My Rebuttal to Roopinder Tara
Living the life of a CAD reporter: Atop the Vancouver Art Gallery at a Lenovo-sponsored launch party for media, analysts, and industry friends enjoying free drinks, appetizers, live DJ music, and schmoozing -- along with that fabulous view of Vancouver's Robson Square district
Back in June, CAD Insider blogger Roopinder Tata wrote a controversial item about CAD writers going to events put on by hardware and software vendors, with costs paid by the vendor. (Among some news organizations, like New York Times, reporters can't even accept a free gummy bear.) His controversy: writing about the event is optional. This is something over which we have disagreed for years.
Mr Tara's position is this: when he gets an invitation to an event, he always goes; but he doesn't necessarily write about it.
My position is the opposite: when I get an invitation, I don't necessarily go; but when I go, I always write about it.
I don't understand his position; he doesn't understand mine. We remain good friends, because we disagree amicably. To recap, here are the reasons he gives for not writing about events:
- Not found anything worthy of note.
- Opportunity to get to know the company and products better, using that information as "background" (journalist-speak for involvement not directly resulting in articles)
- Further business relationships
I agree with points 2 and 3. Often vendors will give me off-the-record information to signal future directions -- non-public roadmaps, as it were. Or, I land work writing an ebook or whitepaper for them.
So this leaves point #1 over which he and I disagree. In my case, I work at finding an angle, even when there is nothing "worthy of note." I feel I owe it to the vendor.
Now, there is the larger controversy of CAD writers accepting "bribes" in the form of free air travel, hotel accommodation, ground transportation, food, gifts, and entertainment that sometimes is quite expensive. Typically, it costs a vendor $1,500 to have me attend his media-only event -- a number significantly smaller than the $5,000 figure estimated by Mr Tara.
(The cost is lower for the vendor when we attend his user conference, because 5-10% of rooms are comp'ed by the hotel just for locating the conference at its facility, and one extra plate of food out of thousands is uncountable.)
Some history: Through 1999, we journalists paid our own way, although larger publishers covered my costs from 1985-1997. This all changed with the Revit launch at Harvard University in early 2000, and it was after this event that other vendors began paying for reporters' travels. Since the recession of 2008, however, many vendors cut back by inviting much smaller groups, or offering only hotels (which are free in some cases, anyhow), or relying on Webcasts.
So the question becomes: Why does Ralph Grabowski accept free travel from vendors? I do it for two reasons:
- Unlike New York Times, I am a one-man publishing company, and so I cannot afford the cost of trips (sometimes I make 2-3 a month) at $1,500 a pop. If I didn't attend, then my readers would receive less information about our industry.
- Vendor events are marketing events, and I will not subsidize their marketing expenses by paying my costs. It's as if I were to pay for the advertisements that vendors place in my newsletter.
As a freelance writer, I receive zero benefits. I don't receive pay for the days I travel, unlike salaried employees. But I do love the benefit of free travel that my job has given me, sending me to exotic locations I'd never been able to otherwise afford, such as Novosibirsk and Saint Petersburg, Budapest and Prague, Brussels and Paris, Boston and Washington, Tokyo and Manila, Auckland and Sydney.
To solve the problem of perceived conflict of interest, I report a disclosure when vendors pay my costs, and for what. I am pleased to see that several other writers do the same.