The FTC's new rules on what constitutes an endorsement should be required reading for anyone who renders an opinion on products or services, and for those of us who give these bloggers a venue.Making a living in this industry is getting harder all the time. The demise of a publication as respected as Gourmet is just the latest proof. But that's all the more reason to stay serious when it comes to ethics, and not just for the reason you might expect. Very early in my editorial career, a former coworker (who shall remain nameless, so don't bother asking) commented in a staff meeting, "What good are journalistic ethics if you're broke?" And, presumably, foaming lattes at Starbucks instead of working in tech journalism.
It's a valid question and one I thought a good bit about at the time. I concluded then, and still believe, that a lack of integrity is the fastest way to go broke. The IT professionals who read our reviews (and hopefully download our InformationWeek Analytics reports on a regular basis) are by nature a highly cynical bunch. You may be able to slip one by them now and again, but a product reviewer or analyst with a bias toward a particular vendor will always get called out eventually.
My first piece of advice to the writers I've helped learn the ropes of this business over the years is: Your primary responsibility is to your reader. Period. Sounds simple, but believe it or not, no reviewer, editor or tech analyst likes giving a negative assessment of a product or service. We know it can be devastating to a vendor, and we take that very seriously. But if you aspire to call yourself a journalist, you owe your reader nothing less than the full truth as you know it, including disclosure of any factor that might make you less than objective.
It's a tall order, and journalists are human. But if most everything you write passes that particular gut check, you won't go too far wrong. You'll probably also stay on good terms with the FTC.