James Fallows of The Atlantic writes about how the business side of Bloomberg LP might be influencing the news side in the wake of it holding up stories in China that might upset high-ranking government officials.
Fallows writes, “Journalism has of course always involved conflicts of interest and tradeoffs. Because most of what we consider ‘serious’ journalism — foreign reportage, investigative coverage, local or statehouse beat reporting — has never paid its own way, it has traditionally survived by being bundled into some larger and more profitable organization. This in turn has often involved snarls about humoring or offending advertisers, advancing the publisher’s pet causes, remembering how your business stays afloat. You don’t have to trust me: you can go to the movies for proof! Citizen Kane, Chinatown, Absence of Malice, Good Night and Good Luck, and many others are all on this theme.
“The concern in the Bloomberg case — and frankly, the appearance so far — is that these age-old pressures are recurring in a large and awkward way. The New York Times and Washington Post face similar worries and tradeoffs: how cavalier can you afford to be about irritating your business base? The Atlantic faces them too. But for these organizations and many others, the journalistic-credibility part of their business is a very major part of the business as a whole. Without that, their/our entire business operation is jeopardized. So for your own survival, when in doubt you lean toward publishing a controversial story. In Bloomberg’s case, the non-journalistic part of the business is vastly larger than the (nonetheless large) journalistic side. Until now, that’s mainly seemed good, in providing a reliable bankroll for first-rate journalism, when ‘normal’ journalistic organizations are in such straits. The question now is whether we’re seeing the bad side of the bargain.”
Read more here.