, but the issue deserves to be raised.

    If it were people you didn’t know and didn’t trust, I don’t expect you’d be saying the same thing. These are people I mostly know and those I know I completely trust–and I’m still raising a red flag.

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  • I wrote this here.

    Britt Blaser wrote this.

  • Glenn, i think the fact is that they werent paid for opinions. And according to Adam Green almost everyone disclosed the belonging to the Advisory Board.. so What is the problem? I think none.

    Disclaimer: im the Fonero Leader for Argentina and have NO payment NOR financial reward, just one router for me to try

  • I don’t see how mere disclosure of a potential conflict of interest eliminates the possible conflict.

  • It doesn’t eliminate any possible conflict.

    It just alerts those of us who aren’t connected into the money train to apply an appropriate discount to the words. That discount may vary from person to person based on whether we know the people in question and if so, how well.

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  • Marcelo Lopez

    Most of the time, I find that journalists are like that little racoon-cum-squirrel from the movie Ice Age ( of which there is a sequel on it’s way, or so I hear ). Voraciously trying to dig up nuts, forever chasing them. To great lengths and perilous circumstance, they venture. At their own risk they supposedly go forth, “in search of the truth”, or so they say.

    What I find is that most often, when they actually FIND some nugget, some morsel, that might otherwise by useful. In and of itself, unfiltered, and UN-SPUN, they deflate more rapidly than a pricked ballon. They cower at the possibility that someone might actually LOOK PAST their words. And look for themselves at the circumstance that they’re oh-so-galantly trying to purvey. Again, and again, you see it.

    It’s not just from media of any political persuasion. It’s a pretty blanketed malady that I believe, blogs in part, address. It puts the person in focus to “cut through the cruft” of spun news. Sometimes, some blogs will completely fall for the cream puff frosting, sometimes they’ll cut right down to the crust, and ask, “What in the hell is in this thing ?”. Which is really all anyone ever REALLY wants a journalist to ever report.

    Get better, and take care of yourself, Jeff.