Vox.com, the smart policy-explanation site, today made a new policy of its own: It won’t be allowing its reporters to, say, write promotional pieces about Bitcoins after buying them.
That’s what Timothy B. Lee did in a piece titled “Why I’m investing in bitcoins.” A thoroughly informative and clear analysis of the bitcoin market, Lee’s explainer started with the fact that he himself had invested in bitcoins. As the author explained, he was prohibited from doing so at his former employer, The Washington Post, but Vox.com, under editorial chief Ezra Klein, allowed him to.
As it went through the intricacies of bitcoins, Lee’s piece struck a note of optimism on their future:
Bitcoin could dramatically reduce the barrier to entry for competing with conventional money transfer services. Entrepreneurs in different countries could help customers convert between their local currency and Bitcoin, and then use the Bitcoin network to actually send the money. Small firms in India, China, or Brazil would be able to send money anywhere in the world — without worrying about how the recipient would convert bitcoins back to the local currency. Low barriers to entry could mean more competition, lower prices, and higher quality service.
A more ambitious use for Bitcoin would be to compete with conventional credit card networks. Already, a growing number of merchants have begun accepting Bitcoin payments. However, a lot more work will be needed to build user-friendly services that allow consumers to make Bitcoin payments. But once again, the low barriers to entry for Bitcoin-based services — more Bitcoin startups are being created every day — means that lots of people will be trying to figure out how to make Bitcoin payments more accessible to consumers.
Careful readers spotted a impropriety in writing so rosily about something in which you’ve invested:
The Erik Wemple Blog earlier today asked Klein about Vox.com’s approach to such ethics considerations. He essentially answered the question with this apology post: “We made the wrong call on buying Bitcoins.” Here’s a sampling:
Today’s article was meant to disclose Lee’s purchase of Bitcoins. But it also made an argument for why Bitcoins are undervalued and might make some people very rich (though it paired this with an argument for why they were still probably a bad investment for most people). Putting those two together was a mistake — and it raised fair concerns about whether Lee’s investment would color his coverage going forward.
“This was my fault,” writes Klein.
And with that, a blast of fresh air sneaks into the workspace of the Erik Wemple Blog: Lee’s bitcoin piece hit the Internet at 8:30 a.m. Klein’s no-excuses apology lands at 1:20 p.m. Quick, thorough, move on.