For the most part, being owned by a giant media entity probably isn’t such a bad thing: you have a lot of resources behind you when things get tough, the Christmas parties are usually pretty good, and so on. Then there are the other times — like the ones where your parent company is suing someone and won’t let you give them an award or write a review of their products, even though that’s your job. That’s what the tech news-and-reviews site CNET is going through right now, after CBS pulled rank on its web subsidiary on Thursday.
CNET was ready to give the Hopper with Sling DVR, a set-top box from Dish Network, a spot in the finals of its “Best in CES” awards at the Consumer Electronics Show — until a directive came through from the site’s corporate parent CBS that the Hopper couldn’t win the award, because CBS is suing the company over its AutoHop commercial-skipping feature.
Not only was the Hopper disqualified from the award, but CNET added an editor’s note to its review of the device saying it would no longer be reviewing any products that were the subject of litigation with its parent company — a list that would include both the Hopper and Aereo, the over-the-net video broadcasting startup backed by Barry Diller, which CBS is also suing.
As John Hermann of BuzzFeed noted, this is probably every tech journalist’s nightmare: being told by a corporate parent that they can’t do their jobs because the parent co. is involved in a a lawsuit. But it’s more than just a journalist’s nightmare — it could be a serious problem for CNET when it comes to maintaining the trust of their readers. The site noted that the restrictions only affects its reviews and not its news reporting, but will readers make that distinction?
Presumably, when someone goes to the CNET site looking for information about set-top boxes or video-streaming hardware, they want the most complete information they can find. If they know that certain products aren’t going to be reviewed because CBS doesn’t like them for some reason, that’s going to color their impressions of the site’s thoroughness in doing its reviews — and it might also make them wonder about what else is being left out.
The more cynical might wonder whether anyone will even notice once the CES decision blows over, but for media entities — even large ones — in times like these, the trust of their readers is more valuable than ever, and it should probably not be squandered lightly.