This document was last updated on March 3, 2014. I’ll update it periodically to ensure it remains up-to-date.
As the Internet flattens the traditional media hierarchy, issues of journalistic ethics are getting more complicated. In the 20th century, there was a clear division between journalists on the one hand and the general public on the other. Journalists had to worry about journalistic ethics, but they typically got ethical guidelines handed to them when they were hired. The rest of the world didn’t have access to mass publishing technologies, so they didn’t have to worry about journalistic ethics.
Now anybody can be a publisher, and so there’s no longer a sharp division between journalists and non-journalists. As a consequence, there are a lot of people who aren’t journalists in the narrow sense but who write about issues of public importance and may have a significant number of readers. These writers generally don’t receive clear-cut ethical guidelines when they start blogging. And indeed, because there’s so much more diversity in the ranks of these quasi-journalists, it would be hard to come up with a code of blogger ethics that would fit all of them.
But one principle that seems valuable for almost everyone is disclosure. There’s an emerging norm for bloggers to proactively disclose information about their sources of income and other factors that might influence their objectivity. Reasonable people can disagree about exactly where to draw the ethical line when it comes to conflicts of interest. But I think it’s undeniable that the growing volume of special interest money sloshing around inside the Beltway is having a corrupting effect on public discourse, and that bloggers aren’t immune. Disclosure lets readers judge for themselves which financial relationships compromise bloggers’ objectivity.
So in that spirit, here is my disclosure statement.
My friend PJ Doland is generously hosting this site free of charge. PJ is the president of Dancing Mammoth, a web consulting firm. I believe he’s hosting my site partly as a personal favor, and partly as a way of promoting his firm. And, frankly, they do great work, so I encourage you to check them out if you’re in need to get some custom web design or development work done. (Yes, that’s a conflict of interest, but I think it’s an innocuous one!)
As far as I know, PJ’s firm doesn’t do lobbying or PR work, and doesn’t have any specific financial interests in the issues I write about.
Sources of Income
Below is a list of all sources of financial support I have received since the beginning of 2008, starting with the organizations that have provided me with significant support most recently.
Vox Media is the parent company of “Project X” a new news site being launched in 2014. I’m a senior editor there.
- 2014: I expect Vox to account for a majority of my income.
The Washington Post
The Washington Post is a newspaper based in Washington DC. I write for its website. The Post has strict policies to protect the editorial independence of its reporters. I was a reporter there from May 2013 to February 2014.
- 2014: I expect the Washington Post to account for less than 20 percent of my income.
- 2013: The Washington Post accounted for a majority of my income.
Ars Technica is a web-based publication that was acquired by Condé Nast in 2008. Ars maintains a separation between the editorial and business sides of the organization, and I’ve never felt any pressure to tailor my coverage to fit the needs of advertisers.
- 2013: Ars to accounted for about a quarter of my income.
- 2012: Ars accounted for the majority of my income.
- 2011: Starting in June, I spent the majority of my time writing for Ars, accounting for about half of my income.
- 2010: I wrote two articles in 2010, earning less than $1000.
- 2009: I wrote a handful of articles, accounting for less than 10 percent of my income.
- 2008: I was a regular contributor to Ars, accounting for about 20 percent of my income.
Forbes is a print magazine that also runs an excellent website. In July 2011, I began writing a blog for them. I was asked to pick a topic (“technology and economics”). As long as I mostly stick to my assigned subject I have editorial autonomy. Forbes neither approves my posts before I write them or edits them afterwards. My compensation is based on the traffic I generate. I’ve had no interactions with the business side of the company.
- 2013: Forbes accounted for less than 10 percent of my income.
- 2012: Forbes accounted for less than 20 percent of my income.
- 2011: Forbes accounted for about 10 percent of my income.
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank that employed me as a writer from 2003 to 2005. After I left full-time employment there, they named me an adjunct scholar, and they sometimes pay me to write for them.
In 2011, Cato received support from several dozen foundations that collectively contributed seven percent of Cato’s budget. They had a total of nine corporate donors, including Google, who together accounted for two percent of Cato’s revenues. Cato accepts no government funding. A complete list of Cato’s foundation and corporate donors can be found in their 2011 annual report. Previous annual reports are also available.
Cato has strong policies in place to protect the intellectual independence of its scholars. The Institute does no contract research, PR work, or lobbying on behalf of donors. All topics I’ve written about for Cato have been chosen by me, and no one there has pressured me to change my conclusions to help with fundraising.
- 2013: I received a $1000 honorarium for contributing to Cato Unbound.
- 2010: I received a $1000 honorarium for contributing to Cato Unbound.
- 2008: I did two major writing projects that accounted for about 30 percent of my income.
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is a free-market think tank. Mercatus does not disclose its donors, and I don’t know who they are.
- 2012: I was asked to contribute a chapter for a forthcoming Mercatus book on copyright policy that accounted for less than 10 percent of my income.
- 2011: Mercatus paid me less than $1000 to provide comments on a forthcoming paper.
National Affairs is a “quarterly journal of essays about domestic policy, political economy, society, culture, and political thought.” I wrote this piece on broadband competition for them. The topic was chosen by me and its editors didn’t request any significant changes.
- 2012: National Affairs accounted for less than 10 percent of my income.
The Templeton Foundation
The Templeton Foundation says that it “serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.”
- 2012: I was invited to contribute to Templeton’s “Big Questions Online” site, accounting for less than 10 percent of my income.
During the summer of 2009, I did web development work for Dancing Mammoth, the firm that hosts this blog. They paid me to write code, not to write about public policy. And I’m not aware of any conflicts of interest with the subjects I write about.
- 2012: DM paid me less than $1000 to write an essay for them.
- 2009: DM accounted for about 25 percent of my income.
From 2008 to 2011, I was a graduate student in computer science at Princeton.
- 2011: For the 2010-11 school year my work was supported by a grant from Public.resource.org, a non-profit organization run by Carl Malamud that promotes web-enabled government transparency. You can learn more about Carl’s donors here. Public.Resource.Org is the recipient of a Project 10^100 award from Google. Princeton accounted for about a third of my income in 2011.
- 2010: For the 2009-10 school year I was paid by the computer science department to assist with teaching an introductory computer science course. Princeton accounted for about half my income in 2010.
- 2009: For the 2008-09 school year I received a fellowship that the computer science department offers to all first-year graduate students. Princeton accounted for about half my income in 2009.
- 2008: Princeton accounted for about 20 percent of my income.
During the summer of 2010 I did a paid internship at Google. It was an engineering internship, so I was paid to write code, not to write about public policy. Still, Google has interests in many tech policy issues, and you might want to take my Google relationship into account when I write about those issues.
- 2010: Google accounted for around half of my income.
The Institute for Humane Studies
The Institute for Humane Studies is a libertarian-leaning academic organization that awards Humane Studies Fellowship to grad students. The awards are made via a competitive application process.
- 2010: I was awarded a fellowship that accounted for about less than 10 percent of my income. This award was funded through the generosity of the Searle Freedom Trust.
- 2009: I was awarded a fellowship that accounted for about 10 percent of my income. This award was funded through the generosity of the Searle Freedom Trust.
- 2008: I was awarded a fellowship that accounted for less than 10 percent of my income.
In 2008-09 I was a regular, paid contributor to the Techdirt blog. I also made a few hundred dollars participating in the Techdirt Insight Community. Techdirt is published by Floor 64, a company which specializes in providing strategic advice to businesses.
I’m not involved on the business side of Floor 64, but as far as I know they don’t do any lobbying or PR work. And Mike Masnick, Techdirt’s editor, has always given me wide lattitude to choose the topics I blogged about (within the general category of technology and business) and never pressured me to change my conclusions for business reasons.
- 2009: I wrote a handful of posts and received less than $1000.
- 2008: Techdirt accounted for about 20 percent of my income.
Other Sources ($1000 or less)
- 2013: Al Jazeera paid me an honorarium for appearing on one of their programs.
- 2012: I did paid writing for the New America Foundation, and the Daily.
- 2011: ETS paid me for the rights to include an excerpt of my work in standardized tests. I also wrote articles for National Review, GOOD magazine, and Slate.
- 2009: A textbook publisher paid me to license one of my blog posts. In December 2009 I received an honorarium from a firm called “Qualitative Insights” to participate in a half-hour interview about my views on “Internet infrastructure.” Although they wouldn’t tell me who the client was, it became clear from the questions being asked that that the client was VeriSign. Most of the questions concerned the upcoming renewal of Verisign’s contract to administer the .com and .net domains.
- 2008: I received an honorarium for attending a Liberty Fund event. Slate and Reason paid me for articles I wrote for them. And the Fraser Institute paid me to review and comment on a forthcoming study.