Sketchy ethics around product reviews

“The saddest thing is how hard it is for everyday people to tell real and fake news apart these days; the situation is the same in the world of product reviews.”

In 2018, I think the trends we’ve been seeing and living for a decade will continue: Ads will get more dire as a source of revenue, eaten up by Facebook and Google, and companies that have over-optimized on bite-sized, free viral content to keep up with falling rates will continue down that path. At the same time, companies — or, at least, those offering the quality of work that is worth paying for — will be more open to pursuing subscriptions and similar models. And more companies will get into formats pairing affiliate marketing with product recommendations, similar to what Wirecutter does under The New York Times.

Unfortunately for readers, most media companies will merely emulate the product-review format and do so in a way that is not so reader focused. Over the past few years, we’ve heard alarming stories of conflicts of interest in many successful publishing houses that are either experienced or learning about this type of content. We hear of deals that are paid for by retailers or manufacturers, not clearly labeled as anything but editorial, that are actually promoting overpriced junk. We hear of ad-sales teams in companies moving hundreds of millions of dollars in recommended products and services who are authorized to bestow editorial awards upon advertisers. And we hear of venture-funded publications that claim to do extensive testing but merely pick popular things off Amazon and present them through a false narrative. We know of these stories because the talent at these companies come to us for jobs when they can’t stand the conflicts of interest anymore — and worse, they say they wouldn’t trust the work their own companies put out into the world when they do their own shopping. Pretty disgusting, huh?

The saddest thing is how hard it is for everyday people to tell real and fake news apart these days; the situation is the same in the world of product reviews. So I think transparency in process, as both service and marketing, will be a critical way for people who do great work to be able to charge for it and separate themselves from the pack, differentiating themselves from business leaders who are too busy looking at their quarterly reports to realize that no one trusts or respects or believes what they’re saying any longer.

Brian Lam founded Wirecutter.

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Burt Herman   Things get real

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Richard Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Jake Levine   The return to now

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Paul Ford   Go global

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Juleyka Lantigua   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives