Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Don't tell her this, but until today, I'd never heard of Kara Swisher.

I followed a link to one of her columns on the site All Things Digital from MediaBistro's daily digest. First I noticed that there are two names on the site: hers, and Walt Mossberg's. Secondly, I found, prominently displayed on the left, a link to her Ethics Statement. Further piquing my interest, the tag before the jump said, "This is probably more than most of you want to know, but...."

Ah, rejoice! I want to know more than most of us want to know! Tell me more!

Swisher, who is a technology writer, proceeded to disclose her relationship with an executive at Google (her wife, which led to a brief acknowledgement of disagreement with California's Proposition 8, effectively repealing same-sex marriage), and the way she manages any potential impact from that relationship. She stated, basically, that she does not accept money from anyone she covers in any way. She referenced her investments and explained that the funds are managed in such a way that while it is possible at any given time that she might own shares of stock in a tech company, she is not aware of those individual purchases.

Essentially, Swisher invaded her own privacy and stated for the records all the things some believe should be assumed. It's not entirely what she said, but that she said it at all.

Like the taboo against discussing salaries (the continued existence of which must be adding just a little more spin to Marx's turns in his grave), I've always felt it's a little silly to take offense at obvious ethical or conflict-of-interest charges that might fall short of the legal line. It might be naive of me, but if one is in the business of providing information others depend on, disclosure of relationships, financial or otherwise, that might affect one's viewpoint, and sharing a few details about how those potentialities will be managed, is both good business and good ethics. No one in the media is presumed innocent until proven guilty any more, even - sometimes especially - its producers. Transparency is vital to the integrity of news.

Is this something that should be business as usual, expected by the public, for anyone proclaiming any level of accuracy and objectivity - a practical, necessary sign of good integrity? Or is it a dangerous precedent for the invasion of privacy and a smear against names wh ich have not yet been attacked?

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