Yesterday, TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington widely announced via blog post that he is returning to startup investing in many of the companies TechCrunch is known to cover. As he states himself, “there will be financial conflicts of interests in a lot of my stories.”
And he is not at all sorry about it! “I think that this will all be fine,” he writes, with a remarkable amount of confidence, as long as he promises to disclose his conflicts as he writes about them.
Business Insider asked AOL if it is corporate policy that journalists are allowed to invest in the companies and industries they write about. The answer: No, they are not allowed to do that, unless they are named Michael Arrington. From AOL’s statement:
Michael Arrington operates from a unique position. He was an investor in technology companies and start-ups before he started TechCrunch, and his extensive knowledge of, and involvement with Silicon Valley is one of the very things that has made TechCrunch a must-read site.
Is this whole ethical overhaul making you feel a little uncomfortable? This is what Arrington said about his potential detractors: “Other tech press will make hay out of this because they don’t like the fact that we are, simply, a lot better than them.”
Ouch! We bet none of his inferior competitors would dare criticize him now!
Big media organizations work hard to build trust and eliminate any reason readers might have to question the veracity of their reporting. Because it matters to their bottom line. And that’s what’s puzzling about Mr Arrington’s change of policy. His disclosure does nothing to help build trust in Techcrunch. Eroding reader trust is not a good thing. And it’s certainly not good for all the Techcrunch reporters who will now be seen in a different light.
[G]iven the recent and loudly stated goal of promoting quality journalism by Huffington–including the recent dismissal of AOL’s Moviefone site editor over what the company considered ethical lapses–it seemed pertinent to ask.
That diatribe on how [Arrington] saw news rules–which is to say, there aren’t any that bind him–was vintage Arrington… But Huffington is another story.
We await Arianna Huffington’s further comment. No doubt one will be coming soon, particularly if Bill Keller hears about this first.