Disclosure and Thoughts on Product Reviews

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the November, 2009, issue of Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


After my last newsletter (way back in October), Eric Mittan, from WSIL-TV, sent me a very thought-provoking message.

On a recent episode of This Week in Media with Daisy Whitney, a topic of discussion was the FTC’s recent regulations to require any bloggers that review products from companies that have ever been advertisers or promotional partners with the blogger to include a disclaimer in the review explaining the relationship.

I only bring it up because I know Drobo has sponsored the Buzz in the past, and I didn’t see anywhere in the review or your newsletter where you stated this.

Larry replies: This set off a long-string of reflections on my part which I want to share with you, because there is the potential for conflict-of-interest here that I want to avoid.

Over the last year, as my company has gotten bigger we have taken on more projects. These fall into three main areas:

Of the three, the only one in which I formally review products is this newsletter, and by extension my LarryJordan.com website, where those reviews are permanently posted. However, I am actively soliciting sponsors or advertisers for my seminars and podcasts to allow me to keep costs low and extend our training and events into new markets.

My criteria for selecting what products to review are that:

  1. It needs to be relevant to video production or post-production.
  2. I need to be able to understand it well enough to explain it.
  3. I need to feel it is worth the time and effort to review and for my readers to use.
  4. I need to be able to contribute something meaningful to the discussion about this product.

When I began writing this newsletter six years ago, I set several rules that govern my reviews:

  1. I do not accept payment to review a product.
  2. To the best of my ability, I write my reviews to be objective, based on real-world scenarios, and not colored by who is, or is not, an advertiser. (Then, again, for many years, I didn’t have any sponsors…)
  3. I do not allow anyone else to ghost-write my product reviews. I welcome other opinions to this newsletter, however I make sure to put the writer’s name on anything I did not write.
  4. I will clearly acknowledge any and all sponsorships. There is never any “secret money.”
  5. Anyone, readers or manufacturers, can suggest a product for me to review. However, I’m the only one that decides what reviews I will do.
  6. Whether a company decides to sponsor one of my seminars or advertise on my podcasts (or websites) has no effect on what I choose to review, the content of my reviews, or my opinions.

However, I can’t afford to buy all the hardware that I’d like to test. So, when testing hardware, I ask manufacturers to loan me a unit for a couple of weeks to test. When my review is complete, I return the unit to them. I confess, it is very tempting to keep the free gear, but it is not ethical.

This same rule is mostly true for software. Some software I buy before reviewing. Other times, I’m given demo copies.

So, going forward, I’m adding a new rule:

7. Whenever I review a product, I will indicate where it came from and whether any conditions were attached to the review. If they have been a sponsor for anything I’ve done in the past, I will acknowledge that.

I have worked very hard to make this newsletter a trustworthy resource containing useful information for Final Cut editors. I’m very proud of it and all your email in support of it.

Finally, though, like many of us, I run a business with payroll and rent to meet. Advertisers and sponsors are an important part of that mix, especially for funding podcasts and seminars. Eric’s comments made me realize I needed to clarify my policy and share it with you. I will, I’m sure, make mistakes. However, they will be honest mistakes and I’ll correct them as fast as I can.

As always, feel free to write. I love hearing from you.

UPDATE – Dec. 27, 2009

Loren Miller writes:

I very much like your rules for the road regarding reviews and disclosure. It was “WTO”- well thought out. I get plenty of NFR’s to review and I’ve never thought I needed to disclose that; its an established industry practice to generate publicity for products by writers who often couldn’t otherwise afford access to them.

 

You’re in a special case, though, because you accept advertising. You’ve mapped out a very ethical path.

Larry replies: Thanks, Loren. Conflict of interest is something I worry about a lot — and I realized I needed to spell this out, both for readers and myself.

 


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