Editor’s Note for Mark Harris’ Zano Report Commissioned by Kickstarter
Summary: Mark hired me, a veteran freelance reporter and editor, to edit his article on the failure of Torquing to deliver Zano drones, and he is paying me directly. I have no relationship with Kickstarter.
I’ve written this editor’s note to provide my disclosures about conflicts of interest and provide some background on the project and my unusual role as a freelance editor for a freelance writer’s unique reporting project.
I work as a freelance reporter and editor, and have written recently for MIT Technology Review, the Economist, Fast Company, and Macworld, and work as an editor at large for The Wirecutter. I represent none of them in this freelance editor assignment, working solely for Mark. I have no financial or other arrangement or relationship with Kickstarter.
In the past, I have run two successful and two unsuccessful Kickstarter campaigns. I have no active campaigns nor plans to launch any in 2016. I’ve written about the company several times in the past for multiple publications, including the Economist, and have no current plans to write about it.
I was originally approached by Kickstarter to gauge my interest in writing this story, and referred the firm to Mark, who I thought was better suited and more able to travel and pull the pieces together. They contracted directly with him without my involvement, and I didn’t receive either a referral fee or any promise of future work, including this editing. Mark and I have worked together previously as editor and writer several times at a publication I owned, The Magazine.
I treated my role as if Mark and I were creating a one-off bespoke publication using the same reporting and ethical standards as we’d employ if we were staffers at a news magazine. (More prosaically, we used British spelling and some punctuation conventions, as the project launched from Wales and Mark is English.)
I supported the general nature of Kickstarter’s stated inquiry—an unbounded reportorial examination of what went wrong with Zano’s process from funding to production—conducted to provide an accounting to the backers of the campaign, who deserve answers that the principals are unwilling to provide comprehensively. More broadly, I thought it serves a social good for these details to be available to the public. Kickstarter didn’t ask me during our initial conversation to hold Kickstarter outside of scrutiny, nor, to representations from Mark, did it ask him to avoid discussing its role in this campaign or as a larger issue, nor did he in the final piece let them off the hook.
As part of my editor’s mission, I considered whether Mark had addressed a meta-concern: That he was a conduit for washing away more fundamental issues about Kickstarter’s responsibility to backers by producing a seemingly objective and independent assessment. By having someone report dispassionately, Kickstarter could be seen as attempting to portray itself either as uninvolved, a wronged party, or an organization attempting to set things right. While it paid some amount for this reporting, whatever that was represents a small fraction of the 5% fee it collected on the campaign (around $170,000).
Mark and I discussed this meta-concern before the article was written and through the editorial process, and it was addressed to my satisfaction through his reporting and in the final version. I am also confident in Mark’s independence both in pursuing lines of inquiry and from Kickstarter having any power to make changes in the version Mark released.
In editing this piece, I looked at issues of fairness, logic, business case, and facts, and consulted Mark’s transcripts of interviews, of which he has original audio recordings, as well as published accounts, videos, and other sources. In many cases, I asked Mark for additional documentation, and he in turn obtained more detail from his sources. In some cases, I privately consulted experts to obtain a more solid foundation on which to leave or enhance a technical statement.
I gave this assignment serious thought, both before suggesting Mark and before agreeing to act as editor, as publications that hire freelancers have ethics rules in place about dealings with companies that may affect future work relationships if a freelancer is deemed to have breached those. However, due to the arm’s-length nature of the assignment, I feel free of conflicts of interest: Mark was pre-paid for his work, and I am being paid by Mark in turn. This allowed Mark to work much like an ombudsperson and me, as editor, to be even another distance away.
This note ends my current arrangement related to this article, and I have no anticipation of any further such. However, in the interests of thoroughness, anyone concerned about the accuracy of the reporting should contact me directly, and I will respond on my own uncompensated time.