Comment There are times when even the most optimistic pro-business American news organs realize they've gone too far.
CNET News.com, for example, published a story this week with the headline "YouTube tests viewer-friendly ad format." The piece - and we mean that literally - covered Google's decision to place ad pop-ups at the bottom of YouTube videos. You're told right away that "Google is finally rolling out an advertising format for YouTube that could succeed where many others have failed: it's not annoying."
Well, even though the entire premise of CNET's fluff piece is that the ads are not annoying, the publication thought its headline annoying enough for a quick rewrite. You'll now find the puffery located under the "YouTube tests 10-second ad format" banner.
CNET fits well into that broad list of American publications that feels a need to celebrate business at almost every turn. Champions of this format claim they're pursuing objectivity, although you'll notice that relentless optimism and an unwillingness to question big business - except through an occasional semi-feisty quotation from an analyst - is really rather subjective.
In recent weeks, CNET has ratcheted up the optimistic, business-will-solve-everything stance by getting rid of boring stories on servers, chips and enterprise software and replacing them with pieces on nifty gadgets, must have TVs, Second Life and the green technology revolution. It's techno utopianism at its worst. As a result, you find the publication championing the idea that consumers love ads, especially when the benevolent Google presents them.
"Is it viewer-friendly because it's arguably less annoying than having an ad run in advance of a video?," asks Nick Carr. "That's like saying that being hit on the head once with a hammer is a pleasant experience because it's not as bad as being hit on the head twice with a hammer."
In addition, we've found CNET hiring a horde of vendor bloggers to help it out with reporting. We understand this was a partial response to falling reader figures. CNET hoped to keep up with the times by using cheap labor to pump out largely worthless posts - the exception being Alfresco's Matt Asay. (Full disclosure: Your reporter is working on a project with Asay, which puts Asay's professional judgment in question. His open source judgment is unquestioned.)
If you look at the bog posts from, say, Peter Glaskowsky, you have to wonder what CNET is thinking. Here's a guy who works at a stealth chip start-up that's allegedly making products that will fit into mobile devices. He writes away on, well, chips and mobile devices, but you have no idea about Glaskowsky's real agenda because he refuses to reveal what his company actually does. (This problem may work itself out soon enough if the rumors we hear of Montalvo's demise are true.)
The CNET boggers have deep, corporate ties. These are the kinds of people that tell you ads are what consumers desire when the publication's reporters can't get there first.
And it's not so bad on the surface that CNET has these corporate boggers. We sometimes allow a vendor-type to pen a piece - with full disclosure - here and there too, if we feel they have something interesting to say. It's just that CNET has so many apparatchiks, and the average reader has no idea of the boggers' ulterior motives.
While CNET tries to sort out its place in the bogger kingdom, the rest of us may as well enjoy the ride. There's nothing like an optimistic identity crisis for a good laugh. ®