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NY Times suspended ethics for Web 2.0 plug

Very cosy

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Back to the nebulous tech hype that Register readers love to hate.

The New York Times appears to have breached two of its own ethics guidelines when it gave op-ed space to John Battelle last week to promote the Web 2.0 buzzword.

Battelle, who produced the Web 2.0 conference with MediaLive, used the space to assure us that Web 2.0 wasn't really a bubble, in a curiously nervous and defensive piece.

But the Times failed to disclose that it's an investor in Battelle's new Federated Media publishing company - a very Bubble 1.0 kind of oversight. And neither did Battelle, until the admission was dragged out of him by Jon Garfunkel of Civilities.net.

"Yes, The NYT Company is an investor in my company Federated Media," confessed Battelle "I very much doubt this had anything to do with my having a chance to write this but I agree, it should have been disclosed in the Op Ed somewhere."

Indeed so.

The Gray Lady, as the paper loves to be called, has a ponderous "Ethical Journalism Guidebook", which it threw away for the occasion.

Guideline #152: tells us:

Times readers apply exacting standards to the entire paper. They do not distinguish between staff written articles and those written by outsiders. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to The Times, while not its employees, will be held to the same standards as staff members when they are on Times assignments, including those for the Times Magazine."

Guideline #154 covers conflict of interests:

Assigning editors in business and financial news who deal with non-staff contributors have a special duty to guard against conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict. To the extent possible, assigning editors should ensure that outside contributors meet the strict standards outlined in Section 12 above for the business and financial news staff.

The relevant guideline, #114, in Section 12 is:

No staff member may own stock or have any other financial interest in a company, enterprise or industry that figures or is likely to figure in coverage that he or she provides, edits, packages or supervises regularly.

While Guideline #152 reminds editors not to employ freelancers who fall foul of the ethics rules.

"If they violate these guidelines, they will be denied further assignments," it states. So it looks like Battelle's sparkling prose won't be troubling the Times op-ed readers again.

John Battelle illustrates his 'database of intentions'

Web 2.0 organizer John Battelle Pic: John C Dvorak

"In short, the theme of the Op-Ed was that 'it's once again safe to invest in the net again'", notes Garfunkel. He told us that he had mailed the Times public editor but has yet to hear a reply.

He also observes, "ironically, given how much the blogs have ripping the NYTimes these days from TimesSelect to Judy Miller, they give bad journalism a pass when it's sucking up to their interests."

A failure of 'Collective Intelligence', we guess.

Now given the unanimity of disdain for the Web 2.0 hype - only two out of many hundreds of correspondents defended it in a recent survey - you'd think the Times would be wiser to approach the subject with some scepticism.

But why let the facts get in the way of a cosy investment? ®

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