by Wayne A. Thorp
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When "Journalistic Integrity" and Advertising Collide
A story that has gained a lot of traction in recent weeks, especially in tech circles, is that of the resignation of PC World Editor-in-Chief Harry McCracken. The specifics of McCrackens resignation are in dispute, but the intrigue behind the story has piqued the interest of many conspiracy theorists. It also highlights the balancing act many publications face: Editors and writers wish to maintain journalistic integrity while publishers (print especially) try to wring as much as possible from an evaporating advertising revenue stream.
Here is some background: Wired News was the first to report that McCracken stepped down after Colin Crawford, senior vice president, online, of the magazines publisher IDG Communications, killed a draft story entitled Ten Things We Hate About Apple. Furthermore, anonymous sources told CNET News.com that when McCracken informed staffers of his resignation, he cited alleged pressure from Crawford to avoid stories that were critical of major advertisers. Wired News further reported that, upon reaching him for comment, McCracken said that he quit because of some fundamental differences with Colin. Interestingly, he also said that he anticipates doing freelance writing for PC World in the future.
With the story gaining momentum, Mr. Crawford went on the defensive, offering this response on his blog:
Some of the public reports have suggested that the credibility of PC World editorial is in question and that directions were issued to give favorable coverage to advertisers or to present information in a way that favored specific advertisers. The reports are not accurate. IDG and I hold editorial integrity in the highest regard. PC World has not been, nor will it be, influenced by advisers pressure.
For Mr. Crawford and PC World, it really does not matter why Mr. McCracken resigned or whether Mr. Crawford instructed editors to take it easy on advertisers in their articles. When it comes to issues of trust, the mere appearance of impropriety can be as damaging as solid evidence. If enough readers start questioning whether they are getting unbiased information, it could spell disaster for the publication.
This is the reason why AAII and Computerized Investing have a long-standing policy of neither accepting advertising revenue nor promoting third-party services in our publications or at our Web sites. Our goal has always been, and continues to be, to offer our readers unbiased education and information. Rejecting advertising dollars allows us to avoid the tangled web PC World and IDG now face.
In this issue, Cara Scatizzi covers six software-based and eight Web-based mutual fund screening services for the individual investor that she feels to be the best in each category. In the spirit of full disclosure, we oftentimes receive free copies of software from vendors or receive complimentary access to fee-based Web sites. However, we do not limit ourselves to those products or services for which we do not have to pay. Our only limiting factors are whether a service is meaningful and useful to our readers. Be sure to read Caras thoughtful article to see which services garner top marks.