Posts about disclosures

Demand Media’s advisors

Demand Media just announced the formation of an advisory board; Staci Kramer has the details at PaidContent. I was invited to join but decided to decline. I’ve been saying a lot about Demand — sometimes disagreeing with the common and negative perception that it is a content farm, arguing that we should not miss the key insights and lessons in Demand’s model (first, finding new ways to listen to what readers and the market want and letting that be its assignments and second, cutting content creation into its constituent elements and creating a market for creation to find new efficiencies).

I advise and have various relationships with media companies, which I disclose on my about page so you can judge accordingly what I say about them and about their sectors. Demand is uniquely controversial right now and so I decided to decline its invitation to advise and also thought I should disclose that here once it made its announcement. I will, of course, continue to write about Demand et al, positively and negatively, and I will continue to give them advice in public (such as this post) but will receive no remuneration from Demand. So you should read no particular statement into my decision to decline; still, I thought you should know.

Betting on Black20

I’ve just invested in Black20, an energetic and creative new small-TV company that is sure to grow big. Virginia Heffernan wrote a great piece telling their story so rather than try to tell it again, I’ll just say go there. And go watch some Black20 videos. These guys are talented, funny, ambitious, smart, and tireless. I’ve just invested in the studio of the future.

Other investors and amounts aren’t being announced — sorry, Staci, Rafat, Om, and Liz.

I have been blathering a lot about exploding TV. But I am putting my money and time where my mouth is with my own small video venture — so far producing IdolCritic and PrezVid — and with my investment in Black20. The new means to produce and distribute — contrasted with the incredible cost of the old ways — opens up incredible opportunity. Keep an eye on the guys at Black20.

Daylife news has the story of the investors behind Daylife, the news startup I’ve been helping. There will be more coming out soon as we are close to a public launch. It’s all very exciting at Daylife HQ and I look forward to sharing more imminently.

(This, by the way, was what I was referring to on my disclosures page when I said I couldn’t reveal the investors behind a startup I was working on.)

Goose, meet gander: Answering The Times’ questions

I’d like us all to answer a few questions.

The other day, I blogged about The New York Times requiring freelance writers to answer a questionnaire about their other activities and any conflicts of interest. I suggested that every journalist, especially staffers, should fill out the questionnaire and that they should be made public.

Well, a birdie just sent me the questionnaire and so I’ll start the ball rolling. On my disclosures page, I’ve answered each of the questions, which I’ll list below.

I’ll also keep that ball rolling and suggest that bloggers should answer the questions as well and post them online to pressure mainstream journalists into such open disclosure.

And let’s keep it rolling still by suggesting other questions you think that journalists and bloggers should answer for their audiences. First, The Times’ questions:

1. Please list your other current employers, whether full time or part time

2. For what other employers have you worked in the last three years?

3. What sort of volunteer work do you do regularly, if any, and for whom? (Please include any public relations, advocacy or advisory board involvement.)

4. Do you do any work paid or unpaid in politics or government? Have you done any lobbying of governmental bodies?

5. Do you have any financial investments or financial ties that may limit your ability to cover specific topics free of conflict, and if so, what are the topics?

6. Although we don’t regulate the activities of spouses, partners or immediate family members of our contributors, do any of their professional or personal involvements or any of their financial investments or ties make certain topics inappropriate for you, and if so, what are the topics?

7. Have you accepted any free trips, junkets or press trips in the last two years? Have you accepted any substantial free merchandise or discounts from people we might cover?

8. Has anything you’ve written later resulted in a published editor’s note or retraction for deliberate falsehood or plagiarism or become the subject of a lawsuit involving allegations of deliberate falsehood? (If yes, please include details about the publication and your role in the article or story. If a lawsuit, please describe the disposition of the case.)

What else? This isn’t as simple as filling out a one-size-fits-all-beats list once. I believe that if journalists have something to disclose about their views or involvement in a story that a reader should properly know to judge that story, they should be updating on online disclosures page accordingly. We don’t need to litter stories in sparse print and airtime with every such disclosure; it could reach an absurd though amusing extreme (“The lawyer for the accused once bought me a beer”… “I own two shares of Microsoft stock”…). But we should not shy away from such disclosure when it is relevant.

Yesterday, I was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation with Jeffrey Dvorkin, the network’s ombudsman, and Brent Cunningham, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, talking about just this. The host, Michelle Martin, wasn’t grasping the nuances of this discussion. For what came out is that Dvorkin, Cunningham, and I agree broadly (I hope I don’t mischaracterize their views) that objectivity, as upheld in j-schools of yore, is a false god; that honest, fair, and complete reporting in spite of any personal perspectives, prejudices, or assumptions is the right standard; and that relevant disclosure is good. Where we disagree about is how far that should go, and I wish we’d explored that more. So explore it here: How much disclosure is necessary and relevant?

Keep in mind that this does not mean that you’re disclosing deep, dark, family secrets about every story or laying your whole life bare. That’s not the point. This isn’t an exercise in Maoist self-criticism or columnist exhibitionism. This is about telling the people you’re talking with what they should know to understand your own perspective and what you bring to the story: “I’m writing about jazz but I prefer rock.” … or, “I’m covering a smoking ban and I used to smoke.” … or, yes, “I’m covering the Democrats and I am a Democrat.” It should not mean either that you should not cover a story because you have a relevant perspective or that you must because you do. This cuts both ways. The example I gave in yesterday’s discussion on NPR is that editors frequently assign African-American reporters to stories in the African-American community. That could be argued two ways: It’s stereotyping the reporters, or it’s assigning people who will understand those stories better. This doesn’t mean that they should or should not be assigned because of their background, but their background is relevant. The same goes for other stories where the background is not so transparent.

So if you join in and answer these disclosure questions, please tag it “disclosures.” And if you have any more questions you’d like to see journalists and bloggers answer, please add them to the comments.

: LATER: Vaughn Ververs answers the questions at Public Eye.