Scoble says he’s biased — does it matter?

by Mathew on January 29, 2007 · 14 comments

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?

Robert_Scoble.jpg

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 I’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 that’s not what I do. If I think something is really bad I just don’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.

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    Being “enthusiastic about technology and about technology companies” does not require that one be biased. Many do unbiased just fine.

    I suppose that what Scoble is saying is he’d rather be Mary Hart than Bob Woodward. That’s fine of course, but I’m not really getting why one would go out of one’s way lto be not taken seriously. I can’t help but wonder how much of this is because there isn’t really a revenue model fo much of this, beyond sponsorships by the very businesses that would be covered.

  • Matt Kelly, PodTech News

    Hi Matthew–I noted in that blog post on Robert’s site that I had been invited to the Detroit Auto Show and DID disclose that on the write up of my podcasts and to ask if people thought that what I wrote was enough of a disclosure. Here is the disclosure:

    Reporter’s Notes: We must be making quite an impression on the large automakers with our content here on The Next Gear. So much so that GM invited us for an all expense paid trip to Detroit to cover the North American International Auto Show. While there, they wined and dined us and gave us unprecedented access to designers, high level corporate bigwigs and company spokespeople, yet with no requirement that we publish anything about them, only that we disclose this enticement. It was an opportunity we are happy to share with you, our audience. I encourage you to leave your feedback!

    While at the show, in addition to getting interviews with GM folks who do have s tory to tell in the space that we cover, I also use the opportunity to speak with other companies who otherwise I would not be able to.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for the comment, Matt (you too, Rob). I’m aware that you disclosed that you were invited and had all your expenses paid — and that’s definitely better than not disclosing it. But I still think a lot of people are going to question the substance of anything you might do on GM in the future, as a result of that trip. It’s a slippery slope.

    ‘m curious — did most of the people who responded say that they didn’t think it was a big deal?

  • d steele

    Pretty soon the only people who don’t ‘question the substance’ of any blogs are going to be the same people who double click on attachments in emails from strangers. Keep your job in the MSM, Mathew.

  • http://www.irwebreport.com/daily/ Dominic Jones

    I don’t have an issue with Scoble as much as I would with others because he’s been pretty open about what he’s up to. And to be quite honest, he strikes me as having better ethics than some journalists I know.

    Perhaps it’s just that I think I can read through his biases, not sure, but I’m comfortable with what he does. But then I wouldn’t feel the same about a blogger I didn’t feel I knew so well.

    Rob seems to hit the nail on the head here. These guys probably wouldn’t be compromising if they didn’t have to. At some point, they have to do something to keep the lights on.

    I can’t be too critical of them because they’re putting everything on the line. If you’ve got someone paying your salary while you blog, it’s easy to be critical. But these guys are pioneering something new, or at least trying. It’s not easy to do and it’s full of conflicts.

  • Mathew Ingram

    And yet you’re the one who brought it up because you said it looked like an Intel ad, Dominic :-)

    I agree that it is difficult to walk that line when you’re not part of a large media organization, and I’m willing to admit that I have it easy compared to Scoble — and I also think he does a pretty good job of declaring his biases.

    But I still think it’s important to talk about what he’s doing, and what it means.

  • http://www.kbcafe.com Randy Charles Morin

    I think we’re all biased, but I could be wrong. NOT!

  • http://engtech.wordpress.com engtech

    I think that’s a very good point ^^^^ that everyone is biased, and it is more about the audience becoming more aware of that.

    At what level does disclosure kick in?

    If I had a bad experience with Windows 3.1 to Windows 2000 do I have to mention that when ever I talk about Windows Vista? I

    If I mention Marshall Kirkpatrick and TechCrunch in a post do I have to say how excited I was that Michael Arrlington comments on one of my posts the week before that?

    We’re all biased, and sometimes we don’t realize it. It is obvious that you’re biased when money (or items of monetary value) have changed hands… but there are plenty of other influencers that can come into play… do I mention when covering a start-up/software application that they put a prominent link to my blog on their site? I made no money of it (I don’t have ads) but it definitely influenced my opinion of them.

  • http://www.paradox1x.org Karl

    Does bias matter? No not really.

    And arguments about bias distract from what’s really important.

    Trust.

    How it’s established. What it means.

    Some *real* form of disclosure matters.

    For the very same reasons that Robert thinks that disclosures should accompany each PayForPost piece.

  • http://mickeleh.blogspot.com Michael Markman

    Requiring reporters to be unbiased sets an impossible standard. IIt’s enought to ask them to be fair and open about their biases (which Scoble is). PR pros, politicians, and marketers will use every advantage they can get away with to place and enhance their stories. We’re in a caveat lector world. Journalists and bloggers earn their reputations by their work. Blogging, linking, and comments are reputation accelerants for good or ill. (Boy did Scoble get beat up this weekend.). Readers and viewers are pretty darn savvy at smelling spin. Scoble’s long video on Intel had the odor of tedium. PodTech’s short video had the odor of a sales pitch.

    Did Intel overpay? Nope. Here’s why. Intel bought exclusive presence in both the Podtech pieces with no mention of work by I.B.M. and AMD to solve similar problems through different means. Most mainstream articles gave I.B.M. nearly co-billing on advancing chip technologies. PodTech got paid for doing stneography.

  • http://www.paradox1x.org Karl

    The bias discussion is a ‘change the subject’ effort away from the one that matters. The bias discussion doesn’t matter.

    The trust discussion does.

    IBM was very smart here agreed. So was Robert.

    But if a viewer saw the PodTech video, would they know it was paid for?

    Saying “Readers and viewers are pretty darn savvy at smelling spin.” is an argument that deflects responsibility away from the author of the work from needing to be transparent and puts *all* of the onus on the reader/viewer.

    Robert himself says “PodTech WAS paid for doing a video, and other work, for Intel. We should have clearly marked that as sponsored content. It was not.”

    He’s right. And arguments to the contrary are just… mind blowing.

  • Mathew Ingram

    I would agree, Karl. And I would point out — not specifically to do with Scoble or anyone else, but just in general — that once it is lost, trust can be very difficult (in some cases impossible) to regain.

  • http://www.paradox1x.org Karl

    You got a point. Sometimes, even amidst the entire online media revolution, it seems like what we’re really doing is learning lessons that have been learned before.

  • http://friendfeed.com/zenrhe Zenrhe

    Sorry for joining the conversation so late, was jsut linked here in an article talking about Robert Scoble accepting advertising on his blog.
    http://techleaders20.blogspot.com/2008/01/michael-arrington-talking-too-tough-at.html

    I believe the PodTechs podcasts which had been sponsered should have been highlighted. I dont beleive its up to the reader to have to just know that, its not the kind of thing i would realise if i stumbled accross it somewhere. And i think that information is very valuable. It wouldnt stop me watchig it, but i would be able to take the information with a pinch of salt and still respect the people who put it together.

    And when it comes to being biased, thats just always going to happen. I believe in the character of people who write such blogs, and you learn what angle they often are coming from. But indeed there may be circumastances when trust is broken, and the information from this place may no longer be referenced.

Older post:

Newer post: