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January 20, 2005

Media transparency: A ZDNet experiment

By Charlene Li

Thanks to ZDNet Executive Editor David Berlind for pinging me about his experiment on media transparency, especially in light of Rathergate. This is what Berlind did:

-      Wrote a column that featured quotes from an interview with Radio Userland CEO Scott Young

-      Podcasted (yes, it’s now a verb) the unedited, original interview with Young

-      Included podcast timestamps associated with the quotes from Young so that users can understand the context of the quotes (and also check to see if they were accurate).

Berlind wrote about the experiment in a commentary, “Can technology close journalism’s credibility gap?” Towards the end, Berlind described how during the interview Young offered to send him a book on how to use Radio Userland. This is what he wrote:

I accepted the offer.  It's not unusual for vendors to provide journalists who are reviewing their technology with additional documentation.  But, as I played the recording back and thought of how transparency was in effect, I couldn't be absolutely certain that all members of ZDNet's audience would see it the same way.  I'm not going to send my address to Scott Young and, instead, if I decide that I need the book, I will pay the $24 charge for it with my own company's money.  Already, transparency is having its effect.”

Scott Young also provided feedback on the experiment – he wrote in an email to Berlind (which was going to be shared with Young’s knowledge):

I would be much more comfortable under all circumstances in providing interviews if this was the general practice. I have little doubt this kind of transparency would have a positive (drive towards honesty) effect for all concerned.”

It is this level of transparency to which journalists – and also bloggers – should aspire. It’s part of the reason why I advocate having a blogger code of ethics, which is a way to build trust with an audience and community. Companies should take heed and consider ways they can offer more transparency into their organizations – look at Channel 9 and what it’s done for Microsoft. And beware – if companies can’t offer that transparency, they will lose – not benefit – from their blogging efforts.

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