I'm cranky. First, for months now I've been distressed at the "cash-for-comment" controversy. I had debated whether to address the issue in my column, in the end opting not to because it seemed like a bit of navel gazing. But there is a good reason to address the issue, because computer journalists are offered on a regular basis local and overseas trips. These "junkets" (yes, that's the internal term used) usually involve flying business class to top destinations, staying at five-star hotels and some sight-seeing or leisure time.
Tally that up and you've got a slew of frequent flyer points and the odd occasion to extend the trip (on personal time) to further enjoy the sights. No matter how you try to position it (fact-finding trip, technical insights or backgrounder), a fair few bucks are spent per head on these trips.
That said, I'm no saint. I've taken a handful of trips over the past few years (all local) but when the Lawsie story sparked debate, I re-evaluated and decided that CIO staff would not take trips paid for by vendors. But I digress. Let's cut to why I'm cranky.
A week ago I was at a social function and the person next to me related an interesting story. She was in discussions to do a project for a person who was advising a company going public. When my new friend asked what she thought were pertinent questions regarding the float, her potential client dismissed her abruptly with the comment: "Forget that. All you have to do with journalists is feed them lunch, give them $50 and you'll get a write-up." (Hmmmm, obviously she's never dealt with Lawsie.)Within days of this conversation, I was berated by a tablemate at an industry dinner. Not a regular CIO advertiser, his company had advertised once because he felt there was a match between a story topic we were running and his organisation's positioning. However, he ended up being very upset that his company wasn't mentioned in the particular story. In essence he was saying, "I didn't get my money's worth." Never mind that the journalist writing the story would never have any idea who was going to advertise in the issue -- a policy we firmly implement.
After listening to his complaints, I ended up wondering if I am just hanging out with the wrong people or do journalists really have that bad a reputation?
When money enters the equation, we need to differentiate between selling and selling out. As human beings, we can't help but be subjective in the best of situations. To maintain that you can keep your objectivity and accept major gifts (no matter how they're packaged) is the equivalent of saying, "Of course I care for you, just remember to leave the money on the dresser on the way out."
I'm not naive. In fact, I think I'm pretty cynical. But just because I don't believe in Santa Claus anymore doesn't mean that I can't believe in integrity.
And with integrity, you don't get what you pay for.