Friday, 7 February 2014

The tech / enthusiast 'press' - if you're not paying, you're the product.

Just a short thought for the day - if you're not paying for it, you're not the customer but the product. So what does that make the tech and enthusiest 'press' - toms hardware, anandtech, ign, youtube, etc?

The tech and enthusiast press is just another big arm of the PR industry.

Unlike the ABC's charter, they do not exist to entertain and inform their readership; they're there to sell the products which provide the advertising dollars which pay for them to exist in the first place.

Their customers are the advertisers, not the readers.

I used to have some respect for technical articles on anandtech and the like but some recent technical articles lead me to drop this completely. These convinced me that they don't have the technical competency to write these articles in the first place which leads to the obvious conclusion that they were effectively written by the PR firms of the companies that make the products in question. And what's worse is that the trend toward access journalism means that they'll bend over backward (or is that forward) to accomondate PR agendas just to get that next exclusive.

I'm sure some would label such an idea a 'tin-foil hat conspiracy' but that in itself is a typical fud tactic used to silence such dissenting thoughts. It's such a fiendishly clever one too: first people are treated as idiots for believing such nonsense, and if the truth really does come out (such as with the recent youtube m$/ea payola indicents) they're just dismissed as idiots again because 'everybody knew that'.

Some keywords to help you navigate this minefield:


Basically means the entire article is direct from the PR firm or may as well be. It will only follow set talking-points and wont be overly critical of the product.

Apparently attaching conditions to this type of article is a wide-spread industry practice which at best leads to selection bias. Sites which don't mind litterally prostituting themselves out in this way are going to get more money and crowd out any with ethics (in short, there's no room for ethics in publishing).

I'd rather just have the raw PR material so I can make up my own mind. At least you know where the PR starts and stops.


Here the press has access to information before the general public. It is possible the preview is in a controlled environment and possibly not even hands-on, so even if there were no other influence the previewer may not be getting a complete and accurate picture of the product themselves.

When did you last see a scathing preview? They are just part of the PR path and should be treated as such; nothing wrong with being interested about it but they must be treated with a good dose of scepticism. Always.


In general the review copy will be supplied by the vendor: this already introduces a conflict of interest. But reviews may also impact the ability to secure exclusives or previews - which allows advertiser interest to go beyond the supposed chinese walls between the advertising and editorial sections of a reporting business.

Some sites even bizarrely take pride in having their reviewers use inconsistent scoring across all reviews which is utterly baffling. The job of the review editor should be there to ensure the score at the end of the article actually means something and isn't unduly affected by the tastes, biases, or bribes of the reviewer.

You definitely can't trust 'user' reviews: apart from widespread fraud there may be other mechanisms such as filtering screens on 'apps' which only direct positive reviewers to the rating mechanism (e.g. dungeonkeeper) or even use bribery of virtual junk to encourage distorted scores. And something about the immediacy of the mobile internet has created a 'great hysterical age' well beyond anything in previous human history: so you can't use popularity as any sort of reliable guide either.

This kind of sucks: it means you basically can't trust anything on the internet. There is no way to form an objective opinion when all of the information sources are poisoned. At best if you are an expert in the field you can form your own opinion but that will also be biased based on your own life experiences (although it probably doesn't matter). The layman has no hope.

I don't think the 'mainstream' press is any better tbh. Sure there are some journalistic ethics that might prevent the most egregious examples but papers either exist at the whim of their advertisers (their real customers) or to push the political agenda of the insanely rich (literal meaning) arsehole who owns it for that purpose. And the ethics only cover news reporting anyway which is only a part of any paper's content.

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