Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

Crossing lines, running conferences, defining transparency

I followed the arguments about the TechCrunch intern who asked for (note - not was offered but asked for) a MacBook Air in return for covering a company with interest: between the FTC demanding that bloggers declare when they get gifts relevant to their blogging, the site that collected the name of everyone loaned a laptop to test the M3 build of Windows 7 so it could declare all their coverage biased and the US paper that sacked a writer who accepted travel expenses for a piece in another title, there's plenty of debate on what are the ethical limits for journalists. The US rules - at least for 'main stream media' - have long been: no gifts, expenses paid by the title. We have a slightly different approach in the UK; don't be biased.

With freelance rates that haven't really gone up since the late 1980s and no expense payments to speak of, many writers can't afford to pay their own way to important events that are outside London; if they invite a journalist, companies typically offer to cover expenses for events. Don't think all-expenses-paid; think, they'll probably cover Internet access costs and buy you a drink... I've never met a company that expected paying for a train ticket or lending an item for review to be rewarded with anything more an honest writeup. And yes, maybe after a long loan for comparison with other products that you review, maybe with the journalist saying how much they'll miss it - but sooner or later, the kit goes back. We don't expect anything else.

Editors (should) make the point clearly when they start working with someone; don't expect freebies and don't allow any freebies to influence your judgement. That's what management and mentoring is for; that's what discussing the meeting and the angle of the story is for; that's why editors should go to events with new in-house writers for a while, to make sure everything is on track. With a 17-year old intern, that should apply in spades - but the pile-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap approach to online journalism doesn't seem to have time, funds or sometimes even the desire to do that.

The apology from the intern mentioned the Teens in Tech conference; I picked up a recent copy of Fast Company this morning and spotted it in their diary for the month, with this gushing write-up: "Any parent seeking to make a kid feel inadequate need only point to 17-year-old Daniel Brusilovsky. The Californian is founder and CEO of Teens in Tech Networks (for young media producers), a TechCrunch writer, and a marketing manager for mobile-video startup Qik. The whiz kid, who's cochairing this San Francisco conference, says his generation has the power to lead technological innovation, citing Facebook as inspiration. Does he hope to be the next Mark Zuckerberg? "I'm the kind of person who doesn't look far ahead -- I live in the moment," he says, channeling his inner adult. "But if I wasn't doing what I loved, I wouldn't be doing it." And then he put down his iPhone to go network at a conference. In Rome. Where he was a featured panelist. Again, he's 17."

Living in the moment, with minimal editorial mentoring; that's not the way to do journalism. I have no personal animus towards Daniel and I think he was badly let down by the people who should have been teaching him (he was an intern, not a journalist), but I'll worry about our industry if he just goes charging ahead, speaking at all those conferences, without some serious re-evaluation. It's called adult supervision for a reason...
Tags: business models, ethics, internet, journalism, rant

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