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 about tech-policy issues and do the occasional review at Yahoo Finance, contribute a weekly tips/Q&A column for USA Today’s site, and maintain a few guides at the Wirecutter. 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 CEA, followed by USAT; in 2013, DisCo, USAT, and Discovery; in 2014, Yahoo and then USAT; in 2015, Yahoo, USAT and then the Wirecutter. Since 2014, Yahoo has accounted for more than half of my income.

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

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 a penny; I mainly added them to see how the program works.

Lastly, I’ve had travel costs covered under a few conditions. The most frequent scenario involves my speaking at an event: Edmunds’ 2012 Hack Day; 2013’s PR Summit in San Francisco; the 2013 Influence HR conference in the same city; a 2013 panel about social media at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Shepherdstown, W.V. training center; Tech.Co’s 2014 and 2015 Celebrate conferences; the 2015 National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas; 2015’s Incompas conference in San Francisco; the 2016 Connected Conference in Paris (meetings booked around that show by sponsor Business France served to promote France’s startup potential, not that I came away entirely sold); and 2016’s Viva Technology Paris conference. The Consumer Technology Association also got me a discount on CES lodging in 2012, 2013 and 2014 in return for leading brief tours of some show-floor exhibits. Under certain circumstances, I’ve also taken travel subsidies from organizers or sponsors of conferences: the IFA trade show in Berlin each year since 2012 (the show hosts paid); Techonomy 13 in Tucson (event sponsor Ford paid, an arrangement I wouldn’t do again as I’m too likely to cover Ford); and the CyberTech 2016 conference in Tel Aviv (the America-Israel Friendship League and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored the trip). Finally, TV Land covered my Amtrak fare to New York and back for a 2013 interview on its “Best Night In” show.

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 25 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 Sling TV streaming).
  • For wireless, I have a Nexus 5X Android phone on T-Mobile.
  • Computers I use around the home: a 2012 MacBook Air, a 2011 ThinkPad x120e (running Windows 10, but I’ve been meaning to put Linux on a second partition), a 2009 iMac, and an iPad mini 4.
  • 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 back in 2004, 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: 9/14/2016

87 thoughts on “Disclosures”

  1. 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

  2. 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?

  3. 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.However accounting software

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