In the run up to IBC, I was enrolled on mailing lists by PR agencies without even opting-in. These companies were working for various camera-related brands. I received invite after invite to meet, to talk, to build bridges and make friends. Meanwhile DJI was spamming my forum via a fake user, advertising the Mavic 2.
Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg and it’s enough to make anyone lose their enthusiasm for camera reviews.
This stuff has gone too far.
Camera reviews and blogging for me is the same as journalism. You either say it like it is, 100% the truth and the conviction of your opinion, or you’re not a journalist.
Although there are many fine journalists at the websites I read daily for camera news, the reality for too many sites is that they are partially dependant on the manufacturer’s help and in some cases answerable to very large corporate owners. Over the years, many a kind and decent person from the camera manufacturers have built a bridge with EOSHD, for which I am very grateful for – but (and it can’t be helped) it does put indirect pressure on me to be a good friend in return. Much as I want to meet the camera companies and those geniuses who work for them, therein lies a dilemma, and I always try to keep more distance than perhaps many other sites do. I want my role to be technical feedback and creativity related.
I feel I am almost completely alone in this approach.
I have not seen the same dawning realisation at other sites, that they are being played like a fiddle by the camera manufacturers.
Take for example Luminious Landscape, a site I respect very much for the in-depth information they provide. Unfortunately they have a somewhat sycophantic tone of late, in one article begging Nikon to be on their PR list.
Take a look at their disclosure on the EOS R first impressions post here. It will tell you all that you need to know about what is wrong with camera journalism in the current climate.
They say they’ve been invited to Maui, Hawaii with many other content providers. That is how Canon see them – content providers – not journalists. Canon has covered their expenses. The camera launch was at a glittering Tuesday evening event. They get to spend the next two days with an EOS R in the Hawaiian sun. After that, they get to return home with the very same camera. They claim this is a first for any camera company and very welcome. They say that as a participant, Canon’s marketing team have given them their undivided attention! Plus lots of sushi! Not only the marketing team in fact, but the design and support team as well.
Then Luminous Landscape come out with the following corker of a statement:
“We are under no obligation to say certain things about their cameras and lenses”.
Sure, there’s no firm instructions to say nice things. There are instead a ton of unspoken ones. A plethora of personal reasons. One – your career. Two – your future access to such events. Three – the Kodak smiling moments of a holiday spent in the company of Canon people. Four – the unspoken expectation – that after all those favours and access to people high-up at the company – you will not give the video mode the high profile public trashing it deserves.
I found it also very interesting to see the DPReview video where Chris Nicholls and Rishi Sanyal talk about the camera straight after the launch event in a hotel. He we have on one side, a more outspoken YouTube personality. On the other side we have a scientist by training, who knows all the ins and outs of camera technology and who is probably a very nice guy.
But for me watching this video, the tension is all too apparent. Rishi is about anodyne as you can get. He is going out of his way not to offend Canon or say bad things in the video, even though the facts are staring him in the face and Chris is constantly reminding him of the fact.
Rishi is a doctor in biophysics. He should know that in the medical industry it’s illegal for doctors to go on sponsored trips arranged by pharmaceutical companies. It’s not his responsibility to apply the same rule to the camera industry, but maybe if we had the same rule, we would have had a more entertaining on-camera show from him.
Besides if the soft-power PR effect is recognised in so many other professions, nobody can deny the persuasive PR effect on camera reviewers isn’t real as well. In fact if it wasn’t real, the camera companies wouldn’t spend million of dollars on it. If I were being unkind, I’d say this flattery is nothing more than a form of “bribery”.
I am fine with moderated PR and access to camera companies, for interviews and product hands-on. I am fine with giving them feedback behind closed doors to improve the product. The PR industry is a creative and vibrant endeavour and it is what it is. It cannot, however, be allowed to turn even the most hard-bitten of journalists into a bunch of poodles.
Every year it is getting more and more elaborate.
It is crossing a line. You can read time and time again one disclosure after another where they say “no obligations” until blue in the face but they don’t fool me, because they are sitting in a deck chair in Hawaii while they type and I’ve experienced the same thing for myself and the effect it has.
The more the camera companies feel they can rely on journalists to downplaying poor functionality and missing features in reviews, the more they will continue to cripple video features like Canon are doing with the EOS R.
I don’t want to offend my fellow colleagues with this article, nor the talented marketing people I myself know in this great industry. I just want there to be an understanding, some moderation and a push back. No more sponsored trips to Iceland to generate pretty content for reviews. If you want to go, pay for it yourself. No more expenses paid jaunts to Hawaii and glittering launch parties. They’re actually very boring to attend anyway and one quickly becomes jaded with the same old marketing techniques. What excites me about reviewing a new camera is the fact I own it, I chose it, I will make use of it and make movies with it. Everything else, is by the by.