We know that newspaper companies have to squeeze out all kinds of revenues, but we believe there should be a firm wall between reporting on the industry and helping to organize corporate events. Swisher and Mossberg’s “D: All Things Digital” conference is said to “put the industry’s top players to the test during informal but pointed conversations about the impact digital technology will have on our lives now and in the future.” The “hallmark” of the event, notes conference materials is “exclusive access to the most innovative and influential thought leaders.” Both Swisher and Mossberg are listed as the producers of the program. But the affair–called a Wall Street Journal Executive Conference–is promoted like a lovefest with famous people. There’s plenty of time for golf and wine-tasting too (with a $3995 “standard” admission pricetag). Perhaps the biggest problem are the corporate sponsors, which include Cisco, HP, and the NYSE. It’s one thing for them to advertise in the Journal or another Dow Jones property. It’s another to back a event run by two of the country’s preeminent technology journalists. Among the special guests showing up in 2007 (and presumably to be interviewed by Swisher and Mossberg) include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and John Chambers (Cisco).

Reporters need to maintain their independence from key sources. It’s one thing to have access; certainly Swisher and Mossberg deserve it, given their journalism credentials. But hosting and helping organize a conference such as this, we believe, further tatters the nearly obliterated wall between marketing and editorial. The WSJ tech pair should let someone else organize and host–and then just show up as journalists. We need more reporters covering the tech and media beats to not only ask hard questions, but to probe and investigate. Leaders such as Gates, Schmidt and Chambers run companies–and engage in policy efforts–which require closer scrutiny and public debate. A cozy, high-priced, and good golfing-hyped event isn’t the best way to engage in journalism that really matters.

Update: Swisher and Mossberg, I have learned, have created their own WSJ-connected spin-off, called D:All Things Digital. According to, it’s to be “a full-fledged ad-supported website with D co-founders Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg as executive editors.” Ms. Swisher will be leaving the WSJ, says paidcontent, and become an independent contractor. But Dow Jones will own the site and sell the ads. The pair have established their own start-up company, called Shut Up and Listen, LLC. We believe this further compounds the problem. Are they reporters or entrepreneurs? What is the revenue split, if any, between Mossberg/Swisher and Dow Jones. Will they cover the stories involving advertisers for the D site? What kind of disclosure will be required?

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