A tech journalist’s worst nightmare
by Chris Roush
John Herman of BuzzFeed.com writes about how tech news site CNET dropped a Dish Network product from consideration of an award because its parent, CBS, is currently in litigation with Dish.
Herman writes, “This is a constant fear for many tech writers — their jobs, more than many other in media, require them to cover companies they either work for, or which their employers interact with. Nearly every tech publication has conflicts of interest to wrestle with — including BuzzFeed, a startup which shares investors with many other tech and media companies. Upon news of our latest funding round, a BuzzFeed politics reporter asked me if it felt strange to cover tech at what many consider a tech company. The answer, of course, is a ‘yes — but.’ (For the record: FWD has never been asked to cover, or not cover, any of these companies).
“While some publications deal with conflicts of interest head on — TechCrunch openly acknowledges them, for example, while the New York Times charges its media writers with writing about themselves — most are rarely confronted with a scenario like this, and certainly not in public.
“As a tech reporter, CES has an uncanny knack for not making you feel very good about your job. It’s a noisy place with confoundingly little valuable information to be had; it will unfailingly exacerbate any anxieties you have about your role in the way products are promoted and sold. It can make you feel, in short, like a slightly mutated PR person, allowed to choose his clients and speak more freely but still performing essentially the same role: making money for tech companies.
“This confirms that fear, at least for CNET’s reporters — that there is a profound difference in product journalism and actual journalism, to the point that the former might not even be in the same genus as the latter. Good service writing, unglamorous as it may be, demands integrity too.”
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