On Advertising Versus Editorial Content
Following quiet rumblings last night, numerous reports this morning confirmed the firing of CNET employee Jeff Gerstmann, an editorial director at Gamespot, after he wrote a less than fully positive review of an Eidos product that had been heavily advertised on the site. Gerstmann was chiefly responsible for the site’s product reviews, and known for his willingness to critically evaluate even the most hyped releases—a practice that has regrettably become far less common amongst his peers over the past 15 years, one reason that game reviews have become so notoriously untrustworthy. According to the reports, Eidos was angered by Gerstmann’s review, and threatened to yank its pervasive advertising for the product; CNET subsequently fired Gerstmann, and removed his video review of the game from its site.
While it is possible that these reports are inaccurate—despite claims from other journalists familiar with the situation, Gerstmann and CNET are not discussing the circumstances surrounding the firing—I’m writing this morning for two reasons. First, like thousands of others who have been registering their anger through this Digg article, I wanted to add my support to the pool, and encourage you to do so as well. I may not agree with every one of Gerstmann’s reviews, but I respect him for repeatedly calling it like he sees it, even in the face of pressure to do otherwise. Second, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain iLounge’s take on advertiser influence in product coverage, and explain how situations like the one discussed above may have happened elsewhere in the past, but won’t happen here.
iLounge readers are well aware of our policies regarding advertiser influence on reviews or other product coverage: this is verboten. Some advertisers and potential advertisers have tried, and failed, to get us to toe the line on their products, often with the promise of an advertising campaign if we do, and when we turn them down, their ads wind up elsewhere—generally in places where the reviews are almost invariably chummy.
There is a reason that I don’t care. Within the iLounge organization, editorial coverage is entirely separate from our business side—advertising, giveaways, and other promotions. Our publisher Dennis Lloyd deals with business affairs, and our editors, including me, are completely independent in creating the site’s content. On the rare occasion that a company we’re covering tries to discuss advertising when Dennis and I are in the same place, I plug my ears and walk out of the room. Literally. As editor-in-chief, I could hardly care less whose ads are or aren’t running on the site on any given day, so long as they’re not misleading our readers or crashing browsers. My job is to keep our coverage of all things iPod, iPhone, and iTunes accurate and objective, not to find new and interesting ways to restate someone else’s advertising pitch. When a product deserves positive, mixed, or poor coverage, it gets it, and if what we say happens to agree or disagree with what the advertiser or someone else says, so be it.
This isn’t necessarily the case elsewhere. At some publications, the publisher writes the editorial content, so the same person who is writing “objectively” about a product is also being paid to run an ad for it, or handling giveaways of units to readers. Elsewhere, publishers lord over editors and contributors, so there’s an either implicit or explicit threat to their livelihood if they step too hard on advertisers’ toes, and thus, the publishers’ pocketbooks. According to the reports on Gerstmann’s firing, that’s what happened here: the publisher kowtowed to an angry advertiser and got rid of someone who didn’t agree with the official company line. Something similar happened with IDG’s PC World magazine earlier this year, when an executive refused to let the magazine’s editor publish an anti-Apple story on the grounds that it would impact Apple’s advertising. For obvious reasons, this is incredibly dangerous—at least, if you value the objectivity of what you’re reading. Things you’d otherwise dislike tend to look good when you’re being given incentives like freebies, cash, or continued employment if you like them.
From my personal perspective, what seems to have happened in the Gerstmann case is more than “dangerous”—it’s idiotic. Editorial content is not supposed to mirror advertising content. Any company that sacrifices a writer to placate an advertiser is not only undermining its credibility; it’s also making the incorrect assumption that people read the publication for what’s in the ads, not the writing. Getting rid of the writer, especially one who offers views different from what’s in the advertising, removes the only major differentiator between a publication and a catalog. The world doesn’t need more catalogs. But if readers don’t stand up and support writers, expect to see the advertising-as-journalism trend continue to grow—thankfully, not at iLounge.
If you have a comment, news tip, advertising inquiry, or coverage request, a question about iPods or accessories, or if you sell or market products, read iLounge's Comments + Questions policies before posting, and fully identify yourself if you do. We will delete comments containing advertising, astroturfing, trolling, personal attacks, offensive language, or other objectionable content, then ban and/or publicly identify violators. Wondering why we're talking about something other than iPods? Check the Archives: Backstage has been here and kicking it since 2004.
- Report: Apple Watch retail strategy aims to push iPhone sales
- Apple back on top in phone sales for first time since 2011
- Phishing scam targets iCloud credentials of iOS device theft victims
- Apple, others likely to reach $415M settlement in poaching lawsuit
- Apple adds vehicles to list of company’s activities in Switzerland
- Cook: Apple Watch to be available outside U.S. in April
- Apple Watch to have low energy ‘Power Reserve’ mode
- iLounge Weekly coming Monday, subscribe now
- Cook: Apple Watch ‘designed to be able to replace car keys’
- Apple again under fire as Ericsson escalates legal action
- Speck MightyShell + Faceplate for iPhone 6 Plus
- Mobile Home Siri remote
- Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 Lens, Telephoto + CPL Lens for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
- ExoLens Professional Photography System for iPhone 6
- Incipio offGRID Shine for iPhone 6
- Seidio Obex for iPhone 6
- RooCase GlacialTough for iPhone 6 Plus, VersaTough for iPhone 6 + 6 Plus
- CM4 Q Card Case for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
- iWalk Extreme Trio 10,000 Universal Battery
- NewerTech NuGuard KX for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
- Can I transfer the existing version of an app to my new iPhone?
- How do I quickly erase all of the contacts on my old iPhone?
- How do I disassociate my phone number from iMessage?
- How do I stop Siri from randomly waking up?
- How do I cancel a print job on iOS?
- How do I make my camera LED flash when my iPhone rings?
- How do I re-sync contacts to my vehicle after switching to a new iPhone?
- How do I move away from a shared Apple ID for iMessage?
- How do I consolidate iTunes purchases into a single account?
- How can I more easily Handoff a web page from my Mac to my iPhone?