This is the last part of a four part posting, beginning with Everbody knows how reviews work
The question at the end is “Can you trust reviews.” I’d say yes you can – but of course you’ll be expecting me to say that.
I do hope, though, that I’ve given some fairly good reasons why the influence of advertisers is nowhere near as big as many people imagine it to be. The real issue is money – the simple need to actually make a living and pay for the roof over your head.
For a full time freelance, doing product reviews can be a pretty thankless task; as I mentioned, writing features can be a better way to make a living. I do a mix of the two – simple gadget reviews, plus features on specific areas about which I’ve decided to learn a lot of background (like digital TV), and related reviews.
Will an unpaid reviewer, or someone who’s not doing this to make a living do a better review? That really depends. If you’re doing it for love, and you have unlimited time to write 3000 words on a digital TV recorder, then good for you, and good for your readers. But I would dispute the assertion that an unpaid blogger must necessarily be more accurate and better informed than a professional writer.
A look around various blogs will find some that are, undoubtedly, excellent, written by people who are well informed, and spend time crafting detailed reviews. It will also find some that are shockingly partisan, and others that are barely literate.
On the whole, by virtue of employing editors and sub-editors, professionally written reviews will tend to read better; I don’t think that’s too contentious a point. Will they be more accurate? I’d say that they can be – where an editor commissions someone to write, because they have broad experience over many years, in a particular area, for example.
Are we all – both bloggers and professional writers – in thrall to PRs who let us keep shiny lovely gadgets? I don’t think so. Companies are far less generous than they used to be – and even in the past, most review kit that was particularly covetable was reclaimed, sooner or later.
Sure, I have cupboards with gadgets that time forgot – and that’s tended to be nothing to do with the review I wrote, but simply the march of progress. If a PR company wants back the broadband router than can’t even do ADSL2, they’re welcome – I need the space. It’s certainly not going to influence what I write about their next one.
If you think my living room is full of the latest AV gear, and fancy gadgets, it’s not. While many of us might take advantage of a press discount (though these days, you can often buy cheaper at places like Richer Sounds) if we’ve liked something, keeping a neat gadget just doesn’t tend to happen. Why would you write a good review of an indifferent product, just because you wanted to keep it?
Yes, we get to play with the latest fancy gadgets. No, on the whole, we don’t get to keep them. Sometimes, professional writers get to go on fancy trips – I went with Panasonic to their Convention in Munich earlier this year. I saw lots of new products, had a fun evening in a beer hall, and flirted with a cute PR guy.
Has it made me write better things about Panasonic products? Well, their TV came joint third in a roundup I wrote for Register Hardware, and I’ve been critical of other products they make, so if that was their plan, it doesn’t seem to have worked. Nor does that sort of thing, in my view, influence other writers I know.
I hope, at the end of this – admittedly rather long – piece, you’ll at least understand a bit more about how reviews work in the tech press, for the UK at any rate.
Of course advertisers have a role, but as I’ve explained, it’s a far, far smaller one than most people imagine.