What off-the-record means and why journalists don't usually own cryptos
A handful of well-known people in the crypto industry caused an uproar last week when they complained about reporters at CoinDesk and other outlets. They were off the mark in many ways.
Journalism isn't advertising, as noted by Financial Times reporter Jemima Kelly. Her article, and many others, sprung up after Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao complained about policies including off-the-record or a ban on holding cryptocurrencies for the reporters covering them. Let's clear up some misconceptions.
Buterin launched a Twitter tirade last week against CoinDesk and announcing he'd skip the Consensus Conference. Here's some of what he wrote:
"Their reporting policies are designed to trap you with gotchas. Did you know that if you send them a reply, and you explicitly say that some part is off the record, that's explicitly on the record unless you go through a request/approve dance first?"
Yes! It isn't a dance, that's how reporters operate! We tell our clients all the time that just because you say something is off-the-record doesn't mean that it is. A reporter has to explicitly agree to that condition, otherwise anything you say can end up in print or on TV, radio, etc. This is not unique to CoinDesk and certainly isn't "gotcha" journalism. It's how the industry has always worked, whether speaking to the New York Times or a trade outlet.
Asset holding policies
It has long been the policy of most reputable news outlets that journalists are not allowed to hold a financial interest in the topics they cover. This has held true across equities, fixed income, F/X, derivatives, commodities and yes, cryptocurrencies.
"I learned most journalists are forbidden by their employers to hodl any crypto. Should they be forbidden to own fiat if they write about trade-wars? So now, we have journalists who have never done a single blockchain transaction writing/"teaching the public" about blockchain," Changpeng wrote on Twitter.
He added: "Going forward, I am inclined to only accept media interview requests from journalists who HODL some crypto. So that I don't have to repeatedly answer "are bitcoins only used by drug lords?"
As a former journalist (and current reasonable person) myself, I can understand why journalists should not be allowed to hold bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies they cover. Any criticism can potentially drive down the value of their asset, and that risk would likely limit their willingness to author critical coverage when needed.
This does not mean reporters don't understand the space. I did not need to own cryptocurrencies to write about blockchain startups five years ago, nor did I need to own derivatives contracts to cover the trading platforms used by large financial firms -- and no one told me I did. Unless Changpeng changes his stance, he's going to significantly limit the pool of reporters he can speak with.
Anyone seeking to engage the media should remember they are not here to serve your interest. Good, reputable reporters seek the truth and cover topics they are interested in. Sometimes that means being critical, and that's part of being in the public eye.
If your startup cannot withstand reasonable criticisms, you probably shouldn't be in business.