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EXCLUSIVE: Payola Tech Journalism Is Alive & Thriving

Payola journalism is alive and well to the extent that last week I was party to an event, that brings into question the ethics of PR professionals and big budget brands and above all the independence of tech journalism.

The event centred around Huawei and their press announcement relating to the appointment of questionable reseller and service partner Happytel.

4Square Media was not invited to the event for the simple reason that Huawei and in particular their Chinese management and their consumer PR employees do not like our impartial editorial.

This is the story we wrote. The facts talk for themselves.

Huawei and brands like them, only want “positive” PR spin which they are getting from journalists who toe the Huawei part line and work for media Companies who Huawei pours money into.

Huawei are basically buying favourable media coverage with free gifts for journalists who are being given extensive overseas trips to Cities such as Paris, London as well as Shanghai.

Shortly after the invitations went out not one but two journalists approached me claiming that they were not in a position to write what they described as a “negative” story about Huawei or the past history of Happytel.

The reason given that they feared losing their jobs because their media organisation did not want to publish an impartial or negative story about Huewei who right now are buying PR coverage.

They also feared being cut out of the Huawei inner circle of journalists who got 5 star luxury hotels, business class travel and trips for their wives.

One journalist was so incensed that he supplied several links that exposed facts about Huawei’s shocking service record including the fact that 72% of over 400 people who owned a Huawei smartphone and had visited the Trustpilot web site, rated their service experience as “bad”.

Earlier this year we caught Huawei blatantly misleading journalists when at a Sydney press conference, they showed two images purporting to have been shot by the new Huawei P30 smartphone and what Huawei claimed was a competitor’s smartphone.

The P30 image had been doctored and the other image was shot at a different size and on an old Apple smartphone when the real competitor to the P30 is the Samsung S10+.
ChannelNews exposed the issue while others despite openly talking about the issue at the press launch simply chose to ignore the mistruth.

What is happening is that brands are buying favourable coverage and impartial journalism is going out of the door, trust is irrelevant with several major brands who are not only buying up journalist favouritism but influencers who wouldn’t have a clue about many of the consumer technology products they are being paid to spruik.

As for the unskilled blogger or so called influencer they get their by-lines in prominent publications.

The line between journalism and public relations spin has become blurred and PR Companies are taking advantage of this with journalists who are often on a low salary overloaded with free gifts that we know often end up being sold on E Bay.

What these Companies have failed to recognise is that consumers are now picking the paid editorial Vs the genuine impartial editorial.

At ChannelNews we get three or 4 emails a day from bloggers who want to use our credible media assets to seed their questionable and often bought content.

Creating copy is expensive and a lot of media Companies in Australia are struggling to deliver daily doses of new content, so they run press releases and free blogger editorial.
One of these emails normally starts with ‘Hey, Can I Contribute To Your Site’

They then go on to say ‘Would it be possible for me to contribute to your site? We have a site around the gaming, photography, gadgets and electronic related products.

How this works is simple, brands get their PR Companies and digital media partners to enlist a networks of writers, and what we have found is that they often lack expertise of a subject, but they know what the buzz words are.

These writers are paid to approach publishers who pay nothing or next-to-nothing for the content.

Another contributing factor is that in Australia many of the so-called tech journalists are not properly trained journalists or they have done a six month or twelve-month course ending up with a certificate that labels them a “Journalist”, they are not.

I did my apprentership in London’s famous Fleet Street. I spent three years doing law, social sciences, government structure, shorthand and learning how to write a story. The failure rate of a National Council For the Training of Journalists Course use to be up to 70%.

It takes 3 years to get qualified.

Apprentices must complete the NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism as a mandatory qualification and must gain the diploma to progress through the ‘gateway’ to the end-point assessment (EPA).

Most journalists in tech journalism are not trained to this standard or have simply progressed from another tech job into writing, they lack investigation skills and don’t know how to ask probing questions.

During my career I won a Logie for the Nine Network Show A Current Affair, I wrote the Award-Winning Series For the Bulletin the resulted in a Federal Government Royal Commission I also wrote for the Australian newspaper, the Bulletin and Fairfax Media.

I would have not been able to achieve this success without my early training in journalism and what the tech media industry needs to do is address the lack of training.
This may not be possible because a lot off the people running tech media Companies are sales or marketing people who fear losing revenue because of a negative story.

4Square Media is a highly profitable media Company, we have no debt and we work with big Companies such as Samsung. LG, TCL Mobile as well as more than 30 other Companies who have contracts with us.

With each and every one of these Companies we are seen as being impartial we not only criticise products as we did with our recent Samsung Lemon story as well as our story on Samsung’s profit slide or LG’s shocking record with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, we also praise products for their value and design.

We are also knowledgeable, and we can pick the Companies like Huawei or Oppo who openly lie about their market share or products. We have done the same with HTC and Sony and we have not been frightened to take on questionable management as we did with Acer who ended up sacking their CEO after a series of ChannelNews stories.

Many of the free contribution stories are not labelled as advertisements and carried no disclosures that the authors had been compensated by a PR Company.

The practice of paying journalists and others for publishing promotional content while making no mention of the money changing hands is very much alive and it has to stop.

Tech Media Companies have to have the guts to stand up to shonky PR practises and Companies who invest in these practises.

Harold Evans the former Editor of the Sunday Times said, “The pen is a very powerful weapon, use it wisely and don’t let it be taken from you”.

Maybe Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton needs to get a feel for the power of the pen as he attempts to take on journalists for exposing the actions of Federal Government departments and employees.
Media trust and above all their independence is vital in society, journalists have to be able to criticise, write the good and the bad and brands need to learn to handle the criticism.

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