Sadly it was not long before someone realized that the rapid monetization of these sites was a good way to “adjust” the message. The days of working with a review site to fix issue tapered off and we started to see requests for changes to reviews of delays in responding back to questions. It became comon for games and hardware to launch with glowing reviews, but still have major issues to resolve. Anyone that published these issues were drowned out by the rest of the crowd or were asked to change the information. In the event that you actually dared ingore these requests, write a bad review or say something negative about a company you could end up black listed and never see another piece of hardware again.
But there was more to the message than just holding product for ransom. There was a concerted effort to centralize the groups that did get the hardware and the briefings so that the message could be controlled. In our conversations with present and former marketing personnel we have been told that many times the decision to push information and hardware to popular sites is all about getting the “right” word out and not always the true information.
Where things seem to be most confused is in the larger technical news sites that try to portray themselves as traditional news agency or consumer advocate. Here the messages seem be little more than parroting the marketing message of the companies that are being written about. One big example of this is reporting on Apple hardware, sales etc. The reporting here is abysmal to say the least. It is not enough that we see terrible estimates reported as fact we also see a suppression of any real issues that might exist with the products in question. Of course it is certainly not limited to Apple as we see the same thing happening with many other companies.
Now we are not saying that every big site or manufacturer out there is playing this game. There are many that still believe in doing full and proper reviews of the products they receive as well as maintaining a fairly balanced reporting of the news. The problem is that these sites seem to be shrinking in number while the sites willing to report what they are told grow. It makes it hard to get the right information out to the public as too many others are happy to just sing the same song with little to no fact checking or real testing behind the articles they push out the door.
The tech journalism scene is not what it used to be by any measure and the fact that manufacturers have the level of influence over the press that they do really makes me sad. I wish there was a way to hit a reset button and go back to the days when it was a mutually beneficial partnership that benefited the manufacturer, the websites and the consumer… but that is not likely to happen any time soon.