Great journalists don't just inform, they build a bond with their audience. Their information is trusted and their professional perspectives are valued. While we expect journalists to remain professionally impartial, most of us know that there is always some level of partiality or bias.
Great pundits make us believe. We know that we are only seeing one side of the story, and we are somewhat wary of bias in the facts they present. However, their passion keep us coming back for more. We expect pundits to be partial and biased. We trust the pundits we trust, and we disregard the rest.
We trust both journalists and pundits when they demonstrate integrity. Conflicts of interest challenge this integrity. The size of the conflict directly correlates with the damage to the reporter's integrity.
HOWEVER, in today's age of always-on, everybody has a voice, 24/7 news, I rarely expect a full and unbiased story from most modern news sources. I expect a reasonable coverage of the facts, followed and colored by compelling perspective. This blended journalism/punditry model fuels more than just cable news, it fuels many of the best blogs on the web. With an unbelievable number of potential sources for "facts", perspective has become a major differentiator. And with so many voices sharing their straight perspective, some good old fashioned, transparently biased punditry often becomes the most provocative and therefore loudest opinion. Again, just watch cable TV or track any celeb bloggers.
The Swisher/Arrington Debate
I regularly read both Kara and Michael's work, and I plan on continuing to do so. Kara Swisher and Michael Arrington live in overlapping, though fundamentally different worlds. Michael Arrington is at times an incredible journalist, and at times a compelling pundit. As a community, we know and recognize that Michael is at times emotionally driven in his posts, and we accept this "humanity" as part of his dynamic. This is part of what makes Michael such an interesting blogger. While his growing conflicts of interest may increasingly color his opinion, I kind of respect that fact that he is personally putting his money where his mouth is. Michael marches to the beat of his own drummer. This not only defines him, but is what has made him successful.
I would never accept this same level of personal engagement from Kara Swisher. Kara is a professional journalist. While even journalists have some level of bias, there is a different standard. While Kara is a "blogger" of sorts, she skews more heavier towards the journalist side of the journalism/punditry scale. This does not mean that Kara is lacking in personality in any sense of the word, but rather that Kara brings a more refined approach to her skill.
I value both Kara and Michael's reporting as well as their perspectives. Neither one of them is going to go away or cease to be a compelling writer based on this past week's feud. The reality is that Michael and Kara take two wildly different approaches to a similar though not identical field. And as an observer and occasional participant in their field, I enjoy the lively discussion.
We as an industry and as marketers have a lot to learn from this. Not all web publishing is created equal. Not all sources are equally trusted. The format does not define the value of the message. While people value the opinions of their peers and look to journalists for expert perspective, few brands fall into either category, particularly in their own industries. I wouldn't go to HP for opinion on the best option among laptop brands. However I may trust an HP voice (that I got to know via social media) regarding some upgrade options on my next HP purchase. Then again, if HP only began the relationship when I was looking to buy, I may not come to them to begin with. Integrity and trust and interlinked, but as a society, we have come to accept that a measure of bias is inevitable, and not always evil.