Monday, October 19, 2009

Cash for positive reviews? No? Then how about a CD?

A CBS News opinion piece today goes into lots of useful detail about when, and why, accepting freebies is a good or bad idea for a supposedly unbiased news organization. And it cites some eye-opening (at least for my eyes) facts about how some unethical folks abuse the bejeebers out of the concept.

It starts off with a blogger being propositioned to write 30,000 positive reviews of an iPhone app at $1 each. (The blogger said no.)

The co-authors then peruse some specific instances:
It's OK to get a new disposable razor to test, but staying a week in a resort for free and expecting a true and honest independent review is a totally different story. Having lived and breathed journalism for twenty five years, I don't buy the idea of freebies being compatible with independent reviews.
It is actually a question of degree. Getting a book or a CD from a publisher is OK because it's only a $20 item. Getting a $200 software product, or a $500 weekend for free and expecting a balanced review is more problematic, to say the least.

Then it gets really hair-raising:
I happen to live in a country where entire segments of journalism - I'm talking of mainstream media - are corrupt. I could tell countless stories of reporters covering the auto industry who call an automaker's PR department of to get a car for a weekend escape with their girlfriends, or who get flown abroad to test a new car model (four days, five star accommodation.)

The country thus referred to is probably France, as the item's co-author is a journalist based in Paris. But yeesh.

We've all run across individual reviews that appear completely fake, but the mechanisms and specifics laid out here were creepy to read.
... a greater number of technology reviews are provided by poorly-paid freelancers instead of staff writers who are supposed to be paid enough money to be clean.
Is it then any wonder why publicists, marketers, and others intermediaries are now lusting after the blogosphere? Think about it: thousands of blogs, most of them written by penniless amateurs, not bound by any ethical rules - it's a dream come true for the flack crowd. Blogs represent a new playground in which to buy influence. Actually, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (Womma) estimates that such spending has grown from $300 million in 2003 to $1.54 billion last year.