Marshall Kirkpatrick lights a match to bitchmeme kindling with his poll "Should Tech PR Agents Vote for Their Clients in Polls?" For some reason, public relations representatives and agencies are the scapegoat of the year recently, and Kirkpatrick's poll isn't even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ethics in the tech space. A PR rep voting for a company that he or she is representing is one tiny vote in a wide-open space. There are many other questions that people involved in the tech industry should be asking themselves:
Should bloggers cover companies they invest in?
The majority of bloggers like myself don't make enough money to contemplate investing in many companies, but for those who do, the conflict of interest has to be evaluated. While it seems obvious that no one would ever invest in a company they didn't like or believe would succeed, what about continuing coverage? If a company starts failing, can an investor really cover that objectively? Can an investor really take the same hard look at a company as someone who has nothing to gain whether a company succeeds or fails?
Should bloggers continue blogging once they join boards, take day-job positions with a company, or start/buy a company?
Any type of employment can be just as much a conflict as investing. Board positions and ownership even more so. How can a blogger cover any other company competing in the same space as the company he or she is employed by/directs/advises/runs? What about fellow authors in multi-author blogs? Human nature would assume that friends would want to protect each other's interests; enemies destroy them. Can one blogger's interests impact an entire blog?
Should bloggers make friends with people from the companies they cover?
Friendship is probably the toughest conflict of interest. While it doesn't involve money, it's a lot harder to cover something objectively knowing that your friend's feelings or bank account could be harmed based on something you write. Is it possible to work around it? To separate business from friendship? Can you go out to dinner with someone one day and report a problem with the company the next?
Bloggers are always quick to point out ethical transgressions of others, but the fact is that many times, we have issues of our own. Everything from accepting swag to offering advice to investing in a company you've covered have ramifications. And perhaps we should look out of our navels into a mirror before we accuse others of conflicts of interest.