As a tech journalist, part of my job is to reach out to companies and ask them to send me samples of their hardware to test. I do this so I can share my findings with my whoever decides to take the time to read what I’ve written.
Sometimes the work’s interesting! I get to play with toys that I could never myself afford to buy. At other times, it can be as dry as a popcorn fart. For example, I’ve spent at least 100 hours over the past few years researching, spreadsheeting tinkering with and writing about space heaters and fans. There have been times during the process that I’d just as soon rake a butterknife across my eyeball than type another sentence on the topic.
Both jobs of work, the interesting and the mind-numbing, have always had one thing in common: I get paid for them. I don’t pitch. I seldom have. I’m asked by the companies and editors I work for two tackle a topic. They throw, I fetch. I’m a glorified golden retriever who can type around 64 words per minute. And like any dog, loyal to his masters, I take a good deal of pride in bringing back what I was sent out for. At the end of the month, I’m paid well enough to live comfortably, and as a bonus, I sleep well knowing that I’ve done my best to help folks whether they’re about to spend their money on something worthwhile or warn them that they’re about to throw cash on a finely-polished turd. I’ve been working this gig, full-time, for five years. Today marked the first time in my career that anyone has asked me if I’d like to trade the trust that my readers have in me in exchange for a payoff.
I read the email over twice to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding what I was being asked.
I receive forty or fifty pitches from multiple public relations companies on a daily basis. Much of what I’m sent has nothing to do with any of the beats that I cover. A lot of PR email is just shit being thrown at a wall to see what sticks. Typically, after glancing such a note over, if it has nothing to do with what I’m about, it gets deleted. This time around, once I was sure that I was being asked to provide my opinion on a service that I’ve never used, I felt a response, in no uncertain terms, was warranted.
So I sez to the sender, “I’m a journalist. My opinion is not for sale.”
I was going to leave it at that. But then I didn’t. I took to Twitter to call the PR company, Kindling Media, on their bullshit, taking care to shield the name of the email’s sender, the publication that covered the shit Kindle Media is shovelling and that of the business that hired them.
I’m not going to get too deep into how much I love the change in tone between their replies to me on Twitter. Dig the above screen grab. Seemingly, someone who understands that a reasonably well-respected journalist accusing their company of offering cash for a well-placed story shouldn’t be publicly dismissed by the digital equivalent of the flip of a handkerchief took over for that second tweet. And I won’t spend too much time on the fact that a number of PR pros and journalists alike threw up in their mouths over the shit-eating audacity of Kindling Media’s initial query and subsequent response.
But I will say this: Integrity in journalism is a big fucking deal. If a single writer takes the money, it cheapens all of us. People rely on us to tell them the truth. Even in something as inconsequential as which piece of tech-knobbery to buy.
Integrity. Fucking. Matters.