The Ethics of News vs. Reviews

Background:

Last Wednesday, editors at CNET told representatives at Dish that Dish’s Hopper with Sling would be a finalist for CNET’s “Best of CES” award. On Thursday morning, about 25 minutes prior to its announcement of the winner, CNET told Dish that the Hopper with Sling had been withdrawn from consideration due to Dish’s lawsuit with CNET’s parent company CBS over the Hopper DVRs’ commercial-skipping feature. CNET did not indicate to Dish, or to anyone else outside the company, that its editors had in fact already voted to name the Hopper with Sling Best in Show, nor that editors had been made to revote on a directive from CBS CEO Les Moonves.

CBS declared a new policy declaring that they will no longer review products manufactured by companies that are in litigation with respect to that product. They also issued a statement that CNET maintains 100% editorial independence when it comes to covering actual news. Then Greg Sandoval, a senior writer for CNET, resigned and said on Twitter that he no longer has confidence “that CBS is committed to editorial independence.”

Two worthwhile thoughts on this:

1. NY Times’ David Carr:

It’s not CNET that is imperiled, but CBS. Very ugly business. I completely understand why the find “Hopper” so threatening — it is a dagger right to the heart of their business — but if that kind of commercial censorship occurred at our shop, people would freak out. New brands have to compete for top talent and voices and if CBS turns out to be an owner — odd, given their legacy — that can’t keep its business and journalistic interests straight, no one is going to want to work there.

2. DisCo’s Rob Pegoraro:

Hard-news stories (like search-engine results!) are never entirely objective; people made value judgments in assigning them, choosing sources to quote, and giving those pieces their spot on the page or in the paper. Reviews are never entirely subjective and ought to cite objective defects such as slow performance, poor battery life, privacy risks or missing features.

And in the evolving and sometimes fumbling tech industry, assessing the hardware, software and services it serves up is an especially important part of the work of journalism. We need to suffer through these products ourselves–unless you’d prefer that we waited to see you find their problems, then reported the controversy.

Readers, in turn, don’t view news and reviews as distinct entities. If they start seeing one part of a site’s work subject to a corporate overlord’s remote control, they will read everything there skeptically. If they stick around at all.

FJP: Yikes, CBS.

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