Just caught this on the NYTImes.com: popular gadget reviewer and a freelancer for The Times, David Pogue, is caught up in an ethics foofaraw concerning his relationship to public relations (PR) people.
It seems that Pogue gets a significant proportion of his ideas for reviews from the pitches he receives from PR folks. This isn’t a coincidence. He actively encourages PR people to pitch him, and he made a video that he sells for about $150 that instructs PR people in the art of pitching him.
Arthur Brisbane, writing as the Times public editor, says this about the video:
Having seen the video (provided to me courtesy of Ragan Communications), I conclude two things: 1) Pogue is an engaging, lively and funny speaker, and 2) the speech flagrantly violates the prohibition against giving advice at paid PR conferences.
Later in his article, Brisbane goes on to say this:
The “Pitch Me” presentation might strike some as pretty harmless. But there is a reason why The Times ethics policy proscribes it. Times readers deserve to be assured that journalists don’t get too cozy with the PR professionals who strive to influence coverage. A virtual army of publicists, media specialists and others stands ready every day to infiltrate the news with stories that help their employers.
If the topic of ethics in journalism interests you, you should read Brisbane’s article. He describes this situation in a relatively detailed way, and he pulls in another Pogue faux pas relating to his Missing Manual series. All that is well known, and none of what I am writing here is meant to tarnish Pogue’s reputation as a good tech writer.
What I want to do is dust off a 21st century question: is David Pogue a journalist. Brisbane’s article dances around this issue without answering the question. On the one hand, Pogue is a freelance writer and not a ‘regular’ employee of the times, so he is not subject to all the rules for regular Times writers. On the other hand, he’s so damn popular that the Times feels they need to hold him to a higher standard than their other freelancers. In this way, Pogue is a victim of his own success. But that doesn’t make him a journalist.
Leo Laporte, of the TWiT Network, likes to ask the ‘who is a journalist’ question whenever the subject du jour allows it. And Leo has had many opportunities to talk about this with his guest panelists in the context of Julia Assange and Wikileaks, that pre-release iPhone 4 that was stolen from a bar, the colorful ‘screw you Mike Arrington’ incident that was precipitated by PR-related accusations, and so on. In the 21st century, when everyone can make a blog post about any topic they like, who merits the title ‘journalist’ and the rights and restrictions that go with that?
David Pogue employs PR representatives of tech and software copies to help him stay abreast of the rapidly changing tech landscape. They help him filter information, and he choses the best in class from the information they give him. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if it’s disclosed somehow. Right?