The undisclosed relationship between o3 magazine and application delivery startup Carbon Mountain

Robert Scoble recently lamented the “free meals” the newspaper industry has given away but mentions that there are still some meals left, most notably “objectivity”:

Meal left #4: objectivity and accountability. I can argue that lots of journalists aren’t objective, but the truth is they are part of a system that adds objectivity and accountability as a system BEFORE publishing. Blogging and Twittering, I have noticed, can be objective and accountable, but it sometimes takes time to figure that out, especially when bloggers and twitterers don’t disclose their conflicts of interests up front.

I could argue for and against this, but for the most part – at least when discussing tech publications – I can agree that objectivity is part of a long-standing mantra chanted by the tech press. Those publications that do accept contributed articles from vendors maintain their objectivity by ensuring full-disclosure; that is that such articles clearly identify the author, their employer, and their position with their employer as well as any other relationships that might bias them. This allows readers to filter the article in a way that accounts for bias toward a particular vendor or vendor’s view of technology.

Those publications that don’t accept “by-liners” maintain a strict “Chinese firewall” between editorial staff and sales/marketing. Because most trade publications are fueled by advertising, this line is necessary to ensure that editorial staff can remain objective and unbiased. In fact, in the eight years I spent as a technology editor in the trade press I spoke with someone from sales exactly twice – and even then for reasons unrelated to editorial content. It is this type of objectivity and unbiased evaluation that makes publications valuable.

That’s why it was extremely disappointing to discover the relationship between startup application delivery vendor Carbon Mountain and the Executive Editor of o3 magazine. Now many might argue that o3 magazine is really just a blog, and therefore Scoble’s argument still holds true. But o3 bills itself as a magazine and not a blog, and by doing so has implicitly agreed to abide by the ethical standards associated with such institutions.

Why, then, in the recent debate with o3 magazine regarding its article on what amounts to an open source application delivery solution, was the editor’s relationship with a start up vendor essentially selling the solution described in the article never disclosed?

The editor’s LinkedIn profile clearly shows a conflict of interest that is not mentioned on o3’s site: 

The problem here is not the relationship, but the lack of disclosure and the inherent bias that comes from being involved in an organization. My bias is clear. I work for F5, this blog is hosted on F5’s DevCentral community. If you read my response to o3’s evaluation you did so knowing I was biased toward F5’s view of application delivery and took that into consideration. By not disclosing the relationship with a vendor related to the technology being discussed, the editor of o3 magazine did not afford the reader such an opportunity and in fact took advantage of the trust inherent in the nature of a publication.

The lack of disclosure does a disservice to the “open source” solution discussed because the objectivity inferred from the magazine’s independent status has now been compromised. In fact, the appearance of the article before the announcement of Carbon Mountain’s nearly exact technological solution is disingenuous at best, and deceitful at worst. 

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