Being paid to write about the person who actually pays your salary is quite a big challenge, especially if you care about maintaining your credibility.
The issue is the focus of a New York Times article about the difficult position of Henry Goldman, the journalist within Bloomberg who is charge of writing about Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
For ten years - the article highlighted - his assignment has included chronicling Bloomberg's ups and downs for the global New York news service. Now Goldman is facing hard times as the mayor had a rough start of his third term and his approval ratings are the lowest of the last eight years.
It won't therefore be easy for Goldman to maintain his "down-the-middle" style as he risks being harshly criticized for overly positive coverage but at the same time he risks the ire of
Mr. Bloomberg himself.
Mr. Goldman's work has been generally praised by his colleagues: "I don't think Henry would put up with that [any direct pressure to write or not to write something], NYT reported Joyce Purnick, author of a book about Bloomberg, as saying. Bloomberg News' coverage of the mayor has not escaped criticism, however. An Editor & Publisher article criticised its coverage of how the Mayor handled a blizzard that paralyzed the city last December, that the E&P defined "his worst political moment".
Bitter criticism was directed at Bloomberg for being in Bermuda during the Christmas weekend storm, E&P noted, the most bitter of them being a New York Times article. But the Bloomberg News team that covered the event, mostly to gauge its economic impact on Wall Street - the article claimed - totally ignored the press criticism of those days an the debate around the matter.
Goldman's coverage of Bloomberg is usually connected with news events and he has covered some of the central controversies of the mayor's tenure, the NYT underlined. It underlined also that all of Goldman's articles concerning Bloomberg include a disclosure about the fact the mayor is the owner of the news site.
The practice of publishing a disclosure should be a rule in cases that involves conflicts of interest but it is not always common. In Italy for example an article of the "Code of practice of business reporting" [Carta dei doveri dell'informazione economica] states that "The journalist has to provide appropriate standards regarding the transparency of the newspaper's ownership. Readers have to be reminded of who the owner of the paper is every time that an article covers economic or financial aspects that directly involve the owner or could eventually favour as well as damage him/her".
Despite the existence of this rule however, it is not always observed.
"Mr. Goldman is not the only journalist who has to contend with covering an employer. Both The Times and The Wall Street Journal have media reporters, for instance, but they cover their own publications only episodically", the NTY article noted.
Recently NBC was criticized for not covering a controversial story involving its parent company General Electric as well as the New York Times itself, through its ombudsman, analysed how difficult is to cover one's own publication.
Does a satisfactory solution exist? Admitting the conflict of interest through a disclosure is already a good start.