Over the past few weeks, New York Times tech journalist David Pogue has been singled out as someone with a conflict of interest to the extent that he makes a living publishing books about tech software like OS X, while at the same time, he’s tasked with objectively reviewing them.
Two weeks ago, the Times itself published an article detailing Pogue’s conflicting obligations, and he’s also been called out by some well-known Internet trolls like Dan Lyons and Jason Calacanis. Most recently, pundits criticized Pogue’s interview with Apple CEO Steve Jobs following Apple’s media event on September 9th, alleging that Pogue’s questions were soft.
A few days ago, Pogue sat down with This Week In Tech ringleader Leo Laporte for an enlightening discussion, and Pogue addressed head on many of the allegations that have been tossed his way as of late.
“Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist? Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?….I am not a reporter. I’ve never been to journalism school. I don’t know what it means to bury the lede. Okay I do know what it means. I am not a reporter. I’ve been an opinion columnist my entire career…..I try to entertain and inform.”
When pressed by Laporte over the Times article detailing his book publishing career, Pogue observed that his position is hardly unique.
“In point of fact this is a problem with the industry. And not so much me alone….It’s about context. Dwight [Silverman] admitted to you that he writes for the Houston Chronicle. And he wrote a Windows book at the same time that he was writing about Windows for the paper. ….and Ed Baig, who writes for an even bigger newspaper than I do, he writes for USA Today, the equivalent column, he wrote Macs for Dummies, Palm Pre: The Missing Manual, he wrote an iPhone book at the same time as he was reviewing those. Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal makes, I think The New Yorker said, $1 million a year off of the D Conferences, where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates make exclusive appearances, the very guys whose products he reviews.”
Good points all-around, and it seems that the only reason David Pogue has been taken to task is precisely because of the trolling of Internet blowhards like Calacanis and Lyons, two dimwits who care more about publicity than anything else. Well, to be fair, Calacanis probably cares more about money than publicity, but that’s whole another story.
“So it’s a growing problem. You’d probably have a hard time finding someone who doesn’t have a problem like this. I’m not going to say there’s no visible conflict of interest. Obviously there is one. The only thing I can say in my defense is – our defense – is, does that conflict of interest affect the writing? Does it affect the conclusions?”
Interestingly, Pogue went on to say that he’s brought up the idea to his editors many times before of disclosing his publishing career to his readers, only to have his suggestion fall on deaf ears.
“I’ve frequently said why don’t we disclose the book in the column and for nine years that’s been shot down because it’s like, “Dude, you can’t advertise yourself!” It’s like putting a plug in the column. And you know what? I am sorry to tell you guys this, but now that the plug is going to appear in each column it’s going to raise the book sales.”
Even more interesting is Pogue’s admission that he’s offered to recuse himself from writing reviews on products such as OS X and Windows 7 that were going to be the focus of Missing Manual books he was planning on writing. Again, Pogue’s editors didn’t see a need for him to do so.
“I’ve said I could take those weeks off from the Times, you could get someone else to write it. Their feeling is that at this point readers are sort of expecting my voice and they know me.”
Personally, I’ve been reading Pogue’s writing since 1993 and have never noticed any sort of bias, and you can bet that he would have been called out years ago if there was any hint that he was posturing in order to increase book sales at the expense of objectivity.