I have been brooding for much too long on the subject of CNET’s tumble at CES. I tried to stay away from the topic but it has kept gnawing at me, eating away the lining of my stomach and lapping up the brain fluid in my cranium.
Chris Brogan, the social marketing Svengali, wrote a book a few years back entitled ‘Trust Agents’ and I am reminded of its main tenets as well as the book this one has as a foundation, namely the Cluetrain Manifesto. Mr.Brogan’s book exalts the humanizing of business through social media’s power to build relationships. Part of this relationship is a cultural contract which requires the dismantling of secrets, a breaking of the fourth wall. When used as a tool which is grounded in truth, it can help you trump your competitors regardless of their size and war chest. Trust is a valuable commodity which once trampled upon risks the vehement vitriol of those who were duped.
Trust is also the tool of hucksters and scammers. How many times have we heard victims of the Madoffs, local grifters and assorted snake oil salesmen say something akin to “…I just felt I could trust him…”. A successful charlatan will take great pains to gain your confidence, to appear as if your concerns are theirs and play off our universal expectations of just what a villain should look like – Twirling his thin handle bar mustache, grinning devilishly. Whatever the form they take from handsome socialite to trade publication – they are a breed of the most foul.
CNET’s coverage of CES at the beginning of the year exposed a dichotomy in consumer electronics reporting. If you missed this episode it can be easily summarized – CNET, as part of the awards select committee, included in its final list the Dish Network’s Hopper Box as among the top contenders. The Hopper box allow Dish Network subscribers the ability to ‘hop’ through commercials while watching a show, much like the Tivo fast forward function only the dish box jumps a predetermined time 30 to 60 seconds. CBS Network, which acquired CNET for 1.8billion in the early summer of 2008, instantly began foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog and demanded that the award not be given to Dish Network. (CBS and other traditional broadcast networks, it seems, fear the hopper as it takes yet another bite out of potential ad revenue). While CBS may have a genuine business concern here they overreacted by forcing an owned entity to go back on its journalistic ethics and retract an award (and editorial approval) to satisfy a corporate overlords paranoia.
This is an unforgivable act which caused a good number of writers and editorial staff to render their resignations. I, like millions of others, sought out CNET for its coverage of breaking products and in-depth reviews of the same. The fracas which followed and CBS’s CEO essentially giving us the “F*ck You, we will tell you what is good and you will like it with whip cream on top’ cemented my dissolution with the network as a source of anything but fluff. As a result I also do not watch CBS or any of its affiliate networks, my reasoning being that if they were so flippant with a small tech outlet – what, pray tell are they doing with the regular news? CNET/CBS also lost the prestige and honor of being an awards panelist, a fall from grace which will echo for some time to come. (Every year from now on folks will contrast CNET’s CES coverage to their removal from the panel and the cause).
CBS and CNET’s newly installed Vichy editorial staff promised to be committed as ever to honestly reporting on the consumer electronics news and culture. This is a very nice sentiment but one which is flat-footed and built for sin. The fine folks at both would like us to think that what we are witnessing is an open marriage where two partners are free to make outside choices that the other will respect with the caveat of no blood, no foul. Yeah Right! Evidently the editors and corporate overlords have been reading far, far too many back issues of Forum magazine and have bought into the fanciful delusions of the free love cult. Jealousy eventually gets the best of folks in these situations with Jacobean melodrama to soon follow. Seriously it is akin to calling your coverage ‘fair and balanced’ but swearing allegiance to the stockholders before each article.
The AV Integration industry is not the consumer electronics business despite our overlapping it in the Veen diagrams. In light of the CNET ‘fuster cluck’ we do have to view the trade publications of our own industry with an a skew’d eye. Or do we?
The pressures on AV Integration periodicals are great, everyone from the newest startup to the established colossuses, all seek coverage of their products and a positive spin. This can, and is often, viewed as a boon to the trades – so much to report on, so many Press Releases to post and comment on! It’s a gold mine! And indeed many of the trades thrive off of this. The problem is that everyone wants ‘The Cover’. The temptation to leverage ones coverage and reach into a disguised version of a ‘vanity periodical’ must be in the back of many publishers and editorial director heads. The money to be made in this Tammany Hall journalism is very real but is it happening now, could it?
Is our industry too small to ever really get away with ‘fixing’ the best in show awards? Who do you trust to provide the honest reporting and reviews for the AV Industry and CE?
When asked to recap his career and life Tucker responded “Me? I am just a figment of your collective imagination and let me tell you that living this life has taught me one thing- you people are twisted Mofos” You can follow Tucker on Twitter @Tuckertues or his personal blog on tech and tech culture at http://tuckerstuesday.typepad.com