As my Toronto blogging friend Tony Hung writes here, Mike Arrington is venting some anger over the shots that he and TechCrunch have been taking over issues of conflict and impartiality, with a long post about how he feels like he is under attack. The first thing I would tell Mike is that he should be glad he’s coming under fire, particularly if it’s coming from the traditional media — it means he is successful enough to be making people worried (Jeneane is afraid he is channeling Dave Winer).
At one point, Mike says that TechCrunch is “a new kind of publication” and that it doesn’t “fit into a neat little box like traditional media, who refrain from financial conflicts of interest with their readers and feel that they are therefore above reproach.” He says that his site is different because it’s “all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends.”
I would certainly agree that TechCrunch is different, but not in those ways. Traditional journalism is full of columnists, commentators and beat reporters who are every bit as close to their sources, friendly with them and conflicted by those relationships as Mike. As Mitch Ratcliffe notes at ZDNet, there are lots of other online journalists in the same boat too. Nothing that TechCrunch is going through is different in that sense from dozens of investment newsletters.
As with any type of publication — online or off — the relationship with readers is by far the most important thing, since that is the foundation on which the rest of the business (if it is a business) is built. Most of Mike’s readers know that he hangs around with VCs and startups and the like, and that many of them have likely become friends. Provided he discloses obvious conflicts when they arise, most people are probably going to be perfectly happy with that.
As many people have argued before and likely will after me, journalistic objectivity is pretty much a fiction — or at least an unattainable goal in most cases. What journalists and bloggers should strive for if they want to be taken seriously is fairness, balance and honesty. All else is secondary. As my friend Scott Karp said recently, trust is the only asset we have.