An ethical question?

Subject: An ethical question?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 09:10:09 -0400

Bruce Byfield reports: <<This week, a PR person contacted me about
"collaborating" with a company. At first, the comments suggested that the
intent was to produce some marketing collateral. However, further e-mails
made clear that the point was to cooperate in writing reviews about the
company's products. I replied that any reviews would be completely
independent, and would need to be based on personal testing. The reply
suggests that this is fine. However, I'm still uneasy.>>

The appearance of a conflict of interest can be as damaging as the reality
of a conflict of interest, and that's why you're right to be cautious. But
provided that the company isn't paying you to talk about their product, and
has no right to edit what you say (other than to review technical details
for you and correct any errors or misunderstandings on your part), there's
no conflict of interest and no reason to be uneasy.

Every computer journalist receives tons of "free" products in exchange for
writing reviews, and there are no explicit strings attached; the implicit
strings, of course, are that you'll eventually stop receiving free products
if you keep panning a company's product or write unfair, biased,
error-filled reviews. The cynic might note that major industry periodicals
tiptoe very delicately around reviews of products from their major
advertisers; step too hard on the wrong toes and they might lose the
advertiser to a rival magazine. This is one reason why you won't see reviews
about new releases of Windows or MS Office that dwell on anything wrong with
the product, apart from obvious glitches such as repeated crashes that they
can't credibly gloss over.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is
noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience,
which is the bitterest."--Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478

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