Yesterday's Google I/O keynote—a tech Nuremberg of fanboyism, developer jargon, and fancy new features for Gmail—dragged on for hours. Those thousands who sat patiently in their chairs were rewarded with a brand new, $1,300 laptop—including reporters whose job it is to impartially cover Google. Let's see who took the bait.
Tech writers of all stripes get free things all the time—it's part of the fun! The idea is that a company loans you something, you use it, review it, and then you mail it back. These loan periods are often informal. Some companies have explicit policies about mailing gadgets back, and some manufacturers require your signature on a lengthy, sternly-worded contract. Often, this stuff goes by the wayside: I know there are a handful of dusty phones and a broken Roomba (among other detritus) sitting around my apartment from the three years I worked Gawker Media's Gizmodo.
But yesterday, the "loan" was completely—and surprisingly—optional. Writers could either sign a piece of paper saying they weren't going to keep the computer, or they could eschew the whole thing and just keep it as private property. This is also a computer that, unlike other product giveaways, doesn't need much "evaluation"—the Chromebook Pixel has been out since February, and any publication that was going to write a review would have done so by now with the free Chromebook they were given back then. So who took one this time around—and why? I asked around, and the results were mixed.
(I asked Scoble just to make sure my keyboard was working.) Some answers weren't clear. A staffer at the New York Times declined to comment on the record, but the paper has a very clear ethics statement about loans. Our man on the ground from Gizmodo hasn't emailed me back yet. Gizmodo took Chromebook with a loan agreement. Writers like TechCrunch's Drew Olanoff or GigaOm's Jordan Novet have yet to answer. CNET is silent. I've been told many didn't bother signing anything "I saw a number of people say they didn't need to sign," one reporter told me. "The very fact that the PR people were asking 'do you need to sign a loan agreement' indicated to me that they were hoping not."
The Verge didn't give a straight yes or no, but linked to its explicit policy about loaner gadgets.
Its Editor-in-Chief didn't want to talk about it at all:
Interpret that how you want! Other writers just laughed the whole thing off:
Confession: I also ate some of the food Google provided. And used their Internet.— Seth Weintraub (@llsethj) May 16, 2013
The difference being that the food (probably?) wasn't worth $1,300.
We'll wait for more responses, and update the chart accordingly. It's a touchy question, but a very important one—as The American Prospect's Jeff Saginor wrote, "Technology events are not giveaways for Oprah’s favorite things—journalists don’t get to go home with bags full of expensive toys and then pretend to critically cover the companies that bribe them."