A statement about ethics
or a stupid prank with freebie gadgets?
The brouhaha over Gizmodo.com's little prank at the Consumer Electronics show continues to send shockwaves through the "small-scale indipendent journalism industry" (a term we have come up with as much more respectable alternative to the detestable term "blogosphere").
By running around the show floor and turning off various television monitors - then bragging about the act on their website, Gizmodo has managed to get a lot of free publicity from the stunt...and a lifetime ban from the event for one of its writers.
To combat the harsh criticisms that have been fired at them, Gizmodo has posted their response to the action, pointing out that in the process of performing their little act of non-destructive vandalism that they were making a point:
Consumer electronics Tech journalism is very tricky. Those who strictly cover commercial CE depend on a powerful handful of companies for the very lifeblood of their content. That's a dangerous position. A "favor" by a company can turn into the laziest kind of "scoop" imaginable, a scrap from the dinner table for the dogs of journalism. And every gadget journalist has wrestled with his conscience as he gains more access and becomes inseparable from the industry and depends on more and more of these scoops.OK, guys, let's see how this ethical statement of yours works when you are in a crowded sports bar in the middle of the superbowl: Wait for a particularly dramatic play and hit the button on your device, sending all the blaring big screens in the bar into the non-powered abyss. Then, once the screams from rabid fans have died down a bit, stand up and proclaim to the masses that you did this in the name of free speech and you are just making a statement about your irreverance.
But bloggers and trade journalists, so desperate for a seat at the table with big mainstream publications have it completely backwards: You don't get more access by selling out for press-credentials first chance you get, kowtowing to corporations and tradeshows and playing nice; you earn your respect by fact finding, reporting, having untouchable integrity, provocative coverage and gaining readers through your reputation for those things. Our prank pays homage to the notion of independence and independent reporting. And no matter how much access the companies give us, we won't ever stop being irreverent. That's what this prank was about and what the press should understand.
And we'll be sure to be there with our camcorders to cover what happens next.
We understand that to report on a product or service, there is a tendancy for the players within that industry to try to manipulate and shape the words that are being said. "Quid pro quo" has been the name of the game in every conceivable field from politics to scrapbooking since the dawn of time. Knowing where to draw the line is what sets true journalists apart from just another blogger. Naturally, there are situations where corruption thrives within that system. Letting the right people review a product early, knowing that they will expound praise in exchange for the little gift is common.
For example, in the entertainment industry, there are several people that have become shills for the Hollywood machine.
But there is more to journalistic integrity than doing a publicity stunt like this and then proclaiming it was done in the name of irreverance and indipendence. If a website like Gizmodo is really serious about its ethics, maybe they should think about giving away all that free merchandise and gadgets they were given once they've finished reviewing it.
Of course, turning off a bunch of TVs at a trade show they were given free access to is a lot easier and makes for bigger publicity.