It's The Integrity, Stupid

January 28, 2013

*Until recently, if a friend asked me for advice on buying a TV, here’s what I would have done:

  1. Looked up CNet’s entry on how big your TV should be based on how far away you will be viewing.
  2. Looked up CNet’s most recent buying guides for TVs in [price range and size range].
  3. Told my friend “listen to these guys. They review eight zillion tvs every year, and are way more anal about them than you or I are. If they think it’s good, you can probably trust them. I do.”
  4. Added my own advice to not pay extra for 3D (worthless and a fad), and to not pay extra for any internet or “smart” features (buy a Roku instead).

Today a friend told me they were going to buy a new TV this week, and asked me for recommendations. I hesitated*, because I don’t think I can use that strategy anymore. For the first time, I paused, wondering if I can trust CNet as an objective and impartial source.

Why? In summary: CNet was going to award Dish Network’s new DVR with their 2013 “Best of CES” award. CNet is owned by CBS. CBS is in the middle of being Very Upset with Dish over a feature on that DVR. CBS told CNet “No way are you giving them an award. Go give it to some speakers or some tablet game or something.” (See here and here. And after initially stating that this would apply only to reviews, not news, they changed their minds.) Now, was CBS being spiteful, being a tone deaf Large Corporation, or just following prudent legal advice? It doesn’t really matter to me. I can’t trust them anymore to corporate interests above journalistic ones.

This leaves me with few options. While a scrappy young upstart like The Verge seems quite capable of quality tech news, I don’t think they’ll go into the excruciating drudgery of compiling detailed reviews for dozens of televisions every year. And I swore I would never go back to the hacks at Gizmodo and Engadget. It’s a sad day.

If I look back at my history with CNet, they lose big too. Way back in the 1990s, their property was my go-to source for downloading files. But a few years ago they started wrapping downloads with their own installer, one that pushes add-ons, toolbars, and god knows what other malware. So downloading software is out. In the early to mid 2000s, I once again started using them as a go-to source for reviews on cellphones. I was so glad to see that they had tried out most of the phones Verizon sold, many of which they had tested for signal strength here in Chicago. Wonderful! I bought my first cellphone, the LG VX 6000, largely based on their recommendation. Ditto for my second phone, the LG VX 8350. And my first smartphone, the HTC Eris. Today, there are only a handful of smartphones, from only a few manufacturers, that I might consider when purchasing a new one, and any number of sites can fill me in on that info. I don’t need them for phone reviews. However, I did come to love and trust their sheer depth of information. And there are still seemingly zillions of tv models released every year, with all sorts of features (plasma! lcd! edge-lit led lcd!). Buying a new TV in 2011 reinforced my views on them as The Review People. But now that I can’t use CNet for reviews, I’m not sure why I would ever use their site again, or refer anyone else to it.

*Or I would have if this had been a conversation. But because this was via text message, I just didn’t respond immediately.