Back in the 1960s when esnl was a cub reporter and newspapers employed lots of scribes, reviewing was a major part of the medium’s functions.
These days, reviews are few and far between, and websites have taken over the function, sometimes superbly [as in the case of cameras] and sometimes miserably [as in the case of books].
But opening up the reviewer’s craft to all has carried a pernicious side effect: The paid reviewer who doesn’t disclose that the contents are subsidized by folks with a direct financial interest in seeing the product praised or panned.
Two recent stories have brought the seedy reviewing underworld to light.
Google versus Oracle and a judge’s questions
The question of play for pay emerged in a San Francisco courtroom during a landmark legal battle between two software giants, resulting in a controversial judicial order.
From Richard Chirgwin, writing for The Register:
An unknown number of bloggers and hacks are feeling a little sweaty around the collar today, with a US judge ordering the disclosure of financial relationships that might have affected published articles and comment in the Oracle-versus-Google lawsuit.
The order follows FOSS Patents’ blogger Florian Mueller’s voluntary disclosure that he had a consulting relationship with Oracle.
The Court is concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in this case. Although proceedings in this matter are almost over, they are not fully over yet and, in any event, the disclosure required by this order would be of use on appeal or on any remand to make clear whether any treatise, article, commentary or analysis on the issues posed by this case are possibly influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel. Therefore, each side and its counsel shall file a statement herein clear identifying all authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have reported or commented on any issues in this case and who have received money (other than normal subscription fees) from the party or its counsel during the pendency of this action.
Some background on the case, reported Monday by Brandon Bailey of the San Jose Mercury News:
Oracle did confirm that it has a consulting contract with Florian Mueller, a prolific blogger and commenter on patent issues who has written sympathetically about Oracle’s position in the Android case. Both Oracle and Mueller said his contract – which Mueller disclosed in his blog last spring – was unrelated to his commentary on the legal dispute. (Mueller also notes that he’s been critical of Oracle in the past.)
Google, for its part, said it had not paid anyone to pontificate on the dispute. But the search company acknowledged it has given money to a variety of trade groups and other organizations, and added: ”Google is aware that representatives of some of these organizations have elected to comment on the case.”
That wasn’t enough for Alsup. Oracle has accused Google of maintaining an “extensive network of influencers to help shape public perceptions” on the dispute, and the judge apparently wants to know more.
Alsup issued second order on Monday, saying Google had “failed to comply” with his first instruction. The judge clarified that he wasn’t just looking for people who were paid directly to comment on the case. He also wants to hear about any commenters who received any compensation at all.
Here’s an RT interview exploring the pay-for-media-play controversy with Georgetown University journalism professor Christopher Chambers:
Another pay-for-play venue: Book reviews
As the Los Angeles Review of Books notes:
The great tradition of the American comprehensive book review, in magazine and newspaper form, has been in its death throes for years. The disappearance of the newspaper book review supplement (papers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and elsewhere have shuttered or radically shrunk theirs) has been accompanied by an explosion of titles in the book market. The net result: twenty times as many titles are published each year than were a quarter century ago, and we have one twentieth of the serious print book reviews. They have been replaced in partial ways by web-based reviews, many of them crowd-sourced or user-generated forums for book talk.
So what about those web-based reviews? How reliable are they?
New York Times scribe David Streitfeld offers a fascinating look at another venue where cash can buy a good review: Self-published books.
His story focuses on Tulsa “review entrepreneur” Todd Rutherford, who made his living writing reviews for self-published authors looking for blurbs to punch into the websites where they sell their ebooks.
Rutherford’s service offered a menu of offerings, starting with $99 for a single Continue reading