Disclosures

It’s customary to start a disclosure statement with a list of all the financial ties you might have to the companies you cover. But I hardly have any to discuss. As I noted on my Post blog at the end of 2009 and in the fall of 2008, my investments are exceedingly dull: three Vanguard Group mutual funds.

(Before a rollover into an IRA, my Post 401(k) had a small stake in the Berkshire Hathaway Stock Fund. It never included any investments in Washington Post Co. stock; make of that what you will.)

My regular clients ought to be more relevant: I contribute a weekly tips/Q&A column for USA Today’s site and write another weekly column on tech-policy issues at Yahoo Tech. Before then, I spent most of 2012 doing a weekly post and monthly podcast for the Consumer Electronics Association, spent 2013 covering tech policy at the Computer & Communications Industry Association‘s Disruptive Competition Project blog, and reviewed gadgets and social media for Discovery News from 2011 to late 2013. For 2012, CEA and Discovery each made up maybe a third of my income, USA Today about a fifth. In 2013, DisCo had the largest share, followed by USAT and then Discovery.

The balance has come from other freelance work: longer-than-Twitter updates at Sulia; various pieces for Ars Technica, Boing Boing, PCMag.comCNNMoney.com, The Atlantic Cities, Reader’s Digest, ReadWriteWeb, PBS NewsHour’s Rundown blog, VentureBeatThe MagazineWashingtonian, SmartBear Software’s Software Quality Matters blog; Twitter chats for IDG; a chapter for an e-book by Lumension Security; an overdubbed appearance on Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel; and an honorarium for interviews on the History Channel’s “101 Gadgets That Changed The World” special.

I’ve also taken speaking fees from Google, the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley, Edmunds.com and the Capital Cabal. WordPress.com’s WordAds program adds a tiny bit of incidental income. The occasional Amazon affiliate links here may do the same at some point, but I mainly added them to see how the program works.

Lastly, I’ve had travel or lodging paid for by Edmunds, TV Land (to record a spot on its “Best Night In” program), the organizers of the IFA trade show in Berlin (it covered much of the travel costs of a group of U.S. journalists in 2012 and 2013), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (I spoke on a panel about social media at its Shepherdstown, W.V. training center), the Influence HR conference in San Francisco (I talked about journalism-PR interactions on a panel there), the PR Summit conference in the same city (where I was on a panel about the intersections of blogging and journalism) and Techonomy 13 in Tucson (a sponsor, Ford, paid airfare and lodging for myself and other journalists). I’ve also had CEA cut me a break on CES lodging in 2012, 2013 and 2014 in return for leading brief tours of a few show-floor exhibits.

It may be more enlightening to note the technological ties I have. The limited range of software, hardware and services I use every day is likely to inform my coverage, in one way or another, and you should keep that in mind as you read my work. Please don’t interpret all the following as endorsements–I made these choices for reasons you might find irrelevant or worse, depending on your situation.

  • Home broadband comes courtesy of a Verizon Fios connection. We only get the basic $50 plan: 15 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up.
  • We don’t pay anybody for conventional TV service, having dumped our satellite service in 2009 in favor of a mix of over-the-air and Internet delivery (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming through apps on our 2009-vintage Sony TV).
  • For wireless, I have an unlocked Nexus 4 Android phone on T-Mobile.
  • Computers in use around the home: a 2012 MacBook Air, a 2011 ThinkPad x120e (running Windows 8, but I’ve been meaning to put Linux on a second partition) and an iMac that dates to late 2009, my wife’s iPad 2 and my own iPad mini.
  • I use Google Apps Standard accounts to host my home and work e-mail.
  • I use Facebook both for personal networking and to market my work.
  • Twitter constitutes an even bigger chunk of my professional communication (if the widget on this blog’s home page didn’t give that away).

What else about where I’m coming from? You might as well start with this: In general, I like playing with technology. My earliest memories of dealing with electronics involve taking a screwdriver to my dad’s broken calculator and being fascinated to discover the wiring inside. It wasn’t too many years later that I sat in front of a personal computer for the first time (a TRS-80, for those old enough to remember), looked at the blinking cursor on its screen and thought “hmm, what next?” I remain interested in turning on a new device and seeing what it can do.

But if you see me use a computer today, you probably won’t have to wait long to hear me curse at it. My fascination with the possibilities of technology has not made me overly forgiving of its failings. I hate having to wait as a computer locks up for no apparent reason, decipher inscrutable error messages or puzzle through interfaces designed with militant ignorance of such established principles of design as consistency, discoverability and efficiency.

Conversely, I can be more tolerant about aspects of technology besides usability. I’ve never qualified as an audiophile or videophile and in general will accept a good-enough product that’s cheaper or available now over a more expensive or not-yet-shipped ideal version. In some cases, perfectionism is outright dangerous: If you required an alternative browser to provide perfect compatibility with every big-name site seven years ago, we all still might be using Internet Explorer.

And on that note: I hate control freakery, whether it’s Microsoft choking off browser competition in a prior decade, Apple dictating what gets into its App Store in this one or big entertainment companies’ ongoing insistence on customer-hostile usage restrictions on digital media. The computer is among the most amazing general-purpose tools ever invented; why would you artificially constrain its utility?

If you’re curious about my politics, the preceding paragraph should make it clear that I worry about abuse of power by corporations, not just the government. I vote accordingly. (My history in recent presidential elections: Gore, Kerry, Obama, Obama. I don’t regret those choices, aside from wishing I’d written in somebody else for vice president in 2004.)

Anything else you’d like to know?
Last update: 7/22/2014
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44 thoughts on “Disclosures

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  2. Rob,

    I’m not one of those who believes that accepting money from a person or organization puts you in their pocket, and I do feel that transparency in who’s paying you is a good idea (PR as well as ethics). But it’s a bit of a slippery slope. Getting invited to speak at a prestigious forum is of benefit to you whether you get paid or not, and the opportunity for a quid pro quo exists (“you get me 15 minutes at Davos, and I’ll mention you positively in my blog”). Basically either the reader trusts the writer to be honest (whether being compensated or not) or the trust isn’t there (whether there’s disclosure or not). You’ve got to do some disclosure or the “what’s he hiding” question comes up, but both you and we must realize that it’s 95% window dressing.

    Mike Leavitt
    Lansdowne, VA

  3. Re: “What else would you like to know about where I’m coming from?”

    Since you write about technology, I’d like to know how you “see” it. Not that I expect you to have a fully worked out theory, but I bet you do have some general beliefs, starting points, or some questions that vex you enough that we could consider them perennials. Also, in the field of tech journalism, writing about tech, or technology studies (from blogging to academic work) who are your heroes? Any villains? Likewise: what is wrong and right, mature or under-developed, about tech journalism today? Where would you place yourself in the different schools of thought about how to cover technology?

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