Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Media's Coverage Alters Corporate and Government Ethics Issues

Remember the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle from high school physics? It's the idea that the act of observing something can alter the organisms or events being observed.

A fascinating article by Thomas Kostigen on Dow Jones MarketWatch looks at how media coverage changes the behavior of governments and corporations, specifically dealing with ethical concerns. The article cites the work of Luigi Zingales, professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business--who found that businesses will often improve their behavior when the media spotlight shines on them.

As an example, when the media jumped on the excessive-compensation reportage regarding the salary of former New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso, he lost his job.

However, government is a different matter, at least these days. Kostigan sees the media, in its coverage of both corporate and government issues, as irresponsibly unwilling to go deep, late in its reportage, and too eager to sail in the perceived political wind:

Too often the media plays patsy and is meek in the face of challenge, as was the case with the reporting on the events leading up to the war in Iraq. Or it trails intrepid government inquisitors such as Elliott Spitzer. Or it gets the story wrong -- weapons of mass destruction, President Bush's National Guard record. Or lies about it -- Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley

On the business front, the media lagged inquiry on just about every corporate scandal in recent memory; its business is to break news, not merely report it.

As someone who writes regularly about ethics and media, I have to agree with him, at least as far as the mainstream press goes. Most important stories these days are broken by the underground press, or by people like Greg Palast who is an American working for British journalism companies that are less afraid to go after the truth.

I'm still hoping that the Business Ethics Pledge will help change that unwillingness to question. Questioning--questioning everything, and digging deeper--is what journalism should be about.


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