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November 12, 2010

Thoughts on conflicts, the appearance of conflicts, etc.....

Ever since August, when I began to seriously consider sharing some of my original music, I've been thinking of Gene Foreman, longtime managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It was Foreman's job to school new hires on the paper's conflict of interest policies, so he was one of the first people I encountered when I was interviewing there. He was zealous about conflict and "apparent conflict" -- this was the late 1980s, and the paper still had a reputation to protect. (How serious were top editors about these things? Years later, preparing to defend myself about an alleged violation, one of Foreman's deputies advised me to "Say 10 Hail Marys" before arriving.)

After Foreman checked out my resume -- which reflected my experience as a professional musician, playing behind big names on land and smaller ones on cruise ships, as well as various touring gigs -- he wanted to make sure, before offering a job, that I wouldn't be crossing any ethics lines once on board.

A meeting was arranged. I was told that the paper couldn't have a critic who was also a practitioner on a professional level. If I wanted the job, I'd sign a document saying that I'd no longer pursue active work for hire as a musician. I spent a few days pondering that curious reverse deal with the devil, and then eventually agreed, happy to say goodbye to the wedding band circuit.

I wonder what Gene Foreman and others of his peer group would make of the present state of things -- this ethos where an MSNBC commentator helps fund political campaigns, and critics and contributors to publications on all levels find themselves, by choice and necessity, active on the artistic side of the aisle. Curating shows and coordinating live events, producing and advising and sometimes performing. Participating in the same fish tank they sometimes comment upon. 

My hunch: He wouldn't like it too much. Even if he could be persuaded that the experience helps expand a writer's understanding. He would probably look at this rather modest endeavor of mine that went public with an email blast the other day -- Moon Hotel Lounge Project, an ensemble I put together to develop and document my compositions (first recording comes out 1/11/11) -- and wince. 

Luckily I don't work for Mr. Foreman anymore. But his crisply delineated notion of the appearance of conflict has stayed with me. If I'm honest, it probably slowed me down on the way to sharing this music, at least long enough to get me thinking about the repercussions of "going public" on any level. In a subsequent post I'll trace the origins of the project and ruminate on the notion of "credentials" (as per Mr. Plagens' post way back when) in the hyper-fluid realms of music and journalism. For now, I'm just curious about how others navigate these waters. Is conflict of interest a quaint idea in the brave new scramble of deprofessionalized Internet media? Are there lines critics and commentators should not cross?

November 12, 2010 9:42 AM | | Comments (0)

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