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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 26, 2007 at 9:01 AM

Journalist integrity and credibility test

It’s not nearly as fun as the “five questions” game that bloggers are playing, but a reader asked me three questions about my relationship with Microsoft.

He was commenting on my blog post about scuttled disclosure rules for blogging by lobbyists.

I often get nasty e-mails questioning whether I have ties to Microsoft. I do not, but Lawrence was nicer than most, so I’ll play along. Here’s his comment, with my replies below:

Briar (sic),

In order to uphold your journalistic integrity and credibility please answer these questions:

How much Microsoft stock, as a percentage of your personal household wealth, do you own?

Did you ever work at Microsoft?

Do any of your family or close friends work at Microsoft?

I think it’s fair to answer these questions since you cover Microsoft so much.

We await your answer…..

OK, here’s my Section 220 disclosure.

I own no stock in Microsoft or any other tech company.

I have a very small 401(k) that was set up when I worked in Yakima, long before I covered Microsoft. It’s in broad market funds that aren’t tech specific. I don’t know if they touch Microsoft; I haven’t checked and I’d rather not know.

I have never worked at Microsoft. I probably should have applied when I graduated from college in the late 1980s, because I could have retired on stock options by now. But I was too enamored with my Macintosh and Aldus PageMaker at the time.

I have no family at Microsoft, unless you count my cousin’s husband’s sister, who used to work there. I’ve never met her or communicated with her, but my cousin sent me a Christmas card this year. I haven’t sent one back (you’re not alone, Cuz — I haven’t sent any yet).

There are people at Microsoft who were my friends before I became a reporter and before they joined the company. I grew up in the Seattle area, and Microsoft hired a lot of local people in my generation. They haven’t done anything to help me or influence me professionally, and I haven’t done anything to help them or influence them professionally. I hope my friendships last longer than my job, and it’s not worth jeopardizing either by mixing things up.

If I grew up here when I did and knew nobody at Microsoft or any of the companies I write about, my credibility as a reporter would be suspect. I’d be a hermit.

Local connections don’t imply favoritism. When I first began covering Microsoft, I had an introductory interview with several managers in the Office group. I knew one of them — and he knew me — because he was in a college fraternity that didn’t receive as much respect as it deserved from certain members of my fraternity. I haven’t heard from him since.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also note that my father and Bill Gates’ father both practiced law in Bremerton. Not together and not at the same time, however. Bill’s dad moved his family and practice to Seattle before my dad attended law school. They’ve never met each other, but it’s possible they’ve been on the same ferry.

Also, the son of a close family friend (and open source enthusiast …) was in a drama class with Bill Gates’ daughter a few years ago. Her identity was kept secret until Bill showed up at the final performance, which I did not attend. Apparently she was very nice and wore sparkly sandals, but I’m just reporting what I was told, not revealing a bias.

I should also mention that there’s a new tenant occupying a rental house in my neighborhood with a Microsoft parking tab in his or her car. I haven’t met the person yet, but I hope to sometime. First I’ve got to finish those Christmas cards.

P.S.: For the record, I’d like to note seriously that the Times has ethics policies that cover this stuff. I couldn’t cover Microsoft, Boeing, City Hall, the Sonics or any other institution if I had family or financial ties to the place.

The paper has procedures for reviewing potential conflicts of interest, handling gifts (we send them back or donate them to charity), paying our own way, etc.

Additionally, when I know that a friend is working for Microsoft or another company I’m writing about, I tell an editor so management can decide how to proceed before anything is published.

These are (or should be) standard procedures for reporters. My situation is a little different now that I’m a columnist, but I’ve continued to follow these rules.

If Lawrence or anyone else has concerns about my credibility and integrity, please let me or my editors know. Here’s the contact info: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/contactus/newsroom.html

Comments | Topics: Microsoft, Web

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