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Rising above principle

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March 10, 2002

Gee, what could be the problem? Journalist John Ellis (resume highlight: used his Fox News position to share VNS figures with his cousins Jeb and George W. Bush on Election Night 2000; helped convince Fox to call Florida for Bush) doesn’t see why anyone is upset by the revelation that the prestigious Harvard Business Review routinely invites its business subjects to vet stories about them. Writes Ellis in his blog (yes, he has a blog; this is 2002 and everyone has a blog):
Isn’t that the whole point of the Harvard Business Review? To publish the words and thoughts of business leaders and strategists (and Harvard Business School professors) exactly as they would want them published?
Journalist Matt Welch (resume highlight: spent several years without decent plumbing, helping found and run independent newspapers in Eastern Europe, back in the early 1990s when this was (1) dangerous and (2) necessary) doesn’t say whether he’s noticed Ellis’s comments, but evidently he disagrees:
Let me slow this down so that even someone from Harvard can understand it: We spent as much energy as possible, in between scrambling to put out decent papers in challenging circumstances, trying to convince people that there was an idealized relationship between the press and its sources, regardless of local laws and mores, and that we were prepared to suffer financial losses and humiliation to support that ideal. As managing editor, I probably fielded an average of one phone call per week from a prominent source who tried to leverage his status as a major advertiser to influence our editorial decision-making. In one memorable case, we lost tens of thousands in advertising from a guy who wanted to change a paragraph or two on some page-11 real estate round-up. Luckily for me, we had advertising managers and owners who understood, if with some annoyance, that part of what we were selling was a different level of trustworthiness than Hungarians had ever seen before.

I bring this up because the Budapest Business Journal makes maybe 1/50th the revenue of the Harvard Business Review, while operating in a newsgathering climate roughly 50 times more hostile than Massachusetts. The BBJ does not have the name “Harvard” in its masthead, and is not attached to one of the leading educational institutions in the world. It has never been given a drop of money from the Freedom Forum or the Open Society Institute to proselytize about journalism values. Its handsome and talented editor will not soon be writing a book about media ethics, or be given a slot on the Pulitzer Prize board.

I’m really not concerned that publications like the Budapest Business Journal do not get the credit they deserve—I’m more worried about how fat institutions like the Harvard Business Review, despite enjoying every conceivable advantage, have made the deliberate choice to screw over every publication and free-lance journalist who shares the modest but sensible values of the BBJ, by establishing a set of ground rules more fit for 19th century Vienna than 21st century America. Shame on you, Wetlaufer. I don’t give a rat92s ass who you sleep with, but you and your colleagues have fucked my profession.

[10:14 AM]
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