This column started, as many do, with tech support for a relative: My mom was nearing the 15-gigabyte cap on her Google account, and almost all of that was the fault of various e-mail marketers unwilling to shut up.
My own MWC coverage consisted of this writeup of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s reality-check interview at MWC (he also appeared remotely), in which he splashed cold water on some Starlink hopes while also not addressing a few concerns about that low-Earth-orbit satellite-broadband network.
This Dublin-based PR firm had me on a video call to talk about my work and what I find works and doesn’t work in tech marketing. Spoiler alert: The “any interest?” follow-up remains unlikely to close any deals for me.
I wrote up this online panel about the issues involved in retaining viewers as we emerge from this pandemic. The panel itself suffered its own retention problems, in the form of the moderator dropping offline multiple times.
I emceed this round of gadget demos, introducing and quizzing the presenters: Godonut’s smartphone/tablet mount, HoverCam’s eGlass remote-teaching system, and Wacom’s Chromebook-connected drawing tablet.
I wrote up an online event hosted by Mitre Corp. on Feb. 11 that featured this interview of Internet pioneer Vint Cerf (whom I previously wrote about for Fast Company when he spoke at a conference in Alexandria in late 2019). Much as Cerf had voiced some sensible skepticism about 5G broadband one winter ago, he declined to get too excited over 6G and instead pointed to the connectivity potential of low-Earth-orbit satellites and ever-cheaper undersea fiber-optic cables.
AT&T closing its AT&T TV Now streaming-TV service to new subscribers and making AT&T TV its core video service looked like a welcome stab at simplicity, but then I checked out the fine print in AT&T TV’s two-year-contract option.
As I did last summer, I emceed the product presentations of three tech companies at an event hosted by the PR firm that, in the Before Times, helped organize my trips to IFA and a few other tech events. Unlike last summer, one of these firms wound up not presenting because they could not get their audio working.
Twitter’s overdue decision to boot Donald Trump off the service led to this online panel about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that lets online forums remove content that’s legal but “otherwise objectionable.” My fellow panelists: Ranking Digital Rights’ Jessica Dheere, the Cato Institute’s Will Duffield, the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s Ali Sternburg, and tech lawyer Cathy Gellis, with Broadband Breakfast editor and publisher Drew Clark moderating our conversation. The next day, Broadband Breakfast’s Samuel Triginelli wrote up the conversation that you can also watch in the embed below.
I joined this meeting of one of WAP’s special interest groups via Zoom to share my thoughts on CES. We lost a good 10 minutes to audio glitches that I couldn’t hear but my audience could, so I stuck around for an extra 10 minutes.
This Cincinnati radio station had me on their afternoon drive-time show to talk about TVs. I flubbed a question from the hosts about the price for a 70-inch 4K TV: Because I hadn’t thought to leave a browser tab open to any retailer’s TV listings, I had to try to remember the prices I’d seen at Costco three weeks prior and then overshot the going rate by about 50 percent.
Updated 1/18/2021 to add links to my Patreon post, three other posts in the U.S. News password-manager guide, and Broadband Breakfast’s video and recap.
My role in this gig with this PR agency (the one that’s helped arrange my prior trips to the IFA and CEATEC tech events) was that of an emcee, not an endorser. As in, I introduced each company presenting and then threw out a question or two of my own before inviting the remotely-connected journalists and analysts to ask their own queries. I enjoyed playing a sort of game-show host, and it was nice to hear the voices of a few people I’d last met at CES.
My first post for this site offered a skeptical take on AT&T’s attempt to growth-hack its HBO Max streaming-video service–not to be confused with HBO Go or HBO Now–by exempting it from its wireless service’s data caps and throttling thresholds.
Two summers ago, I got an intriguing travel offer in my e-mail that had the added benefit of not being spam: Would I be interested in an expenses-paid trip to Berlin to cover the IFA electronics trade show?
I’d already gotten interested in IFA after reading some of Harry McCracken’s coverage of the 2011 show, and the prospect of having anybody else pay for my travel certainly got my attention. In two years of full-time freelancing, I’ve yet to have a client reimburse airfare or hotel costs.
But being possessed by Catholic guilt, I replied to the sender (a publicist working with the ShowStoppers PR firm that runs IFA’s U.S. outreach) that I’d have to check with my regular editors to see if they’d object.
I was also surprised to see the company I had in Berlin that year and again earlier this month after I accepted the same offer. The contingent of maybe two dozen U.S. journalists included full-time staffers for tech-news hubs like ZDNet, PCMag.com, TechNewsDaily and SlashGear as well as freelancers whose outlets include the likes of CBS and the New York Times–not some scruffy bunch of junket-grabbing hacks, in other words. And I got a lot out of comparing notes with writers I’d only known before through Twitter.
Were I still at the Post, none of that would have happened. The career-limiting move wouldn’t have been getting turned down after requesting permission to take a travel stipend–it would have been my being a jerk for asking in the first place. And even as a freelancer, I can’t sell to some places under these circumstances. My occasional client Ars Technica turned down my offer to file something from the show.
I recognize that letting somebody besides an employer or client pay for my travel can look bad. But I think there’s a meaningful difference between a company I cover paying for a flight or a hotel so I can go write something about its event or product, and the money coming from a third party organizing or sponsoring an event.
The first case looks a lot worse to me and would be harder to explain to readers, so I’ve declined the few invitations I’ve received so far. (Two digital camera vendors wanted me to try out their new hardware in scenic settings, and a couple of tech companies offered to cover travel costs to attend events in New York.)
I’m not going to say first-party travel subsidies are always an ethical foul. Cranky Flier blogger Brett Snyder, my favorite chronicler of commercial aviation, covers an industry in which the product can come with a four- or five-digit price tag; his way of dealing with that conflict is to disclose not just the subsidized trips he’s taken but the ones he’s declined. I continue to trust his work.
You can also argue that third-party subsidies are economically indistinguishable from Samsung or Google writing a check. But if you start looking at how money flows in the tech-news business, you’ll never stop–who do you think buys the ads that support tech-news sites? Besides, I already write for a blog sponsored by a tech trade association and before that contributed to a much larger tech lobby’s blog; turning down organizer-paid travel wouldn’t make me any less guilty under that argument.
Transparency is an overrated response to situations like this but still necessary. My disclosures page breaks down my sources of income but also notes speaking fees and paid travel I’ve picked up (usually for participating in one panel discussion or another). But I also remember that if I’m not going to find enough news or networking when I arrive to keep me busy, it’s not worth being apart from my family.
Edited 11/18/2013 to clarify what I see as the difference between a company directly paying for me to cover its event or product and an organizer or sponsor paying travel costs.