Editorial objectivity is under constant attack. So what?

This BuzzFeed headline is a bit much: “Every Tech Journalist’s Worst Nightmare

The article, written by John Herrman, tells the “nightmare” of CNET bestowing a “Best of CES” honor on DISH Network’s Hopper device, but that award was soon revoked when CNET’s parent company — CBS — cried foul. CBS is suing DISH because it doesn’t like the Hopper’s ad-skipping technology.

So, yes, having your editorial autonomy undermined is unfortunate. But “nightmare”? No. That’s not an apt description of what happened here.

A tech writer’s real nightmare would involve an Apple exclusive that’s scooped by a competitor. This CNET thing? That’s a challenge to editorial objectivity, and those challenges happen all the time. Sometimes you win those battles. Sometimes you lose. There’s no immutable objectivity law.

Herrman also makes this point:

This is a constant fear for many tech writers — their jobs, more than many other in media, require them to cover companies they either work for, or which their employers interact with.

“Constant fear.” My God, being a tech journalist sounds awful.

I also take issue with the “more than many other in media” bit. News organizations that still adhere to the church/state division of edit and advertising might shield writers from this situation, but how many of those organizations are left? (And I question whether that line is even necessary — but that’s a topic for another day.)

Tiptoeing along editorial integrity is hard no matter the circumstance. It’s even harder when your content and your sources and your stories are tied to business partners or advertisers or sponsors or a mothership corporate entity. Anyone who’s worked in B2B publishing knows exactly how this feels.

This isn’t a “nightmare.” It’s the nature of the beast, and you have to accept that it’s part of the job.

My line between edit and sales blurred years ago. It’s not that big a deal

I was fortunate to have my ill-conceived notions about editorial/advertising segregation blown to bits early in my career. It hurt. No doubt about that. I came out of journalism school with all the requisite ethical boundaries and red flags intact….

I was fortunate to have my ill-conceived notions about editorial/advertising segregation blown to bits early in my career. It hurt. No doubt about that. I came out of journalism school with all the requisite ethical boundaries and red flags intact. So it was tough to let that go.

But it was so useful to let that go. It made me see that most journalism organizations are businesses. That’s it. All that stuff about objectivity and watchdog roles and the Fourth Estate sounds good, and it feels good, but news companies must ultimately adhere to the same criteria as every other business: does it make money or does it lose money?

That’s why it’s interesting for me to watch others go through the same gyrations now that the Dallas Morning News is moving editorial and sales closer together. I get it. This is hard to swallow. It goes against everything journalists know, everything we’re taught in the vacuum of j-school. It seems dangerous.

But having lived through my own transition, and having traversed some tricky edit/ad terrain along the way, I can tell you the danger is minimal. Perhaps even non-existent.

First off, consumers don’t care. If the content is informative and entertaining and useful, if readers can justify the time and money spent, they’re good. Second, a smart news business understands that it cannot undermine the trust it’s established with the community. This has nothing to do with public interest or greater good. It’s about money. Trustworthy content builds an audience, and audience attracts advertisers. Kill the trust and you kill the audience; advertisers will take their business elsewhere. That’s all there is to it.

Blurring the edit/ad line within a newsroom isn’t a big deal. It’s what happens after the blurring that matters. If the Dallas Morning News cranks out great stuff and serves/educates/helps people, this can work for everyone involved. If they do something stupid — like violating trust by kowtowing to clients — they’re screwed. That’s just business, and bad businesses die.

“Twitter Effect” Story Covers Consumer Tech Without the Hysteria (… It’s About Time)

I was ready to rip this Twitter Effect story for being one of many “trend out of thin air” pieces commonly found in consumer-centric technology coverage. But I was pleasantly surprised to have my initial assumptions proven incorrect. The headline…

I was ready to rip this Twitter Effect story for being one of many “trend out of thin air” pieces commonly found in consumer-centric technology coverage. But I was pleasantly surprised to have my initial assumptions proven incorrect.

The headline teeters on hype, but the story itself asks a reasonable question — do rapid-fire Twitter reviews influence film revenue? — and (gasp!) presents multiple viewpoints that don’t glom on to comfortable conclusions. The piece, which is really worth a read, says Twitter might influence receipts for some films. It’s nice to see nuance for a change.