Reporters and their conflicts of interests

David Gaughran has a great post up (via PV) about a recent Salon story about Amazon, in which the fact Amazon donates money to charities is taken as proof that it is "a rapacious, horrible company from top to bottom" and "evil." Gee, I though the fact that Amazon didn't give to charity was proof that it is evil!

(Gaughran also has a good post up about Jodi Picoult's ignorant remarks on self-publishing. I was thinking of posting about that and changed my mind, but the thing that impressed me was that I hadn't heard of Picoult before, and I guessed from her comments that she had first been published 20 years ago. I was exactly right. I'm getting a little too good at this.)

Anyway, the Salon story was written by Alexander Zaitchik. In addition to the terrible news that Amazon does, in fact, give back, Zaitchik notes that Amazon wants to charge traditional publishers more to market their e-books. The publishers are refusing. And then--and this is how you know that Amazon is really and truly evil--instead of providing marketing services for free, Amazon is not providing the services they are not getting paid for! I know--never before in the history of capitalism has a company refused to provide a service that they weren't paid to provide! This post should be rated R because it is just so shocking!!!

Zaitchik is a freelancer who, not at all shockingly, lives in New York City. I've noted a hometown bias with other NYC-based coverage of the publishing industry. And I'll note additionally that Zaitchik has a book out, published by Wiley.

How much do you want to bet that he'd love to get another book contract?

Is this a tit-for-tat thing? I hope not. I would not be at all surprised that Zaitchik has convinced himself that every word he writes is true, and that he honestly believes that Amazon is evil, and not only because they are damaging his prospects of getting another advance check.

But they are. And that's something I think readers need to keep in mind whenever they read anything about traditional publishing--many reporters either have written or would like to write a book. The same thing is true of their editors. If you get a book published, then your profile is higher, and then you can get a job at a fancier publication, sell stories to more lucrative outlets, and maybe even quit your full-time job to write what you want.

And it's still the case that when many people think of publishing a book, they assume that they're going to need a traditional publisher. They have a dog in this fight.

It's a problem in journalism, and I think it's worse because it's often not the sort of explicit conflict that an employer can easily ban. You'll see, say, somebody get elected governor, and then, wow, half the political reporters who covered his campaign go to work in his press office. I doubt that an actual deal was struck, but I think you'd have to be a robot not to have your perceptions and therefore your coverage affected by the fact that you view someone as a potential employer.