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Editorial: Online Media Morals

This content was originally featured on Amdmb.com and has been converted to PC Perspective’s website. Some color changes and flaws may appear.

The relationship between a product manufacturer and a product reviewer is one of the more strained alliances in the editorial world. This is even so the case in the world of online editorial and review work. Because online persona have the relative anonymity of the computer and keyboard in front of them, it is quite often that readers can see the morals and actions of online media stray so far from what the print and televised media are forced to stick to.

There are quite a few chances for this kind of betrayal of readers trust might occur. As a fledging online review website, many are tempted by manufacturers and their PR representatives to do abnormal promotion of their products (motherboards, video cards, etc) just in order to receive a sample product to review. The kind of promotion can differ depending on the morals of both the manufacturer and the reviewer; it could be something as seemingly innocent as forcing the review site to run a banner for the manufacturer or as conniving as asking the reviewer to write a positive review independent of their own editorial thoughts and conclusions. Of course, all of these scenarios require both the manufacturer and the editor to make bad choices when it comes to honesty and integrity.

A similar situation is often seen between online editors and component resellers. It is quite often the case that a website (including Amdmb.com) requires the assistance of a reseller to get the hardware we need to complete an article or review. Depending on the product and timing, editors can either receive the product at a discount or as a donation, and in return the reseller is usually given a plug (or a “pimp”) in the article when it is posted. However, just like with the manufacturer’s situation, this can go much farther and actually harm the online media’s reputation when resellers will ask for positive reviews on products they might send out either because they have a lot of them in stock or that they are getting a high markup on them at their store. Again, smaller websites often fall for these tactics as they are learning the ropes of the industry and once they fall into those practices they often get stuck in them. These are the types of sites that we are to ignore.

And we haven’t even brought advertising into the mix on website/manufacturer/reseller relations – that complicates the issue 100 times and brings the dilemma even the largest and most dominate of online editorial franchises. It can often be difficult for websites to separate their advertising negotiations from their editorial negotiations. Take for example, VIA Technologies. They advertise on Amdmb.com, Hardocp.com and many other websites and on most of these sites you will find reviews of VIA based products and products that directly compete with VIA’s line of chipsets. When you have a single person dealing with both sides of the relationship with VIA (such as we have at Amdmb.com) you must deal with VIA in regards of advertising and in regards to reviews in the same phone call many times, but still be able to keep them separate. Many editors can be pushed around and the fact they receive an advertising contract for several thousand dollars a month from a manufacturer may tempt them to look better upon the products that company makes in order to keep said company as an advertiser. This is something that is absolutely NOT done at Amdmb.com, and because of that, we have lost advertisers many times. That shows me that manufacturers are willing to do this, as it is in their best interest, but also immoral. Anything to get ahead I guess. Even more disparaging though is that it shows that there are some websites, both large and small, that are willing to make this agreement. And please don’t think that I am accusing VIA of anything like this, I have no reason to think that they have done so in the past or will do so in the future.

Finally, there is another facet of this discussion that needs to be brought up as well, one that is fresher in my mind due to current events. Often times you will find websites and manufacturers working together on new products such as the Opteron and the upcoming Athlon64 launch. In almost all cases, the manufacturer, be it AMD, Intel, VIA or NVIDIA will have a list of reviewers and editors that will be briefed on upcoming products and allowed to see and demo the products before they are released and shown to the public. The free press is a great thing – it allows you, the reader, to get an unbiased opinion and to see the products from many different points of view and thus get a well-rounded opinion of your own for purchasing decisions.

This weekend at the Million Man Lan 2 (MML2) this usual series of events was shifted due to manufacturer and media company coming to their own terms. It started when I was attempting to attend the MML2 event, in Louisville, KY. I was told by a representative of AMD that I was not going to be allowed to even enter the building because Tom’s Hardware (THG) had forced a media blackout for all other online press. That means that as a member of the press, I was not allowed to enter the building, take photos or write about the hardware events that would occur inside. Needless to say, I was not happy when I heard about this turn of events. I contacted representatives that put on the MML2 event, as well as reps from sponsors like NVIDIA and other AMD personnel. None of the other sponsors, NVIDIA included, were aware of the apparent media blackout by THG – in fact that defeats the purpose of sponsoring an event like the MML2 – getting recognition for shelling out the dough. (Note: The staff of the MML2 event were VERY helpful and had nothing to do with the events that occurred between myself and AMD/THG. The event was a lot of fun and quite the success with over 1,000 in attendance!)

Upon further pushing by myself and NVIDIA, it was discovered that the MML2 staff did not know that THG was pushing to have a media blackout on the event, it was something that they were doing independently and of their own will. Even more interesting, was the fact that the THG rep that was responsible for the event did not get permission from his boss at THG to do so. Needless to say a lot of additional drama went on, but in the end I was let into the convention hall and allowed to bring my camera. The fun didn’t stop there however.

As I mentioned in a news post last night, AMD’s presentation at the event is going to be the most exciting of the event – a public showing of the Athlon64 in both desktop and notebook form. As you can guess, I was eager to sit down with the AMD rep at the event and talk with him about it, get some pictures and post the information for you all to read. However, it would seem that once again THG wasn’t going to have any of it. A little side deal was apparently made between THG and AMD to allow THG to have exclusive rights to the content that AMD would be presenting at the show on Saturday. I wasn’t going to be allowed to meet with AMD at all to cover the products that they were going to be showing. Again, I was more than a little peeved about this turn of events. So, I called up just about everyone I knew at AMD to ask them about the situation, and no one had heard of this little deal that had been made for this event. Apparently, without the approval of the higher ups of either company, the local AMD and THG representatives had made a deal to keep the exclusive rights to the new content on THG only.

After even more phone calls and complaining by me to the folks at AMD, I got what I am guessing is my final answer from AMD at the event: I will be allowed to see the event and talk with AMD, but any pictures I might take and articles or news I write about it must be “embargoed” until the THG site is done with; until they feel the news has been spent. This violates all kinds of notions of free press, as there is no NDA (non-disclosure agreement) on the products being shown, as they are being shown to the public! While I won’t be able to pass a final judgment on the passing of these events until after tonight, when the AMD demonstration is set to go on at 10pm EST, the past two days have really soured my views of both AMD and THG.

It takes events like these to really show you what can happen when a manufacturer and/or a review site go down the wrong path. Both AMD and THG are making bad choices I feel in this case – AMD is alienating readers and fans and THG is showing the online community once again what they are becoming known for: strong arm tactics and little to no regard for the community that helped them become what they are today.

So, to conclude, you can either take my words today with a grain of salt, or with a quarry of it. I really want to hear what you guys have to say. I encourage all to either visit this thread in our forums or to send me an email.

Thanks for reading.