Disclosing journalists’ pasts

By Felix Salmon
November 19, 2009
Henry,

I'm not annoyed by you! How could I be, when you call me the "king of financial bloggers" no fewer than four times in one piece? I think you've created a powerful, innovative, and disruptive franchise in The Business Insider, which employs some very smart people and publishes some great journalism -- even if sometimes it's neither checked nor correct. I'm entirely happy that you're out there hiring people even as most publications are doing the opposite, and I wish you and your investors the very best of fortune.

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Dear Henry,

I’m not annoyed by you! How could I be, when you call me the “king of financial bloggers” no fewer than four times in one piece? I think you’ve created a powerful, innovative, and disruptive franchise in The Business Insider, which employs some very smart people and publishes some great journalism — even if sometimes it’s neither checked nor correct. I’m entirely happy that you’re out there hiring people even as most publications are doing the opposite, and I wish you and your investors the very best of fortune.

My blog entry yesterday was not about you qua entrepeneur; I just thought that if you were going to get into the business of publishing earnings estimates for technology companies — exactly the business you were banned from by the SEC — then it might be worth mentioning the ban as you did so.

In fact, the blog entry wasn’t really about you at all, as you might have surmised from the picture at the top and the lead paragraph, which were all about Michael Whitney. Maybe you could answer my questions where Bloomberg’s Judith Czelusniak didn’t: do you think it was OK for Bloomberg to hire Whitney and not disclose his past? If not, would it have been OK for Bloomberg to hire Whitney if they had disclosed his past?

I suspect that the differences between us are not particularly great, and that we believe that while such episodes aren’t necessarily disqualifying when it comes to hiring journalists, they should definitely be treated transparently. At the margin, the necessity of disclosing such things might well lead media organizations to pick an experienced out-of-work journalist instead: that clearly doesn’t apply in your case, where you’re the hirer rather than the prospective employee.

You say that you’ve disclosed everything in great detail in the past — this is true, and in fact I linked to one such disclosure. I feel that the disclosure should be a permanent thing, easily available to new readers, especially when you start revisiting ground extremely similar to that which you trod as a securities analyst. It’s not a major difference.

I think we’d have a much more substantive disagreement if you defended Bloomberg’s failure to disclose Whitney’s past, or Thom Calandra’s failure to disclose his own past when selling his new newsletter; I look forward to reading your views on them. But as it is, I think you might be overreacting to my piece slightly.

Best,

Felix Salmon, KFB

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