New York Times' Pogue Troubled by Ethics

I recently came across this tweet:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/BoingBoing/status/85792449758380034″%5D

It points to an ethics controversy swirling over New York Times tech columnist David Pogue. It seems Mr. Pogue, when he’s not writing for the Times, likes to give $159 seminars to publicists on How to Pitch to the Media.

I commented (briefly) on the New York Observer piece:

I study bias (mainly in science), and it’s a sneaky thing. Bias can creep into one’s decisions even when one discloses a conflict of interest. In fact, studies show that bias is amplified when one discloses a conflict of interest, mainly because it seems to “cancel” out the fear of seeming biased in the individual’s mind: “I’ve disclosed the COI, so I am free to be a bit biased.”

In this case the Times can fully expect that publicists pitching to Pogue who had taken his seminar, would have an advantage over those who hadn’t. Not necessarily because they would be using the very techniques Pogue espouses (although that would certailny be useful), but also because Pogue would be hard(er) pressed to turn down a pitch from a publicist who had taken his seminar. Unsuccessful publicists’ pitches would be an unfortunate fact for Pogue’s future seminar prospects. Pogue would have a direct interest in having those publicists who took his seminar be more successful than others.

This is a classic case of power vs. principle. The New York Times is hesitant to discipline Pogue because he has so many Twitter followers (I’ll leave aside my commentary on Twitter), which makes him appear very influential (which he undoubtedly is). The question is whether or not the Times will stand on principle, or will compromise it’s standards for the sake of a bunch of Tweeps?

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