Investing vs investigating: Should journalists buy cryptocurrencies?

Piers Morgan, former Daily Mirror editor, used his wife’s savings account to fund part of a £67,000 investment in computer company Viglen a day before the shares were tipped by the paper’s City Slickers column, a court was told yesterday.” — The Guardian, November 2005

The above is a clear case of a journalist abusing his position of influence for personal gain.

That’s not what I’m arguing. It’s literally a text book example, referenced in Harcup’s The Ethical Journalist over ten years ago.

For even longer than that, publications like Private Eye have done a valiant job of exposing the wheeling and dealing of shady journalists like Piers, particularly when it comes to investing in stock.

Private Eye’s regular column dedicated to exposing journo indecency

But thinking about this case again got me wondering, what happens when it comes to cryptocurrency? Is the same scrutiny being applied?

How do we know the token being branded as ‘The Next Bitcoin’ isn’t one that the journalist themselves has a healthy stake in?

Well, as Felix Salmon puts it in his well written piece on the subject, finding out is going to be hard enough.

“The web of undisclosed conflicts in the bitcoin world is almost impossible to disentangle, especially since one of the celebrated features of cryptocurrencies is that they can be held secretly.”

I decided to ask the editors of some top tech publications what they thought of it all.

James Temperton, Digital Editor of Wired UK, emphasised his role as a gatekeeper in ensuring the publication retained its objectivity:

Mike Butcher at TechCrunch felt it was necessary to understand the tech, but that people shouldn’t be taking liberties:

Hearing from Mike and James it’s clear they take this stuff seriously. But I was disappointed they didn’t mention what I feel is the most important issue here,

Disclosure.

Readers probably don’t care if you own a couple of Bitcoin but, if you’re writing about it, it’s important they know.

Jason Koebler at Vice’s Motherboard gave what I saw as the clearest response:

What’s the point in a Fourth Estate if it can’t be candid with the people it sets out to serve?

Trust in the media is sinking year-on-year. In fact IPSOS Mori found only 25% of Britons trust journalists.

This isn’t new.

Only politicians, estate agents and bankers have ever come out worse in this research for the past ten years.

But with the NUJ constantly warning about how poorly paid journalists are, I don’t think it’s fair to prevent them from investing in anything. For me, it’s all about putting real policies in place around issues like this, and ultimately increasing transparency when it comes to external influences.

It’s only then will we be able to rebuild trust in an integral part of democracy.

  • Do you think journalists should be able to invest in cryptocurrencies? How about other assets?
  • Journos: do you think its possible to be personally invested in something while reporting objectively? Does your publication have policies in place for crypto?

Leave me a comment below or shoot me a message over on Twitter.


NB: I’m a tech comms strategist not a practicing journalist but I don’t own any Bitcoin. hashtagHAARP holds a tiny bit of ETH from our experiments with mining and invest in others — message me if you’re interested in hearing more.