There are a lot of podcasts I’ve subscribed to inside of iTunes, but the one that I make a point to listen to each week is This Week In Tech with Leo Laporte. He and his guests have been having an ongoing discussion over the past few weeks about a few points of ethics within journalistic circles. Specifically, the issue has been that some journalists who are reviewing products have obvious vested interest in the success of the product they are critiquing. David Pogue of the New York Times wrote a gleaming review of the new Mac OS, despite the fact that he is a writer of a series of user guides for Mac operating systems and software packages. Ethically speaking, this is an issue as David has a specific vested interest in the success of the OS in order to spur success of his books.
Leo interviews Pogue on TWIT 213, in which Pogue brings up a few totally valid counterpoints. To be fair, this isn’t an issue specific to David. As he points out, this is something that many reviewers and journalists are doing. Print journalism is dying off quickly, and journalists have typically been some of the first to go in the recent recession. Writing these books have been an almost necessary work for these guys in order to make and secure a living. It’s a problem that will have to be worked on, and one that I wanted to bring up here but not really delve into. What I did want to talk about is the alarming idea that David brought up, in that he claimed that he’s not a journalist. Furthermore, because of his refusal to take on this description, he seems to have the idea that this alleviates him of certain responsibilities.
Let’s get one thing straight first. I may not have gone to any journalism classes at a university that lacks the degree, but it doesn’t take a journalism major to realize that there are different classifications within that title. You can be an opinion writer, a columnist, a beat writer, an investigative journalist, and so on. But isn’t it time that we considered a blogger to be a journalist? The medium is large enough now that you simply cannot lump all bloggers into one classified pile. In all technicality, The Huffington Post is a blog. Yet if you were to cite an unbiased article from that publication in a college class, your professor is unlikely to give you a hard time about it. There is a difference though, as the same rules of credibility certainly apply. For instance, take the site you are reading this now. I make no amends of the fact that what you’re reading is my opinion. This post itself is my opinion, I’m not trying to dress it up as citable and inalienable fact at all. If you want to disagree, that’s fine. That’s what comments on blogs are for, and what the feedback page in the newspaper is for.
Then again, I don’t write this for the New York Times.
The Times may not be the bastion of journalistic ethos anymore, but it’s still a highly valued and credible organization. I’m just a guy writing about his interests and opinions on his own web site, David Pogue is a guy writing reviews of very important products for the New York Times. It’s beyond irresponsible for him to claim that he’s “just a blogger”, when he’s doing such. The fact is, he’s writing descriptions and educated opinions of very popular products for a very large readership. That’s a responsibility far too large to be brushed away when other professionals in the field have valid points about how you could handle yourself differently.
Yes, David. You’re a blogger. But you’re blogging for the New York Times, not some run of the mill WordPress site like I am. You have more to stand up for, more responsibility laid upon you. You’re a journalist, and you have every responsibility to yourself and your publication. Those things you mentioned that aren’t your job are your job. Just as much as the guy who writes front page news articles every day.