The Audacity of Desperation: Compensatory Journalistic Integrity

It has become a popular practice for some media folks to cut a switch and inflame the posteriors of certain PR folks for their wildly irrelevant or poorly written pitches and press releases. Hell, I even fanned the flames a bit when one of my fellow flaks was condemned for a cheeky exchange. While I agree public humiliation is often the best way to teach a lesson, it’s important to note that we PR folks are not the only ones guilty of uncouth behavior when it comes to the media game.

As the gatekeeper for product reviews between client and press, there is often a fine line when gauging whether a new site or media outlet will offer ROI that justifies shipping product. Every week there are new blogs and sites that promise to communicate our message to new audiences who are just waiting to be told what to buy. Recently I received such a “pitch” that introduced a new concept in the product review game that I will call, “Compensatory Journalistic Integrity” (CJI).

In quotes is part of the pitch I received (verbatim).
“…If you would be interested in getting your products reviewed on our site I would be happy to start off with a test review: you will send a product and if you would like it returned I would be happy to do so. This would be in good faith that if you agree with how the review was done you allow us to review more products and my staff gets too keep them for compensation (after the review is done and posted online)….”

Aside from the glaring grammatical errors, there seems to be something intrinsically wrong with the way this person is going about soliciting reviews. To be clear, the concept of manufacturers allowing reviewers to keep gear is pretty common, especially if it involves a reference system or the product is unusable afterwards. However, being asked up front to “compensate” a reviewer for doing a job the media outlet should be paying them for doesn’t exactly foster an atmosphere of impartial thinking.

I’m not naive, I know money is often at the root and most publications wouldn’t think of skewering their top advertisers with majorly critical editorial or reviews. That said, when the onus is put on manufacturers to compensate the press DIRECTLY, without any layers in between, it reeks of desperation and gives the impression that an outlet can’t afford to pay it’s writers.

In a perfect world, everything would be done in good faith, Walt Mossberg would be calling me daily to get the scoop on my client’s happenings and my 2000 Camry wouldn’t have a stupid cracked windshield or missing hubcap.

While it’s tempting to trade product for editorial, we Flaks must remain vigilant in determining who is there to inform readers vs. stock their home with gadgets. It’s possible to do both, but if anyone asks you to compensate their staff, it’s probably best to forge on elsewhere.

Posted by: Nick

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One Response to The Audacity of Desperation: Compensatory Journalistic Integrity

  1. Ron G says:

    Nick,

    Good post.

    Legend has it that in the 80s, CE journalists in Japan would not only get to keep the gear, but envelopes of cash too. Call me when this practice comes back around so I can get back in touch with my old magazines — if they’re still in existence 🙂

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