Censorship is arguably the most irreversible path a publication can travel. We are a semi-forgiving society that understands journalists will get the story wrong from time to time. We know that there are ethical boundaries that must occasionally be crossed. We are forgiving when a publication gets too controversial or stands behind the side of an argument with which we do not agree. When censorship enters the equation, a publication loses everything important to it. Credibility is gone. Unbiased reporting can no longer be expected. Every opinion and fact posted will be seen through the eyes of a readership that can no longer trust that the intentions of the publication are pure, that the news reigns over other interests.
CNET is gone. When parent company CBS first put a clamp on CNET’s editorial process, they received their singe free pass. They should have issued a press release stating they understood the errors of their ways and declared that anything published on CNET is done so with absolutely no interference from a corporate media engine that is embroiled in a never-ending procession of lawsuits. That would have been acceptable, even embraced by an internet journalism and blogging community that would herald them as a old school company who learned the new ways and adapted to them quickly. Unfortunately, they didn’t take the right path. Instead, they made everything much, much worse.
Now, the editorial team has been forbidden from reviewing Aereo as part of another lawsuit. This isn’t going to end. CBS is too large and too embedded in entertainment technology to ever be completely out of lawsuits that would affect the editorial freedom of CNET. At this point, an apology and reversal on policy would have a slim chance of bringing back the proud technology blog’s credibility. The damage has been done and nothing short of a complete disconnection between child and parent can ever fix it. Time will not heal this. Apologies will not fix it. They need to sell CNET immediately and just call it a failed experiment of being the story while covering the story.
If CNET is not set completely free from the grips of CBS within the next few days, the entire CNET team owes it to the principles of their chosen profession to immediately find new employment. Any “journalist” who is willing to work under corporate-controlled editorial guidelines is no longer true journalist. They are tools, pawns, marketing mavens, PR spin doctors, or whatever else you’d want to call them.
Thankfully, the entire CNET team has two major things going for them. They are talented; the reviews, news, and opinions that have graced the site for years have always been top notch. They are also now newsworthy themselves; what major publication wouldn’t love to get a “CBS refugee” to join their team. It would be a PR boost for both the journalists as well as the new publications for which they work.
One week. That’s enough time for CBS to fix this by stepping completely away from it all. They don’t necessarily have to sell the website within a week, but they definitely must announce their intentions to do so. If they don’t, the mass exodus should begin the following week. To do anything less would be like getting their own palms greased to write a positive review. CBS is in the wrong game if they think that this will smooth over. When a publication of this magnitude goes to the dark side in spectacular manner the way that CNET has been propelled, there’s simply no going back.
Any CNET journalist who wants to continue posting is more than welcome to contact me. I’d be extremely happy to have you. CBS doesn’t own us. Nobody does.
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“Censored” image courtesy of Shutterstock.