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Michael Arrington isn't a journalist

Twitter Boxing GlovesIf you've been obsessed with the Tour de France and haven't been checking any other media outlets this week (raises hand), you may have missed the Internet scandal/dust-up/spat of the week between Michael Arrington at TechCrunch and the boys at Twitter. It's been blogged to death, so I'll keep this one short.

The :20 second summary is that a hacker got access to Twitter's corporate Google accounts, got hold of a bunch of confidential documents about Twitter's strategic plan and financials, e-mailed them to TechCrunch, and Arrington published (some of) them. Ev, Jack and Biz at Twitter cried foul and are getting lawyers involved. Many people have denounced Arrington's decision as unethical. He's keeping some of the documents suppressed (for now) at Twitter's request.

Guy Kawasaki (seriously, this is the most name-dropping post I've ever written) slapped up a copy of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics up on his Posterous page last night, circling the following tenet:

Journalists should avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story

But, let's all remember that bloggers, like Arrington, aren't journalists. They don't operate under a professional code of ethics. they don't report to an editor or publisher who tells them what to write about or what they can or can't reveal. Many of them are ethical, many of them are former journalists, many of them would have chosen not to publish the documents.

Credibility is what's keeping traditional media alive. Readers respect and trust publications and news outlets that do operate under a code of ethics like SPJ's. This may be a short-term win for Arrington, but over time stunts like this are going to erode (what's left of) reader's respect for TechCrunch.

From the standpoint of a PR professional or a corporate communicator, we can't forget that bloggers operate under their own rules. They aren't necessarily motivated by the truth or by serving the public or by being objective.

We can't count on them doing the right thing.

Image via Flickr user KayVee.INC

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