Building The Perfect Beast

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Pogue And The Public Editor

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The Public Editor Column in today’s NY Times focuses on David Pogue, his recent Snow Leopard review, and the possibility that, since he has two Snow Leopard-related books (only one linked) coming out soon, he could potentially benefit from a stellar Snow Leopard review and resultant stellar Snow Leopard sales.

It’s an interesting question and, although I have no doubt as to the integrity of David Pogue and the quality and honesty of his reviews (in fact, I think all the noise is really nothing more than manufactured Fake Steve Jobs tom-foolerly), this is an issue that I’m surprised hasn’t been addressed in a more transparent fashion before this recent brouhaha.

Says Clark Hoyt, the Time’s Public Editor, regarding Pogue and his interests outside of his Times’ column:

[Pogue’s] multiple interests and loyalties raise interesting ethical issues in this new age when individual journalists can become brands of their own, stars who seem to transcend the old rules that sharply limited outside activity and demanded an overriding obligation to The Times and its readers.

What’s odd to me is that David Pogue and Missing Manuals aren’t new news. In fact, Missing Manuals were part of the initial discussion between the Times and Pogue when David Pogue first started writing the State of the Art column back in 2001. (Although, according to this 2001 Mac Observer interview with Pogue, the bigger questions the Times had were regarding Pogue’s ability to overcome his apparent Mac bias.) Pogue has written Times reviews on and books about all of the Mac OS releases up to and including Snow Leopard, so why, all of a sudden, is there so much fuss?

To be honest, Pogue’s response to questions of a possible conflict appear, at first blush, to be a bit disingenuous and intentionally ignorant of a more obvious fact:

Pogue said the conflict in his case was “kind of an imaginative cause and effect. I can’t imagine someone saying: ‘This is a good product. I’ll buy the reviewer’s book.’ ”

I think very few people read a review and run out to buy a reviewer’s book based upon that review. What I do think is that a reader reads a review, buys a product based upon that review and then looks for a book that helps them understand the product they’ve just bought. And that, I think, is where the questions of conflict of interest arise.

But here’s the more curious question to me. As a result of this inquiry the following now appears that the end of Pogue’s Snow Leopard review:

Postscript: I have a book coming out explaining this operating system. Apple doesn’t pay me to write these — an independent book publisher does.

This particular postscript seems to me to be a bit testy, but what makes no sense to me is why something similar to this disclosure, and Pogue’s public statement of ethics, haven’t been a part of every potentially conflicted review that David Pogue has ever written for the Times? It seems obvious that a more proactive transparency would have saved both David Pogue and the Times the time, trouble, and backtracking that an apparent, but not necessarily real conflict have caused.

Written by Jeffery Battersby

September 6th, 2009 at 12:55 pm