A particularly prominent technology blogger ( see http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/michael_arrington_the_kingmaker_who_would_be_king.php )has now formalized his status as an investor (which he did even before) while relinquishing his editorial duties (which were not much given the blog’s acquisition by AOL and its own formidable line of writers, each one of whom is quite influential). Without going into either sermon mode (thou shall not have conflict of interests) or adulatory mode (wow he sold the blog for 30 mill and now he gets another 20 mill for his funds)- I shall try and present the case for ethics and ethical lapses while as a writer.
Some facts which may be more anecdotal and yet backed statistically-
1) Writing is a tough way to make money. Journalism is even tougher. In a blog eat blog world, everyone is your competition and everyone is your editor. So much content is available for free on the Internet, that the few blokes surviving of their writing, end up writing books, or accepting ads, or webinar/white paper deals just to survive initially.
2) Influence cannot be bought but you can buy access to influential people/analysts/writers.Nobody offers you money to write a good praising article. The quid pro-quo is to first make the writer comfortable by freebies, and sponsorship, and then hopefully the writer ends up compromising his own judgement. It is tough to dislike companies and people who have been so good to you. The industry called public relations exists to make analysts , bloggers and writers comfortable. Note I am using the word writer to anyone who writes anything- than use jargon like analyst, consultant, strategist ,evangelist etc
3) Startups /acquisitions or any new product launch have asymmetric information flow and writers get early access to most facts and thus trends in industries. Knowledge is power. Power is money. In the IPO world of inflated valuations, writers can and do get early access to product launches, strategic tie-ups. While most writers also get a NDA (non disclosure agreement) and embargo (publish after this time , this date ), there are no rules for insider trading on companies that are yet to be listed (like startups)
4) Technology writers and writers in general are quite competitive to each other. Writing is an essentially lonely job to plug away at your keyboard and scrape your vocabulary for clever phrases at 2 cents a word. Writers are notorious for being insecure, and the appearance of an ethical lapse is often a case for the whole writing community to gang bang on you. Sometimes people at the centre of media firestorm are declared guilty before proven innocent, thus turning on its head the basic fundamental of legal jurisprudence in the civilized world.
5) Envy and greed are tough to resist when people make millions straight around college as is the case for technology startups. Sure I am smarter than many 30 something millionaires, but I didnt go to the right Stanford or Ivy League school. Technology writing has its dangerous temptations to sell out.
6) Readers hate having their trust shattered. In a world of cynical media broadcasts, political posturing, partisan reporting, technology reporting is the last refuge of the sane , dispassionate reader. You can lose their trust only once, and that is a slippery slope to go down to.
7) Writers have their own tricks- Using a simple recombination of words, I or any tech writer can turn a lukewarm review into a hot review to a totally unfavorable review. It is only words, and a few words is all it takes to murder or revive some piece of technology. This is especially true for people who write in technology despite never having written code themselevs, their empathy thresholds and patience levels can be lower. Sometimes it is the mood of the writer, that plays a role.
I end with this quote on writers-
Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer–and if so, why?-