The Hardware Free Lunch

Today’s imbroglio in Blogistan over a certain software goliath giving away notebooks from a certain PC marker, sparks memories of being an utter review-unit-whore back in my tech journalism days at PC Week and Forbes.

If you want to make a tech journalist happy, send them a “review” unit and never ask for it back. This makes the journalist happy because a) they can use the thing for free and show it off to other people as an example that they are indeed a member of the inner circle of coolness, b) the thing will get some exposure, c) if you don’t ask for it back then the reporter doesn’t have to save the packaging and remember to get it in the mail to absolve their sense of pure journalistic ethics.

I used to get some over-the-top bling. Full PCs, notebooks, wireless modems, stuff that was fun to play with, sometimes resulted in a review, and more often than not ended up in the attic in the graveyard-of-dead-technology. I never resold the stuff (this was pre-Ebay) and often it would arrive, indeed, usually it would arrive without being requested. My philosophy was, if you send it without asking me, then it’s mine, fair game. If I requested it, then indeed, I was under full obligation to return it at the end of the review period.

There was a period in the early-90s when the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal began to focus on the conflicted ethics of the technology trade press — of which I was an alumnus from my stint at PC Week. While I had no first hand knowledge of ethical lapses by people I worked with, the opportunity to benefit from paid junkets to Taiwan and free “review” units abounded. The PC Week labs were a goldmine for spare hard drives, accelerator boards, and other detritus the lab’s people were too hassled to box up and return, but dipping into that trove was something I avoided.

My ethical rules were never to resell review equipment, make every effort to generate some copy out of my usage, and if I felt I would be inconvenienced by temporary ownership, to refuse delivery from the UPS or Fed Ex delivery. Book reviewers were apparently notorious for selling galleys and first editions after they were done with them, my approach to free lunch press benefits was cemented in place during the 1984 New Hampshire presidential primaries when I watched reporters from the Washington Post pay campaign staffers for “free” cups of coffee.
Lenovo has an excellent review program managed by Jeffrey Witt and indeed, we have to insist that all machines get returned due to rigorous accounting rules. We like to get our stuff in the hands of the right journalists and bloggers, we try to accommodate all requests, but we can’t give the things away.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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