Are there any journalists left?

Precious few.

Today, journalists write books, then they market them, and they become self-interested business people. They blog, and they become self-promoters on behalf of their blogs.

This is not their fault, either. The protective wall that (some) publishers (sometimes) have built to protect journalistic integrity within traditional publications turns out to have been much an illusion. And, as a former journalist, I can say that it was selectively rotted in some places all along, with calls to kill, slant, or emphasize coverage coming from the publisher’s office, usually after a call from one of his or her country club cronies.

Consider this: The traditional news media has traditionally squelched its own reporters’ attempts to cover news unpleasant to big advertisers (from the rise of the Internet, to global warming, to food contamination caused by agribusiness practices) for as long as possible.

Why am I ranting about this?

Jim Benson (J. LeRoy’s Evolving Web) is one of several pundits making a fuss about TechCrunch, a site founder Michael Arrington frankly describes as “different.” Arrington goes on to say:

TechCrunch is all about insider information and conflicts of interest. The only way I get access to the information I do is because these entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are my friends. I genuinely like these people and want them to succeed, and they know it and therefore trust me more than they trust traditional press.”

So, what Arrington is running is essentially a self-published gossip column.

Jim asserts:

Michael Arrington is a commentator. He is not a journalist. As a commentator, he can write about what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants.

Michael Arrington is my favorite kool-aide drinker. I wouldn’t trade him for a box of Steve Jobses. But he is biased, he does answer to what is foremost on his plate, and he blogs accordingly. When I say biased, I don’t mean he lies or distorts – but I do mean that he has a definite focus and that focus impacts what he writes.

Is this really an issue? What Jim is saying about Arrington could be said about just about everyone these days, with the exception of a few hundred investigative reporters, most of them working outside of the US. And Arrington is not doing anything special, except, I guess, trying turn VC gossip into a brand and convince us that he can somehow continue to deliver valuable info to us without pissing off his friends. Which he probably can, if he’s careful.

I guess the issue is that even journalists are not journalists any more. Everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid. Send it out for political/chemical analysis, and you’ll probably find out your latte is spiked.

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