It started with Robert Scoble of Podtech complaining that Engadget didn’t link to his Intel video (which I wrote about here, complete with comments from Scoble), but it has turned into a discussion about whether that video was compromised by the fact that Intel is a sponsor of Podtech. As Scoble clarified in the comments on my post — and in the comments on his post — Intel paid for one of the other videos on the site, but not for his. However, Intel is a prominent sponsor.
So is that a conflict of interest, or is it just the old “this is new media, we play by different rules” thing all over again? Is Scoble a reporter, or is he something else? And given the tangled conflicts over the Intel video, how should we look at Scoble when he flies around with John Edwards as part of his pre-election campaign?
In his discussion with commenters — one of the main benefits of Robert’s blog, as far as I’m concerned — Scoble admits that the site could have disclosed its ties to Intel more prominently, and that he has effectively been “used” by CEOs in the same way Intel used him. Then he admits that he could be perceived by some as being biased in doing the Intel video because he is biased:
Did I say my work is unbiased? I think the whole point of what Iâ€™ve been doing here for six years is telling you I +am+ biased.
Would Intel invite me back if I just made it look bad? Probably not. But thatâ€™s not what I do. If I think something is really bad I just donâ€™t go.
This is an important thing to remember. What Scoble is saying is that he doesn’t want to be seen as a journalist, in the sense of being unbiased or objective. The bottom line, I think, is that Scoble is someone who is enthusiastic about technology and about technology companies. And there’s nothing wrong with that — provided everyone knows what that means.
In another comment at Scoble’s blog, Matt Kelly of Podtech News says that he was invited to the Auto Show by General Motors, who paid for his flights and his hotels and meals. It’s obvious that he sees nothing wrong with that — which I would argue is part of the problem. Car magazines might do that, but that’s why they aren’t considered “real” journalism.