Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"I Am Not A Reporter!" NYT's David Pogue Declares, Responding Angrily To Recent Criticism. "Since When Have I Ever Billed Myself As A Journalist?"

Clearly stung by recent attacks over conflicts of interest, the NYT's technology columnist David Pogue used a podcast interview Sunday to respond to his critics, his editors and even his counterparts at the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, declaring defiantly at one point: "I am not a reporter!"

The interviewer, technology writer Leo LaPorte, was sharply questioning Pogue's positive writing about Apple -- and, in particular, a much-criticized upbeat interview with Apple chairman Steven Jobs that was published as a news story -- when Pogue grew defensive.

"Since when have I ever billed myself as a journalist?" Pogue said angrily. "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."

Recognizing perhaps that the distinction may be lost on his journalist colleagues at the NYT and elsewhere, Pogue added: "By the way I’m suddenly realizing this is all just making it all worse for myself. The haters are going to hate David Pogue even more now."

Evidently angry over a recent NYT Public Editor column by Clark Hoyt that put a spotlight on his conflicts, Pogue also used the forum to disclose that he had been pushing NYT editors for years for better disclosure of his outside work, only to encounter resistance from those editors.

LaPorte had been grilling Pogue on the points raised in Hoyt's column, that the popular columnist might be guilty of an apparent conflict of interest by writing books about new products while reviewing them for the NYT.

That's when Pogue seized the opportunity to point out that his counterparts at other top newspapers -- including one who had criticized Pogue for his conflicts -- were guilty of the same transgression:

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.

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?

Pogue went on to discuss the specifics of his recent Steven Jobs interview in the NYT -- a piece that ran in the news pages, and that later became controversial for its failure to push the Apple chairman on seemingly misleading statements he made about the new generation of iPod Touch.

According to Pogue, Apple public-relations executives made Jobs available only to technology columnists, not business reporters. Before explaining his own experience interviewing Jobs, he noted sarcastically to his interviewer that his colleagues -- Mossberg and Baig -- didn't even bother publishing their own Jobs conversations.

POGUE: By the way, what did you think of Walt Mossberg’s interview with Jobs and Ed Baig’s interview with Jobs the same day?

LAPORTE: I didn’t actually – I didn’t actually read them, I read you instead, David.

POGUE: Yeah. Because they didn’t write them, they didn’t write them at all.

Pogue went on to explain that when Apple granted him the ten-minute interview with Jobs, his editors came to him with a request: "So my editors ask me, by the way we’d like to do a news story about this why you were there, can you ask these newsy-related questions and we’ll use quotes from it for a business story. And they gave me some questions that they hoped that I could pass along."

Afterwards, some bloggers criticized Pogue's failure to ask Jobs tough questions in the conversation:

"John Dvorak went on Twitter and said “David Pogue is a disgrace to journalism," Jason Calacanis said “No one in the tech business takes you seriously, it’s a joke that the New York Times employs you.” They were just unbelievably harsh. And one guy on the David Pogue blog said, “You should have nailed Jobs’ ass to the wall." And I’m kind of like, dude that is not how you get – I mean, yeah maybe I should have, but is that my job?

[NOTE: In a Twitter post last night, Pogue acknowledged that the "John Dvorak" he'd mentioned in the interview turned out not to be real: @realDvorak dissed me on Twitter; I scolded him on TWiT podcast; turns out it was an impostor! My apologies to the real @therealdvorak!!]

As for his NYT editors, Pogue revealed that he had suggested to them several times previously that he disclose the fact that he wrote the Missing Manuals, only to have them reject the idea.

"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," Pogue said. "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."

Pogue also said he had "offered repeatedly" to the NYT that he recuse himself from reviewing the three products he covers in the manuals -- the iPhone, the Mac 0S 10 operating system, and Windows.

"I’ve said I could take those weeks off from the Times, you could get someone else to write it," Pogue said. "Their feeling is that at this point readers are sort of expecting my voice and they know me."

In the wake of Hoyt's column two weeks ago, the NYT has now instituted a disclosure policy that forces Pogue to mention the Manuals when reviewing a product, and added a disclosure statement from Pogue on the NYT website.

As for Pogue's protestation that he is not a journalist or reporter, the Hoyt column was clear on that point -- it referred frequently to Pogue as a journalist, and made clear that the NYT considers him one in its judgements of his ethical standards.

It is a distinction that, apparently, remains yet to be fully worked out between the NYT and one of its most successful contributors. Pogue -- a freelance contributor to the NYT since 2000 -- delivers a weekly column and video that is often among the most widely-read features in the NYT.

But Pogue argues that readers aren't troubled by the conflicts, and respect the independence of his opinions. "Apart from the snarky bloggers, most readers seem satisfied that I’m being evenhanded," Pogue said.

"Look, I have to keep doing the books," Pogue told LaPorte. "That’s how I put food on the table."


Anonymous said...

Oh my.

Doesn't anyone think it's good that Pogue is writing a book about a topic and covering it at the same time? That's what Bob Woodward does and the readers get a ton of information by the time the book comes out. Yes, I know that some people complain that maybe perhaps Woodward saves his best bits for the books, but that's just negotiating price. The information gets out there and it's written by someone who is relatively neutral without other financial interests. If Woodward didn't write the books, we would be stuck with 1200 word stories in the paper.

It seems to me that reporters in every other part of every other paper will write daily stories AND write books about the same topic. The food writers put out cookbooks. The war reporters write books when they get back. Everyone is just bundling up the information in different sized and different priced packages.

I think it's a real stretch to say that a good review of product X leads to selling more books about product X. Isn't that the basic tenet of journalism? Put something exciting on the front page and then force the readers to dig deeper into the ad-filled center to get to the meat?

The biggest problem I have with Pogue is that he takes the big speaking fees and somehow feels that CES is a non-profit, educational organization.

Anonymous said...

A frequent argument we hear from politicians with close ties to industry and business is that they are the most qualified people to devise legislation. Seems to me that Pogue's self-defense -- akin to "everyone else is doing it!" -- is entrenched in politics too.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt said...

Hmm. I wonder how Pogue's comments will be received at 620 8th Ave. Editors don't like it when you get things wrong, but they really lose it when you start to talk about the internal workings of the paper's editorial process -- especially when you blame their orders for your lapses. I hope David has a plan B.

- "Only the Paranoid Survive" said...

The world of publishing and news is changing. The old ways are dead or dying. If you have a problem with what David does, then you might want to verify if you are 'old school' and wake up because you might become an eight bit person in a sixty-four bit world.

In a day of blogged and tweeted news, I think I'll take David Pogue's words first.

Anonymous said...

One does not have to bill oneself as a journalist to be a journalist. DP may not be a reporter, but when his stuff appears in a some sort of journal, he becomes a journalist. Opinion writers, commentators, and reviewers are journalists. Typically, they are not reporters, but they all fall under the rubric of journalism. I read and watch DP. He communicates competence and trust and I'm quite familiar with his background.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. David Pogue's conflict has almost nothing to do with selling more books because of mentions in the Times. The conflict is that Pogue, like Walt Mossberg and Steven Levy, and unlike just about every other journalist in the world, gets access to Apple products ahead of their release date and sometimes gets special access to Steve Jobs. This allows them to get books and articles out on Apple-oriented products before everybody else.

That's because the control freak who heads Apple makes sure these guys do the initial reviews of his stuff, because they can be counted on to say nice things and only nice things, except now and then regarding minor products that don't much matter. If they ever slammed an Apple product, they would see only the outside of a well-armored door. Would Mossberg get Jobs to appear at his conferences if he blasted the next iMac or Jobs's policy (unique in the industry) of allowing only sycophants to see his products before they go on sale? Never.

For Pogue, the huge conflict here is that critical comments in the Times might eliminate access that's essential for his book business. In his books, he's got lots of thank-yous to Apple folks for assistance. That's a conflict on its face.

That the Times keeps letting the guy get away with this shilling for Apple (and Palm, which Pogue has also done books about) tells you how unserious it is about conflicts.

buzz said...

Have you ever watched Pogue's TEDTalk? Self serving, condescending etc etc

That just about sums it up.

He's more Broadway showman than intelligent communicator.

Not a fan.

Anonymous said...

Gawker used the old search box technique to dig up a number of glaring examples of how Pogue calls himself a journalist when it suits his needs.


Anonymous said...

The sad problem is that Pogue never realized just how the companies would try to do anything to establish the same kind of cushy relationship shared with Apple. The NAB almost certainly paid him to be a keynote speaker at a conference and then, coincidence?, he turns around and writes about HD radio a few months later.



I don't think he consciously set out to sell himself to the highest bidder, but that's what the speaking engagements allowed him to do.

Sam Bengal said...

The NYT should let him go, period.

Anonymous said...

The public needs to get comfortable with writers having relationships with a variety of company types, including publications and private companies, as revenue models for publishers and new media evolves. For many talented writers, one business relationship is not enough. Providing space for the disclosure is a good policy, and let the public think what they will.

One unasked question is, would David have asked a tougher series of follow-up questions to Jobs if he was not writing the Apple software user manuals? No. That's not his interview style. If you don't like his interview style, don't read him. But don't attack him for not doing something he wouldn't do anyway and attribute it to a conflict of interest.

This conversation should have been all about interview style (which is really what "I am not a journalist" gets at) rather than a conflict of interest question. And the people who read and watch Pogue do so precisely because of his style. There is no conflict here. And I trust David to continue to make the calls in his own writing and business relationships that enable him to do interesting, quality work, or I would not be a reader of his in the first place.

None said...

David is funny, does ok reviews (he's no Ars Technica and admits it) and has provided a wealth of information/entertainment to readers/viewers over the years. He ain't no reporter/journo, just like the rest of us bloggers.

Unknown said...

Mr. Pogue is the best in the world at what he does. He is all ways informative and entertaining. I wish it were that his detractors could do half as well. I never read their stuff anyway.

Anonymous said...

Leo Laporte can't talk. I just listened to his Radio broadcast and he kept recommending over and over sponsors products to the callers in. He wouldn't at times even mention they were sponsors.
His podcast Windows Weekly has had similar problems. A week ago I went to Thurrotts website - winsupersite - and there was a sponsorship from Microsoft before u could enter the site. It's been taken down now. But to have a podcast about microsoft and one host to be sponsored by them is a clear conflict.

Michael said...

Pogue and journalism go together like WWE and wrestling. It's fake, but don't try telling that to a fan.

Deb said...

"Doesn't anyone think it's good that Pogue is writing a book about a topic and covering it at the same time?" -- YES

That is because I trust his commitment to public interest. In the 15+ years that I've known him, Pogue has always put his audience first.

Anonymous said...

This piece is a pathetic hatchet job. David Pogue is the best in the country at what he does. If, after all these years, his reviews were tainted by bias, it would be apparent and people wouldn't trust him or buy his books. But they do. In droves. Because he's talented, clever and entertaining, and says what he thinks. Even people who aren't shopping for a tech product read him.

Success breeds envy. If we could harness the envy of the nytpicker, we could solve the world's energy crisis.

Anonymous said...

Pogue is correct. This is an industry-wide problem and why he's being taken to the shed is nonsense. And in the big picture, he's just covering tech products. Really not earth-shatteringly important if he has some conflicts going on there. Explain to me where the outrage is about Fox News having Karl Rove on their network as a commentator or all these "business analysts" who go on TV to report news about companies they have investments in. Conflicts of interest are endemic to the whole news industry--not just tech reporting. If we're going to call out Pogue, let's call out everyone. Otherwise leave the man alone. He's a better writer and more informative than 90% of the hacks out there, journalist or not.

Unknown said...

If a perception exists that Pogue tends to approve of Apple stuff, that may, just possibly, be due to a judgment on his part that Apple stuff is pretty damned good overall.

This idea that one must be guilty of bias toward or against something if he makes an informed judgment about it is just ignorant. Some ideas are better than others, some products are better than others, some companies are better than others.

Nate said...

I understand the conflict of interest, as does Pogue himself. What I don't understand is the contempt people seem to have for him, Jason Calacanis is being an idiot, very spiteful and shallow with his Twitter comments.

Meanwhile, I listened to the TWiT interview and this post has taken things out of context to make them sound worse, for example the final comment about how he needs to keep doing his books was what he actually said 9 years ago when the Times wanted to hire him. He can't make enough freelancing with a newspaper so he made it clear to them he needed to keep doing his books. However this post referenced it in such a way that it appeared he was being stubborn and ignoring Leo LaPorte's arguments, saying in defiance, 'I'm gonna keep doing my books no matter what you think'.

Not true and not cool.

Anonymous said...

It is completely irrelevant whether Pogue is a "journalist".

What is relevant is whether the various pies he has his extremely capable fingers in consitute, together, a conflict of interest.

I do not know the answer to that.

But I am extremely dismayed to learn that Pogue is unclear on the concept of "conflict of interest".

The issue has nothing to do with what category he is labeled with. The issue is simply whether his opinions can be relied upon to be unbiased, *even though* -- for example -- he writes books about Apple products (whose sales are likely to increase his book sales) *at the same time as* he is reviewing those very same Apple products for the New York Times.

IF Pogue addressed the issue of conflict of interest, and argued persuasively that his opinions remain unbiased, then I would be fine with the situation.

But if he thinks the issue is whether he went to journalism school . . . that worries me.

Anonymous said...

@philiped is right. i'm sure the editors are pissed after this interview. irony is, newspapers demand transparency, just not their own!

pogue is still a valuable writer for the Times. if he left the Times i'm very sure that any other news organization would try their hardest to snatch him up.

his argument that usa today is a bigger paper is true but i would argue that a Times review has a lot more impact than a review appearing in USA Today.

sixmemos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sixmemos said...

Conflict of interest is a term that is beginning to wear thin on me. It used to be applied more judiciously, in situations involving strongly suspected deception or fraud. In criminal cases, if a crime is suspected, prosecutors investigate motive. These days, whether or not there is suspicion of a crime, the mere appearance of a theoretical conflict of interest (ie theoretical motive) is used to paint someone as a self-interested and therefore lying scumbag.

Newspapers (and podcasters) have a conflict of interest. They sell newspapers (or sponsorships) and so are biased towards writing stories that sell. So they're all liars and scumbags and we shouldn't listen to them.

Doctors who research disease have a conflict of interest. They stand to reap academic and possibly financial rewards if they find a cure for little Timmy's cancer. So they're all liars and cheats and we shouldn't listen to them.

Our insinuations and accusations should not be based on the appearance of conflict of interest, but on the track records of the individuals involved. This applies to journalists, doctors, and yes, even businesspeople and politicians.

Dave said...

He's right, he's not a journalist. He's a shill.

Anonymous said...

Pogue, you are actually paying Mossberg and Baig a compliment by pointing out they didn't write a story for their Steve Jobs interviews. One could interpret their decision not to write a story as there was nothing from the interview honest enough or worthy of their time or credibility?

Unknown said...

bestbiged hit it right on the numbers: Pogue is the best at what he does. He's insightful, entertaining, and no one (NO ONE) can take something technical and break it down to understandable bits as well as he does. I have never bought a product recommended by him that did not live up to his review....and I have bought several. I bought his "the missing digital camera manual" (perhaps a paraphrase, and it is extremely useful. I like Ed Baig, too. Rock on, David Pogue!

Anonymous said...

"pogue is still a valuable writer for the Times. if he left the Times i'm very sure that any other news organization would try their hardest to snatch him up."

That's true, but only because he's written for the Times. There are 10,000 bloggers who could step in tomorrow and do what Pogue does. He's just lucky enough to have the job.

Calling Leo "dude" over and over? Lame.

I only read Pogue to see what's being fed to the masses.

Anonymous said...

He's "not a journalist" and he couldn't ask thorough, probing questions because it's "not his job"? Those sound like the lame and pathetic excuses an out-of-college new hire would offer for inept work. If he was truly dedicated to NYT's audience, he would hold himself to journalistic standards and ask the important questions(even if they weren't for his precious column).

Elliotte Rusty Harold said...

Many people don't realize that Pogue is a part-time freelancer for the New York Times. It's a sideline, not his day job. If the Times expects its writers to turn down other work, then they need to hire fulltimers and pay them what they're worth. For someone like Pogue that's likely hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Anonymous said...

It's all about GREED.

The reason why a journalist can't stay impartial and rather engage in two-way relationships with companies they are suppose to be analyzing, commenting and criticizing on.

High scores = Early product reviews = more readers = more $$$


High scores = Product advertisements = more $$$

Choices for unbiased tech reviews are getting slimer everyday.

Heather said...

Are you going to let David Pogue comment on your post?