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: not even a handful of 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 write a weekly column on tech-policy issues and additional reviews at Yahoo Tech and contribute a weekly tips/Q&A column for USA Today’s site. Before then, I spent most of 2012 doing a weekly post and monthly podcast for the Consumer Electronics Association, kept myself busy in 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. My top income sources for 2012 were Discovery and then CEA; in 2013, Disco and then USAT; in 2014, Yahoo and then USAT. Last year was the first time more than half my income came from any one source.

Money’s come in from these less-frequent clients, ranked by my total take from each: the now-defunct SuliaPCMag.comThe Wirecutter, IDG (sponsored Twitter chats), Ars Technica, CNNMoney.comVentureBeatBoing BoingReader’s DigestWashingtonianThe MagazineUrban LandReadWriteWebLumension Security (a chapter for an e-book), SmartBear Software’s Software Quality MattersPBS NewsHour’s Rundown, The Atlantic Cities, the History Channel (an interview for its “101 Gadgets That Changed The World” special), and Al Jazeera (overdubbed interviews on its Arabic-language channel).

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 have yet to yield anything; I mainly added them to see how the program works.

Lastly, I’ve had travel or lodging paid for by the IFA trade show in Berlin (its organizers covered much of the travel costs of a group of U.S. journalists in 2012, 2013 and 2014), Edmunds (I spoke at its 2012 Hack Day event), 2013’s PR Summit conference in San Francisco (a panel about the intersections of blogging and journalism), the 2013 Influence HR conference in in the same city (a panel on journalism-PR interactions), Techonomy 13 in Tucson (a sponsor, Ford, paid airfare and lodging for myself and other journalists), TV Land (a 2013 interview on its “Best Night In” show), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (an April 2013 panel about social media at its Shepherdstown, W.V. training center), and Tech Cocktail’s 2014 Celebrate conference (a “fireside chat” interview). And 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 plan: 15 Mbps down, once 5 Mbps up but now 15 Mbps each way.
  • We don’t pay anybody for conventional TV service, having dumped our satellite service in 2009 in favor of over-the-air and Internet delivery (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming).
  • 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), a 2009 iMac, a 2012 iPad mini and my wife’s iPad 2.
  • I use Google Apps 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: 1/28/2015

50 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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