“Journalistic Integrity” is one of those phrases that, when applied to some magazines and websites, is an oxymoron.
It’s no secret that advertising is the money-engine that keeps magazines and websites alive. As readers you may be annoyed at our ads’ intrusion, but on the other side, without them there is no website. Where things get dicey is drawing the line between the advertiser’s interests and reporting.
This issue came into stark contrast recently at PC World. If you’re not familiar with this magazine, it’s chock full of PC advertising laced with a sprinkling of articles including product reviews and rankings. PC World was drafting an article entitled “10 Things We Hate About Apple” which was then decided by the Chief Executive of PC World, Colin Crawford, not to run it.
Subsequently the Editor in Chief, Harry McCracken, resigned. As this act cascaded into the blogosphere, lots of negative comments found their way to PC World. In an abrupt turnaround, Mr. Crawford was reassigned to his previous job (business development for IDC) and Mr. McCracken was rehired.
The article is now running at PC World’s website along with a companion piece “10 Things We Love About Apple”. As articles, they are not earth-shaking or particularly revealing by any means; as representations of the line that must be drawn between the advertiser and the publisher’s editorial staff, they are notable.
Advertiser’s are certainly within their rights to spend ad money where is will do the most good, and if they can get away with it, get as much positive spin on their products as possible. The line is crossed, however, when the publisher overlooks the negatives and gives a glowing report on only the positives. Fortunately I believe most readers see through this and each publication earns its reputation, good or bad, over time as readers’ evaluate the accuracy and objectivity of its reporting.
The great “truth serum” in all of this is the internet – thankfully with forums, blogs and newsgroups, a slanted piece quickly gets a hefty dose of reality-based reporting by (hopefully) knowledgeable individuals. And this is not limited to product reporting; all manner of reporting – political, hard news, etc – is now subject to critical review by the vox populi, much to our benefit.
I continue to marvel at how the internet, once a geek toy, is thoroughly integrated into our lives – we older folks are seeing the tip of the iceberg compared to what today’s pre-teens will experience.