An Amoral Imperative

A confession, long time coming—or perhaps just explanation—about recent professional changes. Until November 2006, I was a market research analyst covering Microsoft and had been since May 2003. I left the analyst position and returned to journalism for many reasons. 

Some of them:

  • I wanted to work for the people instead of “the man”. I was a good analyst, and I gave high-tech companies good advice. But I didn’t like helping wealthy companies make more money; it’s just not me. As a journalist, I work more for the people—least it feels that way.
  • There were too many compromises. As a journalist, my employer paid my way everywhere. As an analyst, it was expected that the high-tech vendor would pay. If I were invited to a company’s event or tradeshow, there was expectation the vendor would cover my travel and expenses. I hated the policy, which I interpreted as a conflict of interest, even though I can honestly say that I never rewarded any company for payment of everything. My opinions weren’t for sale. But I still didn’t like the “they pay” instead of “we pay” approach, which is common among analyst firms.
  • As an analyst, I increasingly spent more time with spreadsheets and presentations than doing writing. Also, because my work blog was widely quoted by journalists, I felt the necessity to keep a mild tone. My words were often contained, because of how they could have been used in another context. Going back to journalism—as editor of a news blog—I can write more and do so more freely. My former bosses didn’t edit or restrict me. I did that out of sensible practice.
  • I often took positions that were not my own in other ways, too. As an analyst covering the high-tech industry, in some ways, I represented that industry’s perspective. On a couple occasions, those views contradicted my own.

Only one instance bothered me: Comments on the controversy over the compromises companies like Microsoft and Yahoo!—and in some respects Google—made to get into the Chinese market. In one radio interview, I believe for NPR Marketplace in April 2006, my stated position differed from my own personal view. I gave lots of legitimate reasons why Google and others would enter the Chinese market by restricting search terms like “democracy”.

I expressed that in business there simply is no moral high ground because the high ground is quagmire; public companies seek what is in their best interest or that of their shareholders. The statement is true. I also contended that it’s arrogant to apply American values to another culture, political structure, or economy. The statement also is true.

But I didn’t say that, personally, I was appalled and angered by these companies’ actions in China. One compromise leads to another. Many companies have an amoral imperative to make money that often contradicts the morals of the people who work for or do business with the same companies.

Photo Credit: Isaac Mao