Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Made Who?

Disclosure quickly defuses bias. Be it political affiliations, family connections, or social allegiances, a mere note at the beginning or end of an article can save a reporter's reputation. The Street's Jim Cramer, CNN's Susan Roesgen, and The New York Times' Francisco Toro each experienced public criticism for failing to disclose financial, political, and activist organization connections, respectively.

On a grander scale, publications take careful steps to avoid hiding allegiances. With few independent newspapers left publishing, many publications are subsets of massive corporate conglomerations with many side businesses. This inevitably leads to newspaper stories that cover actions of a business within the same corporation as the covering newspaper itself. The way in which the newspaper acknowledges this is an important editorial decision that varies.

Over self-exposure seems to be the status quo, as seen in Alex William's April 2, 2007, The New York Times article "Gay by Design, or a Lifestyle Choice?" Despite only a fleeting reference to source Ramone Johnson, Williams is very direct in his disclosure.

"Johnson is a gay journalist...for About.com, which is owned by The New York Times Company," Williams wrote.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board takes a subtler approach, displayed in Ethan Smith's March 10 article "Ice Age $3000: Fox to Release First 3-D Blu-Ray Title." Congruent with other The Wall Street Journal articles, Smith seamlessly integrates the possible conflict of interest into the story.

"Fox, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp.," Smith wrote, using a phraseology exactly like that of other The Wall Street Journal reporters covering Fox.

A final and common disclosure technique occurs in Kate Snow's July 23, 2009, ABC News article "Did Erin Andrews' Sex Appeal Encourage Nude Peephole Video?" Snow waits until the very end of the story to make any reference to business allegiances, writing as a disclaimer, "ESPN is owned by Disney which also owns ABC News."

Concerning pure disclosure, The New York Times communicates the conflict of interest best. In terms of writing finesse, The Wall Street Journal shows that a well-integrated statement maintains flow, though the phrase's smooth delivery can lead to its being overlooked.

Editors would be well advised to weigh the continuum between The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and find a style that best fits their reporting techniques.

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