How would you feel about receiving a $2000 gift from Microsoft? I'd be as excited as heck and curious to see if the product met up with the hype. And, in typical bloggerly fashion, I'd cut off my nose and wax elephant about the problems with the product. Or not.
Maybe, I'd really, really love it. (Like I really, really love my iMac and iPod that I bought myself with my money, thank you very much.) The problem would become, of course, if I really, really loved the Microsoft product that was given to me, would anyone believe me? Or, would the reviews be like some editorial reviews at CNET that leave users scratching their heads? For example, one user asked what was up with the product review because the product in question (an all-in-one laser HP printer) stunk while the CNET editors gave it a 8.0/10 rating. Hmmm......
How would I feel if Microsoft, felt the sting of criticism and emailed asking me to send it back? Oh, deary, what a mess.
John Pospisil at Tech.Blorge.com is apoplectic about the giveaway. And he's a mite bit condescending, too. He says:
Second, how many bloggers that have received a notebook but have not declared it on their blog? Quite a few I suggest, which highlights up the fundamental problem with blogging, which is that bloggers are not trained journalists and not necessarily in tune with the ethical problems that gifts entail.From the other press that I read, the laptops were given to the top 70 bloggers. Who Microsoft chose for that, I'm not sure, but most of the top 70 bloggers are sure to know the basics of journalistic ethics. One could argue that they are journalists. But Pospipsil holds fast:
The fundamental problem is that is generally speaking blogs are perceived as being the authentic and trustworthy voice of the people who write them. The reason why this is so is because until recently blogs existed outside of the whole marketing/PR machine. Now however, they’re very much part of the machine, as Microsoft’s laptop give away demonstrates.
Microsoft’s recent comments, and criticisms by some sections of the blogosphere, have done nothing to allay my concerns - they’ve just underscored how real the problem is. Some bloggers don’t (or don’t want to) understand the ethical issues, and companies (ie Microsoft) are very happy to cynically exploit this lack of understanding.
I think that the blogosphere is going to get more commercialized. That does not seem problematic to me as long as there is public disclosure on the part of the writer. I'm not the only one shoulder shrugging at Microsoft's generous, if clumsy, attempt at good publicity. John Scalzi says this:
Leaving aside the idea of Microsoft being pure, unmitigated evil that destroys everything it touches, Spolsky is falling victim of a series of misapprehensions. First to the misapprehension that the blog world has monolithic standards on anything, which it doesn't, second to the misapprehension that there was a halcyon time when the people who wrote blogs steadfastly refused the predations of commerce, which there wasn't, third to the misapprehension that the blog world, as a whole, has any measurable standard of credibility, which is news to me, and fourth to the misapprehension that blog writers ought to have some obligation to act in a professional manner or only write about particular things in a particular manner, which, believe me, they surely do not. If the blogosphere has a motto, it would be "You're Not The Boss of Me," and Joel Spolsky is just as much not the boss as anyone else. His ability to dictate the policies of the blogosphere end at the borders of his own blog.
Likewise, I think Spolsky is deeply undervaluing one aspect of the blog world, which is that the sheer mass and diversity of the blogoverse means that it's difficult for anyone to get away with much of anything. Microsoft decides to hand out free PCs; here comes Spolsky (and others) to complain about it. The result is that the publicity spin of the event is already out of Microsoft's hands and curving away in an unexpected fashion. This is how the blog world works, precisely because it isn't a monolith. Also, Spolsky appears to be under the impression that blog readers are stupid, and they don't recognize blatant publicity handwaving when they see it, and neglect to factor accordingly. In this he is just as far behind the times as the marketers who are under the impression they can somehow control the blog dialogue about a product by putting it in blogger hands.
For example, I love Coca-Cola. I really, really do. Anyone who knows me knows that any melodious writing about the excellence of the product comes from the heart. If Coke one day decided to pay me for a daily Coke affirmation (which I would gladly do if the price was right), I'd disclose it. If they threw in a 12 pack, I wouldn't complain either. But then, I wouldn't be acting as a journalist, I'd be acting as a PR agent of Coca-Cola, which some bloggers kinda are for Microsoft.
What I see as the bigger problem is that writers who perceive themselves to be "real professionals" bristle at the idea of the unwashed masses making money without training (gasp!), being ethically challenged (as opposed to the lily white knights penning papers), and being biased. That last part is true. Bloggers are generally biased. That is their strong suit. The biases are out there for all to see.
So, is CNET "real" journalism by journalistic standards? Oh, they think so. Is Tech.Blorge? Is my blog "real journalism"?
When so-called journalists become the paragons of virtue that some of the above writers imply they are, I'll be tougher on the Microsoft loving bloggers who got the Vista Ferrari present. Remembering that newspapers make money via advertising and that their writing is most definitely swayed by that money is helpful during times like these. The only problem I see with the traditional journalists is their inability to spot their own bias. That makes them far more dangerous than an opinionated blogger.