Yesterday I wrote about Microsoft and Edelman handing out spiffy new laptops to bloggers after Scott Beale announced that he got one over at Laughing Squid. Scoble called the move Payperpost but also clarified his position calling the giveaway an "awesome idea." The usual Techmeme crowd chimed in, Slashdot and digg got hold of it and now it looks like Microsoft thinks the best thing to do is ask for them back.
From Marshall Kirkpatrick:
No good deed goes unpunished, right? You may have seen that other bloggers got review machines as well. Some of that coverage was not factual. As you write your review I just wanted to emphasize that this is a review pc. I strongly recommend you disclose that we sent you this machine for review, and I hope you give your honest opinions. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding of our intentions I’m going to ask that you either give the pc away or send it back when you no longer need it for product reviews.
Thanks for your understanding, and happy reviewing,
Aaron *** "
Mike Arrington has also published the the email that he got from Microsoft
I’m working on getting some review PCs out to community bloggers, and wanted to include you. I’d love to send you a loaded Ferrari 1000 courtesy of Windows Vista and AMD. Are you interested?
This would be a review machine, so I’d love to hear your opinion on the machine and OS. Full disclosure, while I hope you will blog about your experience with the pc, you don’t have to. Also, you are welcome to send the machine back to us after you are done playing with it, or you can give it away to your community, or you can hold onto it for as long as you’d like. Just let me know what you plan to do with it when the time comes. And if you run into any problems let me know. A few of the drivers aren’t quite final, but are very close.
If you are game, would you send me your address and phone? I’m going to send this out next week, so if you will be travelling on the 22nd let me know where you’ll be, and I’ll send it there.
Ha ha, "hold onto it as long as you'd like..." That's funny.
So where are we now?
This thing is starting to feel like a PR disaster. Bloggers are starting to smell blood and this thing very well may begin to turn into yet another episode of bloggers gone wild.
Scott writes: "I wonder why there was so much inconsistency regarding how the distribution of these laptops was communicated?"
So while we spend the next 24 hours deciding who gets tar and feathered (Microsoft? AMD? Edelman?) I think it's important to keep a few things in mind.
1. Every PR firm that exists and every company that courts bloggers pretty much wants the same thing. To influence you. Just because this is the tech business doesn't make it any different than any other business. Why do the big pharmaceutical companies put on big conference junkets? Why do politicians get taken on private jets to play golf at fancy resorts?
It is the job of a PR firm to influence bloggers. It is an interesting PR move to offer free laptops to bloggers but whether it works or not it is their job to try and influence you.
2. Giving people fast new 64 bit computers instead of software will make them have a much better experience with the computer. As I blogged yesterday, the biggest problem with Windows is the fact that it is an open system with an almost limitless number of configurations. By shipping a well tested known configuration Microsoft ups the odds that you will have a good experience on the PC rather than risk you would have a bad experience if they just sent you an upgrade disk to try and use on your crappy old Dell in the den.
Because it is a 64 bit machine and a powerful one they are also hoping that you will attribute that fast new computer feel to their OS when you write about their product (as they expect you to do!).
3. Is it ethically right to accept a laptop or any other product, trip, etc.? Scoble says yes if it's disclosed.
"Now, regarding blogger ethics. Did you disclose? If you did, you have ethics. If you didn’t, you don’t. It’s that black and white with me.
Did you sell your soul and you disclosed that? Fine. Now it’s up to the readers to decide whether anything you say is worth listening to. But you’re ethical.
Are you trying to hide that you sold your soul? That’s not ethical."
I'm still not so sure 100% on this. Would a journalist be allowed to accept a "gift" like this if they disclosed? Probably not. Would you get fired at the Los Angeles Times or the Washington Post if you took a free laptop and then wrote an article about it disclosing the fact that you got a free laptop? I'd suspect you would.
But where do you draw the line? Is is a dollar line? What about meals and travel expenses? What about schwag? What if you can't afford a new computer? What if a product that you want to test isn't available for purchase yet? Ed Bott says he normally doesn't take the stuff but made an exception in this case:
"So why did I make an exception in this case? Simple. Because I can’t buy a new PC with Windows Vista preloaded yet, and Aaron Coldiron from Microsoft offered to send this review unit. The note I got last week made the offer perfectly clear."
He also said though that he's not keeping it because he's a journalist and it would violate his code of ethics. He says he might give his to charity when he's done reviewing it.
"Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of motivations. I’m a journalist by training and by profession, and that dictates my decision."
Speaking of journalists, the New York Times is anal to a degree that even suggests avoiding having a drink with someone at their home or someplace else where they might pay -- even for just a drink!
"When we as journalists entertain news sources (including government officials) or travel to cover them, our company pays the expenses. In some business situations and in some cultures, it may be unavoidable to accept a meal or a drink paid for by a news source (for example, at an official's residence or in a company's private dining room). Whenever practical, however, we should avoid those circumstances and suggest dining where we can pay our share (or, better, meeting in a setting that does not include a meal). Routine refreshments at an event like a news conference are acceptable, but a staff member should not attend recurring breakfast or lunch meetings unless our company pays for the journalist's meals. Whether the setting is an exclusive club or a service lodge's weekly luncheon, we should pay our way."
Oh and what about the ethics of reprinting private emails? Did Scott, Mike or Marshall get permission to reprint the emails from Microsoft? Should they have gotten permission? Was it implied on the record? Interesting to see how they each handeled the email in a different way. All printed the email, but Mike xxxxx'd out the name of the sender entirely, Marshall left his first name but xxxx'd out his last name and Scott and Ed printed his name.
Whatever the case, Aaron Coldiron, welcome to the blogosphere. You're going to love the new Google search results for your name in about 48 hours.
Now what's that thing they like to say about herding cats?