NYT’s Decision on David Pogue’s Publicist PitchBaby Scandal Has Yet to Drop

David Pogue with iPhone

David Pogue, Conflicted Man of the iPeople

The Sword of Damocles hangs high for David Pogue. Yesterday, it was revealed that New York Times’ star tech columnist — the ever conflict-prone David Pogue — is embroiled in yet another ethics litmus test for the Times yet again. As of this morning, the paper has yet to decide his fate. Meanwhile, another micro-scandal has emerged on his own blog at the paper.

Jim Romenesko reported on Monday morning that a video of the goofy, affable, and intensely popular Mr. Pogue was being promoted as part of an upcoming $159 seminar for publicists to learn about shilling to journalists (“Pitch Me, Baby!”), which included a “video rebroadcast” of him speaking on the matter of his favorite publicity pitches. From the release, you can learn:

What you should NEVER do when pitching a reporter
Why you should be passionate about pitching perfection
Pogue’s five “pitch pet peeves”
How to be clever and imaginative when pitching a story (complete with David’s favorite examples)
Real-life pitches: the great, the good and the ugly

“The Ugly,” in this case, may turn out to be the pitch on Pogue’s involvement itself, as the Times ethics policy strictly prohibits writers from working with publicity professionals in order to avoid thorny, nasty conflicts. Jeff Bercovici at Forbes points out that the policy reads (emphasis ours):

It is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid. Staff members may not counsel individuals or organizations on how to deal successfully with the news media….

This is far from the first time Pogue has been embroiled in an ethics conflict. The Observer wrote about Mr. Pogue’s numerous scraps with the paper’s policies last month notable mostly for how he managed to escape the wrath of the ethics policies completely unscathed, something many other Times freelancers fired by the paper haven’t.

When contacted by the Observer, Times technology editor Damon Darlin referred us to a spokeswoman for the paper, Eileen Murphy, who explained that discussions over this particular engagement was (as of this writing) still “ongoing” and that it may take a few days to sort out. She also explained over email:

“As a freelancer with a number of activities beyond The Times, David has some leeway in work he does on his own time, but he is expected to consult with his editors to ensure that none of that work poses a conflict with his assignments for The Times.” When asked if this leeway was extended to all freelancers, Ms. Murphy repeated the previous stance (“As noted, David has some leeway given that he is a freelancer with a number of outside activities beyond The Times.”) and yet, when pressed on the matter — Don’t all freelancers inherently have activities outside of the Times? — she noted:

“Here’s what all freelancers have in common.  They must consult with their editors to ensure that any outside work not conflict with their assignments for The Times.  And yes, that is a matter of policy.”

The last headlines Mr. Pogue made regarding the Times‘ ethics policies were when it was revealed that he was dating a publicist. The matter was discussed with his editor, Mr. Darlin, and resolved in a manner sufficient for the paper: Mr. Pogue would forward all pitches from the publicist’s company and would not accept pitches from her. They noted that Mr. Pogue approached Mr. Darlin as soon as a conflict was in view, and that the matter was handled according to protocol.

It would appear the Times was caught off-guard by Mr. Pogue’s recent entanglement with publicists; this kind of behavior has typically resulted in summary-execution style firings from the Times: zero-tolerance. Mr. Pogue is, for the Times, a valuble asset. He has been called the “Oprah of Gadgets.” His Twitter follower count exceeds that of the entire Times technology reporting staff put together.

And yet: Mr. Pogue is repeatedly accused of being in an ethical grey area, especially when it comes to being a shill for Apple products (he has a bestselling series of books on them, and writes about them routinely for the paper). As recent as four days ago, Mr. Pogue was updating a post he wrote about the latest version of Apple’s new film editing product, Final Cut Pro.  Mr. Pogue lauded the product; professional film editors took to his comments section to explain just how terrible it is. To help defend his review, Mr. Pogue printed answers provided to him “from consultation with Final Cut Pro X’s product managers at Apple.” A few lines later, he begins a paragraph:

“I’m not trying to be an Apple apologist…”

fkamer@observer.com | @weareyourfek

Comments

  1. Anon says:

    Oh and he beats women, allegedly.

  2. Jason Millar says:

    I study bias (mainly in science), and it’s a sneaky thing. Bias can creep into one’s decisions even when one discloses a conflict of interest. In fact, studies show that bias is amplified when one discloses a conflict of interest, mainly because it seems to “cancel” out the fear of seeming biased in the individual’s mind: “I’ve disclosed the COI, so I am free to be a bit biased.”

    In this case the Times can fully expect that publicists pitching to Pogue who had taken his seminar, would have an advantage over those who hadn’t. Not necessarily because they would be using the very techniques Pogue espouses (although that would certailny be useful), but also because Pogue would be hard(er) pressed to turn down a pitch from a publicist who had taken his seminar. Unsuccessful publicists’ pitches would be an unfortunate fact for Pogue’s future seminar prospects. Pogue would have a direct interest in having those publicists who took his seminar be more successful than others.

  3. J Sullivan says:

    All Freelancers are equal, but some Freelancers are more equal than others…

  4. Simon Cohen says:

    First off, I think this section “Staff members may not counsel individuals or organizations on how to deal successfully with the news media” is nonsense. How is it a conflict of interest to provide feedback to publicists? On the contrary, if more publicists listened to a veteran reporter like Pogue, the whole industry (and I mean the publishing one) would benefit.
    Secondly, I get that many people don’t like FCP X. Pogue liked it. He’s not a pro editor. He probably should have acknowledged why a lot of FC users will be upset, but that doesn’t change *his* opinion. Finally, it doesn’t matter how many books he’s written on Apple, or how much he personally loves their products, if they’re not paying him or compensating him in other ways, there’s no reason to doubt his objectivity.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Who cares about ethics? He is a total phony and sickeningly cheesy.  What a douche.

  6. Anonymous says:

    From Mark Ragan, CEO, Ragan Communications, producer of the Pogue video broadcast

    This post continues a trend among critics of  David Pogue and his outside speaking engagements, to wit:

    Take a small issue — in this case, a very funny presentation about bad PR writing, horrible press releases and spam from media relations professionals — and blow it up into a ‘scandal.’ 

    Never has the word ‘scandal’ been more overblown. 

    Anyone watching David’s presentation will see that it’s nothing but a funny take on why many PR people waste reporters’ time with cold calls, e-mail pitches that have nothing to do with the reporter’s beat and the use of boiler plate and corporate speak in news releases.

    What David does that IS useful for PR people is dig out a few pitches that he finds clever. As a tech journalist,  he is forever approached by companies that have launched new gadgets. Most of those pitches are from PR people.  He is in a unique position to tell them how to stop bothering him and other journalists and do their job better. 

    But by using a few carefully chosen words like ‘shilling’ and ‘entanglement’, ‘this kind of behavior’, and ‘working with publicists,’   bloggers get to create a ‘micro-scandal,’ in the words of this post, or “mini-scandal’ over at the Forbes blog. 

    This says more about the bloggers and their drive to create news where there is none than it does about an innocuous, amusing presentation delivered by a columnist who is as much a comic and entertainer as he is a teacher.  

    Let me repeat what I have written on the other blog posts — all of which were dashed off without a single attempt to find out what is in the presentation, which could have easily been accomplished by simply e-mailing me.

    1) David delivers a standard, funny speech that pokes fun of press releases while pointing out a few that  were actually well written;
    2) He pleads with the audience to stop spamming journalists with generic press releases;
    3) He tells the gathered PR pros that,  no, he doesn’t want to meet with them for lunch huddle with their CEOs or talk to them over the phone.
    4) He repeats what he’s said in numerous video interviews that he judges products by opening the box and experiencing them — not by having them explained by the PR person or geek working for the company. 
    5) He provides some tips on writing and what NOT to do when pitching reporters.

    6) concludes with a Q&A.  He again stresses that he’s not interested in ‘getting to know you,’ forming a close professional relationship or doing lunch. 

    That’s about it folks.

    Few more points:

    This video is a re-broadcast of  his speech before our Media Relations Summit. It was attended by PR people working for non-profits, health care institutions, schools, as well as by corporate media relations professionals.  As I have written previously, I doubt there was a single person in the audience representing a personal technology company.

     Finally, we are NOT a PR agency. We have no clients. We are a web publisher that covers the corporate communications industry though four daily news site. 

    The title of the conference, Pitch ME, Baby!, is a tongue-and-cheek Pogue-ism.   Anyone who knows David can hear the humor behind it. His point is simple: Yes, I do learn about new products from press release, but ye gods!, you could make it easier on me by ditching phrases like “synergistic, out-of-the-box, non-linear thinking’ and get to the point.  

    That’s about it, folks. Some scandal.

  7. StephensonManuel59677868 says:

    I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get all this stuff, LiveCent.com

  8. Mr. Busta says:

    Leave POGUE alone! Just like SIMON SAYS (the guy below!), he could TEACH you a few things!

    Like were is your APP? YOU DON’T GOT ONE!

    And if you’re THINKING of getting one, better start making up with the POGUE man!  PRONTO, TONTO or it WILL BE DENIED by the HIGHER UPS! He is BIGGER than you! WHAT don’t YOU GET?

    YES, YOU NEED TO BE THE APOLOGIST!

    GO POGUE!

    SUCCESS!