Friday, April 29, 2005

Journalism question

Let's turn around Lawrence Lessig's question:

(1) that a reporter writes an article that with some length, but in passing, describes company X as unprofitable.
(2) that the company feels the report is factually incorrect because it defines "profit" in an unusual way (say, ignoring litigation costs).
(3) that company X complains to the reporter and the publication and demands a correction.
(4) that the editors consider and decide the reporter was right and don't issue a correction.
(5) then the reporter asks to write an "in depth report" about company X.
(6) and the publication authorizes it.

This is very common. And if company X is Airbus or Boeing and the reporter covers airplane makers or if company X is Citigroup or Morgan Stanley and the reporter covers banks -- well, tough on company X.

Is that wrong? Are we in danger of getting "grudge journalism" or a "make up"? It depends on your stand on step (4). The editors represent neither the reporter nor the company -- they represent the reader. They shouldn't be taking anyone's word for it, even if that person is Lawrence Lessig. They'd be falling down on the job if they corrected something just because company X said so. If the reporter uses the story as a way to "get back" at company X, then he or she is also failing. The problem isn't as clear cut as Lawrence seems to thinks it is. We need more information.