Here is a statement of my ethics and coverage policies. It is more than most of you want to know, but, in the age of suspicion of the media, I am laying it all out.
I am not an objective news reporter, and am not responsible for business coverage of technology companies. I am a subjective opinion columnist, a reviewer of consumer technology products and a commentator on technology issues. I don’t offer investment advice, or follow the financial progress or stock prices of technology companies. I focus on products and services, not revenues and earnings.
I don’t accept any money, free products, or anything else of value, from the companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I also don’t accept trips, speaking fees, or product discounts from companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I don’t serve as a consultant to any companies, or serve on any corporate boards or advisory boards.
I do occasionally take a free t-shirt from these companies, but my wife hates it when I wear them, as she considers them ugly.
I don’t own a single share of stock in any of the companies whose products I cover, or any shares in technology-oriented mutual funds. Because of this, I completely missed the giant run-up in tech stocks a few years back, and looked like an idiot. However, when the tech stocks crashed, I looked like a genius. Neither was true.
I also have a 401K plan and, like many 401K plans, the holdings of the funds it includes are managed without my guidance. My plan includes no technology-specific funds or indexes, although it might from time to time include technology stocks.
The products I review are typically lent to me by their manufacturers for a few weeks or months. I return any products I am lent for review, except for items of minor value that companies typically don’t want back, such as computer mice or inexpensive software. In the case of these items, I either discard them or give them away to charity. For a few years, we gave away these cheaper products to other employees at the Journal, in return for donations of canned foods, which we then gave to food banks. But this was too much of a hassle, so we’ve stopped doing that.
Companies often visit my office, or invite me to theirs, to brief me on new products, Web sites, or software, before they are released — usually a few weeks or days ahead of time. I don’t review most of these products, and, when I do, I don’t always review them favorably. I test every product I review, never basing a review on such a meeting or a press release. If I do decide to review a product, I sometimes negotiate with a company the timing of the review, but never its outcome. I sometimes strive to be the first to publish a review, but I never promise a good review in exchange for that timing. When I meet with a company, I ask sharp questions and make sharp comments, as any good journalist does. I frequently warn companies that these exchanges don’t constitute advice from me, and may not predict the outcome of any review, or even whether I will write a review.
During my testing, I ask companies a lot of questions about things I encounter. If, in the course of testing a product, I ask a company about a problem I have encountered, and the problem is fixed before the product actually is made available to my readers, I usually don’t mention it, because it is irrelevant. My job is to judge the product as it wlll be put into the hands of consumers, even if I am looking at it early.
If I want a product I review for my own use, I buy it, at normal prices, or the Journal does. For instance, my personal and work computers, my digital media players, digital camera, and cell phone, were all purchased this way, as are my Internet service, cell phone service, and cable TV service.
I never coordinate my reviews with our advertising sales staff, and don’t solicit or sell ads for the newspaper or Web site, or sponsorships for the D conference. The Journal’s separate ad sales staff does this. Advertisers and companies whose products I cover don’t get to see my columns in advance, or to select or reject column topics. Similarly, sponsors of the D conference don’t get to select or reject speakers on the agenda, or to select or preview the questions we ask speakers on stage. We don’t charge companies for appearing on stage at D to demo new products, and we don’t pay speakers at D.
On many occasions, I have written negative reviews of products from companies that advertise in this newspaper or Web site, or which sponsor the conference, and positive reviews of companies that aren’t advertisers or sponsors. There has never been a single instance where any editor or official of the Journal or Dow Jones has complained about this, or tried to change a column to favor an advertiser or potential advertiser.
I make a number of speeches each year, some paid and some unpaid, but I never appear, even for free, at events hosted by companies whose products I cover.
Kara Swisher and I have established a small LLC company whose purpose is to manage payments to the independent contractors, including Kara herself, who work on the AllThingsD.com site, and to buy equipment for the site. I receive no payments from this company. The site itself is owned by Dow Jones and Company, of which I am a full time employee.
Beyond these policies, I also abide by the Dow Jones Code of Conduct, which can be found here.