Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Does the ethics change with the price tag?

Dan Shaugnessy came to visit our office one day and waxed poetic about Fenway Park and what it means to bring his children there.

I'm sure it's romantic to a guy who doesn't need to pay for it. For a father of five sitting out in the bleachers, Fenway Park means about $250 for roughly 3 hours of entertainment. That's a lot out of the family budget. But Shaugnessy gets in for free, has no trouble parking and can even get his kids some autographs. Such is the advantage of being a sports reporter.

How different would sports reporting be if each reporter had to pay for a ticket? Let's assume $20 for a ticket (below market rate) and that the reporter attends 60 home games. That's $1200 worth of baseball for one season. That also doesn't include spring training, road games or any other expenses (such as food) that the team may pick up.

It's accepted that such jobs as sports reporters and movie reviewers come with that main perk, something that can be worth quite a bit of money when extended over a year or a whole career. As readers we don't question it, nor do we demand that every review come with a disclaimer that says "movies are free for the reviewers" or "this sports reporter didn't pay for his seat, and ate at the buffet supplied by the team. They served shrimp."

So when I hear an argument about the fact that Microsoft supplied $2500 laptops to bloggers, asking nothing in return, and some of the bloggers did not initially disclose that they received those laptops from Microsoft, I give a big shrug. It's not that I think this is the right thing to do, I don't. But I can't really get all excited by it either. (A good source for articles on the topic is here.)

Yes, it would be ideal for the bloggers to have paid for the goods or not accepted them at all. At the very least they should disclose the goods that were were received. And frankly, Microsoft should have followed the traditional protocol used when giving out review hardware and asked for it to be sent back.

Still I agree mostly with Neville Hobson who calls this a "PR cock-up." This is a tempest in a teapot. Bloggers are not journalists, but they are people with an audience. Over time, those that are ethical will maintain their audience and their street cred, while those that aren't will lose both.

But I still wonder, does it matter that the laptop cost $2500? Does it matter that a movie ticket is $8 or $10? Does the price tag change the ethical consideration? When I choose a movie both my time and my money are worth something, I want to see a movie that is worth both. Is it a rental or a theater experience?

Is Vista really worth the money? Are the features just OK? Who gave the information for the review?


John Cass said...

Maybe the real question should be: Why are the sports reporters getting in for free?

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Certainly that remains a question, but it's not just the sports folks. It's also the movie reviewers, the music reviewers, etc.

This weekend I decided to finally replace some old Beatle albums that I bought on vinyl as a teen. But I took one look at the $19 price tag on Let It Be and the $35 price tag on the White Album and decided against it.

If I worked as a music reviewer those would be "comped" to me.

On "For Immediate Release," Shel Holtz noted how when he was writing he'd get an album, but it was only about $6. Sure, that's just one album, but when you add that up over the course of a year or a career, that number becomes substantial.

On the other side of this the reporters would argue that they simply couldn't do their job if they paid for everything.

As a side note, check out the podcast "Filmspotting." The movie reviewers there pay for all their own movies (I don't know if they'll do that forever, but they are for now). That means they have to pick and choose what they see. It makes for an interesting selection of movies.