The Ethics of PR, Freelancers and The Media

Ever read David Pogue? You know, the New York Times leading techno-geek. Yeah, the guy who reviews all the cool gadgets that you’d like to toy with if you like toys and are equally geeky, or the gadgets you will run backwards away from holding your index fingers in a cross as if you’re warding away the devil or your self-inflicted demons. You either love Pogue, or you’d wish he’d go away. But he’s here; he’s there at the New York Times.pogue.jpg

Did you know he’s a freelancer? I’m not sure if the Times is just trying to keep costs in check so they don’t have to pay his social security, unemployment insurance or any benefits for that matter. Or maybe it’s Pogue who wants to enjoy a bit of liberty. Not sure.

If it was the latter, then Pogue’s plan backfired. He’s become so ubiquitous when it comes to the New York Times tech reporting that even as a freelancer he must abide by the Times code of ethics (TOE) or as so love in the tech world, perhaps, Terms of Service (TOS).


For those of you in the PR, advertising and marketing industry you know in detail how the business of public relations, big business public relations, works. You pitch. This isn’t Roy Halladay kind of perfect pitching, but if you listen to Pogue he might tell you how you can pitch like Roger Clemons—that is, with a little help.

Seems that Pogue spoke recently at a PR industry conference. His speech, entitled “Pitch Me” afterwords was repurposed as a downloadable video (you’d have to pony up $179 to see it). In his speech he tells PR professionals how to pitch him, and others like him. He provides, according to Art Brisbane of the New York Times, information on the dos and don’ts. He also admits that the majority of his stories and reviews come from pitches by professional PR people.

When the New York Times got ahold of this they yanked the cord on the sales of the video and slapped handcuffs on Pogue preventing him from every speaking at an event where PR professionals pay to attend. Pogue was paid to speak at the event.

To be sure, the modern media, already dealing with shrinking staff, reporters and newsrooms must rely on outside support in order to be current and bring ‘news’ to its readers. That’s where PR professionals can help. But the help is a double-edged sword where one side is trust, credibility and truth and the other is whoever can get my attention, make my job easier and let me get home to be with my family earlier wins. Some big companies pay $250,000/month or more for such PR. The small struggling start-up or hardworking entrepreneur might have a budget of $20,000/month—or less. Who’s going to get Pogue’s attention?

“Save me Time, Don’t Be A Robot.”

David Pogue’s advice to PR professionals pitching him with tech or new product story ideas.

Pogue has been freelancing for The Times for more than 10 years. His ethics and conflict of interest have come to light, or question before.

The Times pulled the plug on Pogue’s recent speech because they say it violated the Times ethics policy. Saying that “Staff members may not advise individuals or organizations how to deal successfully with the news media (thought they may of course explain the paper’s normal workings and steer outsiders to hte appropriate Times person)…They should not take part in public relations workshops that charge admission or imply privileged access to Times people….” But as I said, Pogue isn’t an employee, but because of the fact he’s generally associated as a staff writer for the Times, the publisher felt it was right in its action so to protect the integrity of the paper.

Pogue could be lazy. I don’t know. We all need help. And as a marketing/PR professional I want my best shot. But at the end of the day it’s about the product. Tips don’t only come from PR people. They come in all sizes and shapes and flavors. Imagine if a political journalist only took stories from PR professionals (uhhhh lobbyists?) the backlash would be huge. Certainly my post is a week after the blog floodgates unleashed and pounced on Pogue. But now that the dust has settled, I think it’s time we see some new blood at The New York Times. Sorry, David.

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