NSFW: Hey developers, paying for coverage is a scam

NSFW is a weekly op-ed column in which I talk about whatever's on my mind. Sometimes it'll have something to do with the technology we cover here on iMore; sometimes it'll be whatever pops into my head. Your questions, comments and observations are welcome.

It'll be no surprise to you to read that I'm pitched on new products all the time. Every day I get dozens of email solicitations from developers, marketing and PR people to cover new products for iMore. And many of them have variations on this:

"How much will it cost for our product to be written about on iMore?"

The answer is: Nothing. We don't take a dime to cover any product on iMore. In fact, even the suggestion that we would is horribly insulting to our sense of ethics. Unfortunately, not all web sites are so inclined.

The sad part of this is that developers asking to pay for editorial placement are doing so because they're conditioned to do so. This is how some smaller sites work. They want money anywhere they can find it — ad revenue on the viewer side, and paid editorial placement on the developer side. And it's a shitty way to do business.

We've heard a lot this past year about "journalistic ethics." Whether you're a print publication or an online pub, there are a few basic guidelines that cover the operations of editorial departments which have to be followed if you have a snowball's chance in hell of resembling anything to do with journalistic ethics. And at the very top of that list: Advertisers can't influence or compromise editorial coverage. And paying for coverage does exactly that. At the very least, it gives the perception of it, which is just as bad, if not worse.

This is something that's taught in every introductory ethics course in any journalism school around the world. Unfortunately, a lot of the operators of smaller blogs either haven't gone to J-school or just don't give a shit. And it smears the entire industry as a result.

No one running a blog can claim ignorance on this front — no one. I didn't go to J-school. I learned how to be a journalist on the job. Despite that, "separation of church [editorial] and state [advertising]" was something that I learned very early. In order for readers to trust your editorial voice, they have to trust that voice hasn't been paid for by someone with an ulterior motive.

Obviously sites aren't charities. We have expenses and families to feed. One of the chief ways many sites make money is to sell advertising space. Nothing wrong with that. It's pretty crucial, though, that the business people handling the advertising aren't the same as the people writing about the products.

What's more, there should never be a point where a company tries to leverage that relationship to gain favor, editorially. They should never say "I'll pull my advertising unless I get a good review," and they should never, ever say "I'll pay you to review my product."

That's what gets my goat about this so badly. For the most part, these are companies and products I've never heard of, and the first comment out of the gate is "how much does a review cost?" It taints the entire relationship for me. I'm sure I've overlooked covering products that were probably pretty good, for exactly this reason.

Let me speak plainly: There is no quicker way for me to a) ignore your product and b) blacklist your company from further coverage than for you to ask me how much my editorial voice costs.

To be sure, the vast majority of the sites that you probably have bookmarked or linked in your RSS reader do not, under any circumstances, take money for editorial coverage, and have never done so.

iMore is certainly one of those.

Anyway, time for me to get off my soapbox. That is all.