It sounded like quite the road trip. Stuck in Germany, with their host threatening to strand them there unless they engaged in what amounted to slave labor, those poor bloggers from India must have been terrified. What should have been an all expense paid junket to cover the IFA conference turned into a kind of Orwellian nightmare scenario complete with heavy-handed scare tactics, logo’d polo shirts and healthy dose of international intrigue.
Frankly, I’m not at all surprised. As a 25 year veteran of the IT press, I’ve seen all sides of the vendor/media dichotomy. And one of the earliest lessons I learned was that there is no free lunch. When a vendor splurges on an analyst, reporter or blogger, they are expecting to get something in return. Typically, this means positive coverage. They want you to write a glowing review of their product/event/announcement, and if you don’t, you’ll quickly end up on their blacklist.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand many times. When I was a Senior Industry Analyst with Giga Information Group (now a part of Forrester Research), I was regularly flown from event to event, with my expenses paid in full by the hosting vendor. Whether it was a free weekend of skiing at Deer Valley (Novell), a week of fun in the sun at Disney World (Citrix), or a sumptuous steak dinner at a 5-star restaurant in Seattle (Microsoft), I knew that it was a quid-pro-quo situation.
And so did my colleagues. Rob Enderle. Richard Fichera. Even Gideon Gartner himself. We all played the game. This pay-to-play culture governed every interaction we had with our vendor research subjects, to the point where the idea of leaving a meeting without acknowledging this dynamic — us agreeing to help them get their message out, them handing us a lovely “parting gift” — was simply unthinkable. And woe be unto the small startup that approached our analyst house empty handed!
As an industry stalwart, Samsung certainly knows the rules. However, where they went wrong was in assuming that their blogger guests were equally up to speed. The fact is that these guys were amateurs. They had no idea that accepting a vendor junket, even one disguised as a contest prize, meant they were selling their souls to Samsung in exchange for airfare, hotel accommodations and perhaps some free meals. A professional would have known better — and packed accordingly.
So what about objectivity and freedom of the press? It’s a wonderful ideal — if you want to remain poor and underfed. However, if you want to succeed, if you want to turn your nascent creative writing project into a full-on career that will support your family and build generational wealth, you need to cozy up to the vendors. Learn to push their buttons and live off of their largesse, and maybe someday you too will be able to retire to an exotic tropical island and sip coconut water for the rest of your days.
Editor: Some of us put integrity before money, but we appreciate the author’s candor (and slightly sarcastic tone) about how vendors influence many writers, which explains much about the current state of online news.
Catch Randall C. Kennedy’s analysis of tech trends every Tuesday and Friday here at BetaNews.
Photo Credit: Samsung