Just under a year ago, we provided some insight on the inner workings of running a tech site. Yes, there are thousands of sites out there, and despite the diversity, there are several constants in our universe... costs, advertising, readership, and most important of all, integrity.
Running a site, especially a tech site, isn't free and there are plenty of costs involved. Everything from the hardware purchases (not everything is free, which is a general misconception I think), to the server and bandwidth... it all has a price.
This is where advertising comes in. If the site is lucky enough, advertising will net a nice income each month, but for a greater number of owners, they'll be lucky if it helps them break even.
Of course, an advertiser is not going to consider a site that doesn't meet their traffic requirements. Readership is what makes our world go round. Without our loyal readers, VL wouldn't be where it is today, and I would say that the same goes for the majority of sites out there.
Casual readers come and go, but a loyal reader is somebody that means a lot to a site. It's common knowledge that most sites track their traffic. This gives us an idea of trends, and how to cater our content. We're not too concerned about our "uniques" a day, but rather our "bookmarks" and "returns". People who bookmark and/or return multiple times a day make up a site's readership. Uniques are new visitors who either stop and go, or decide to stay. What turns a unique visitor into a regular reader? Content? Yes. Attention to detail? Sure thing. Integrity? Nobody likes a site that lies about a product just to suck up, right?
Granted, the last point isn't something that is respected by a great number of sites (the actual number is more than you think), but the sites I do frequent on a regular basis (Ed. Note: Including our own :D <-- joke, hehe...erm) do try hard to stick with their journalistic integrity. There are instances though where manufacturers will try to influence a site's review. Sadly, this happens quite often, and it becomes a problem when this "influence" attempts to change a writer's perception of the product. This is something site owners need to deal with constantly, and yes, here at VL we've been asked to "have a change of heart" on more than one occasion. Errors or omissions happen, and we're more than happy to make amendments, but as a reader, you can rest assured knowing we'll never mislead you because somebody asked us to so they can improve sales.
Luckily, most Tier-1 manufacturers; i.e., the ones who have a good amount of exposure within the enthusiast community, do respect a journalist's right for free speech. Sure, even some of the big dogs take issue with what we in the community say, but that's the price of exposing yourself with press releases. Whether a product is released and performs less than expected, or if it isn't released at all (aka, paper releases), it's all free game so long as NDAs are lifted.
What's an NDA? An NDA is an acronym for Non Disclosure Agreement. In simple terms, it is an agreement between two parties where one of them (usually the manufacturer) will release information in the form of electronic/paper documentation or actual hardware. The other party (usually a publication, online or print) will examine the information for future reference. The publication usually signs an NDA where they promise not to comment or editorialize anything until a set date (if any). This is why you'll see a flood of reviews on a particular product on one specific day, as NDAs are lifted.
NDAs should be respected. Any publication with a shred of integrity will respect them, and it makes sense if a site violates an NDA, lawsuits will follow. However, what happens if something is public domain? By "public domain", we mean something that is announced or released on the open public, without any NDA attached to it? Personally, I think it is fair game, and according to a lawyer friend, so long as the information is available to all, there really isn't anything wrong to comment on the topic so long as it's based on the facts that are made public.
The example I'm going to give to you is something that is happening right now within the enthusiast community. As most of our regular readers may know, is in the midst of a legal battle with . The roots of this fight stem from an article outlining Infinium Labs' Phantom Console, which is some kind of gaming console being developed. We're not going to go into the console itself, as , but in a nutshell, Steve Lynch (an editor at [H]) outlined the console, the company and owner, and the owner's employment history. All the information used for the article was gathered from public sources.
, requesting (I'm being polite) the article to be removed. [H]ardOCP stuck by their guns, as they should, and kept the article online. On February 27, 2004, they mailed [H]ardOCP to alter 18 items in the article... or else. As [H]'s owner, Kyle Bennett, , the letters Infinium Labs sent weren't exactly clear...
The odd thing to me about the above letter is that it continually refers to statements we never made and innuendos that are nonexistent in our article, Behind the Infinium Phantom Console. In fact, after reading the letter I had to wonder if we were actually referencing the same document. Still this is something that needs to be taken very seriously as we are obligated to hear out Infinium Labs issues with our article.
Ultimately, there were five items that needed to be changed, though none of the changes affects the general tone and opinions of the company in the original article. Not one to sit around and get kicked in 'nads, a couple weeks ago:
On Friday, February 27, 2004, HardOCP.com filed a declaratory judgment lawsuit against Infinium Labs to establish its position that there was nothing improper, untruthful or defamatory about its September 17, 2003 article Behind The Infinium Phantom Console. The lawsuit was filed by this firm in the name of KB Networks, Inc. the owner of HardOCP.com. The lawsuit was filed to clear the air and terminate the flurry of demands, allegations, and defamatory Internet posts directed against HardOCP.com, by Infinium Labs and law firms representing Infinium Labs and its CEO, Tim Roberts.
Now, you can say what you want about [H]ardOCP, but this situation is something I support Kyle and his crew 100% on. It's one thing to "create" facts and rumours, but when the information comes directly from the manufacturer's own press releases and websites (as well as good ole Google), the publication has every right to write something about it. I've read the Phantom Console article a few times through, trying to look for anything that specifically that maliciously attacks Infinium Labs, of which, I could find none. The article simply stated facts, and although the owner of Infinium Labs has a right to be a bit annoyed with calls at home, I suppose that's the price you pay for being something of a public figure. It's not like he hung up anyhow, and answered their questions nonetheless.
Basically, as a news publication, instances where content changes need to be made are a part of life. It is totally acceptable to make corrections to errors or additions if some new information arises. Negative reviews are a part of life, and manufacturers have to live with it.
An NDA, as we've explained, is one way a manufacturer can protect themself until the time is right for their product or announcement is made public. Once that information is out there in the public domain, it's a free for all. Journalists who have any desire to be taken seriously will lay things out according to facts and not rumours and speculation.
What has happened to [H]ardOCP and Infinium Labs is something that can happen to anybody. Unfortunently for some websites, they may not have the experience, or resources to do what [H] is doing if a manufacturer comes screaming at them. In some cases, usually from the fear of losing review sample support, the smaller sites will succumb to the pressure, and change their content to appease the manufacturer. Our comment on this is "Fight the man, brother. There will always be another sponsor out there."
As for [H] and Infinium, it's still too early to tell how this will end, but should [H] win, score one for those who stick by their guns and say it as it is. Personally, the name Phantom Console is an appropriate name since we've still yet to see anything materialize. No matter, as nothing is going to replace my Playstation 2 anyways :P.
If you have any comments, be sure to hit us up in our forums.