There has been quite a storm in a teacup brewing today. No, it doesn't involve food poisoning which kept the author of these lines on his toes since 5AM - rather it involves the control the media likes to exercise over the companies, and vice versa. It involves the controlled launch of AMD's Trinity processors and Virgo platform, and an attack from the side of one media (first article, second article) which I considered highly credible - until now.
What Media Does?
The role of media is typically considered of paramount importance for the success of products coming to the market. Automotive makers will fly journalists to race tracks or in more exotic locations and give them a first taste of the car which will come to market, and naturally - nobody will complain about the free flights or the simple fact that you can go all crazy on a platform which is coming to the market. Most of those events end in quite unspectacular manner and readers get the information. Sometimes, those tests end in a catastrophic fashion, such as my friend and colleague almost dying when a hood opened on a brand new BMW 5-Series at 50 mph in a corner in Sicily, Italy - all leading to a product delay as an error in the latching mechanism was found and numerous lives were saved (yet alone BMW's face).
Thus, the role of media is to get the information in whatever way possible, and present the best possible information to its readers.
What Media Gets?
The world of technology media is pretty much the same as the automotive one sans we get to keep the goodies in many cases, while the automotive media typically enjoys discounts on cars reaching up to 80% (or even 100%).
Travel media typically gets Business or First Class upgrades with no questions asked, or even get free travel with their FF card having a special number (Emirates is a good example of an airline that caters to worldly media, even if not in the travel industry).
Regardless of the part of the industry you are involved with, you will fly to exotic locations - gather tens, if not hundreds of thousands of miles for reporting on what is going on with the products or technologies. Furthermore, there are unspoken secrets what really happens on events organized by specific companies. The title of this article isn't accidental. In this case, I cannot but remember certain media wars that happened when an Editor-in-Chief of one publication, otherwise married was photographed in a story with a lady of the night. These days, geeks are "in" and there's no problem for nightly entertainment far away from home. Naturally, there are media organizations that do not accept paid travel or samples, but the business development departments of those outlets will typically discuss advertising or different types of engagement. In other terms, no such thing as free lunch. Or free coverage, for that matter.
Which brings us to the following…
Controlled Reviews? What Controlled Reviews?
Today, AMD unveiled a controlled preview of its "Virgo" platform and "Trinity" APU processors. You can read our architectural and platform analysis here. What is allowed for publication today are the gaming benchmarks, in which AMD Fusion A10-5800K will easily speed past not only its price competitor, the Core i3 Series, but will even pummel to the ground a 3x more expensive part, the Intel Core i7-3770K. Naturally, in 3D applications alone. Where you need DirectX and OpenGL performance, which really isn't there with Ivy Bridge, nor it was with Sandy Bridge (Core iX-2000 series) - and it's doubtful that it will be "there" with Haswell. Legendary game developer Tim Sweeney, who worked closely with Intel on Larrabee once famously said: "Intel can't do drivers. They never did, they never will." That never might come in 2013, might come in 2014 or might indeed, never come.
Thus, today you can read gaming reviews on our partner site, VR-Zone and respected publications such as PC Perspective, LegitReviews, AnandTech and hey, there's even a complete review on Tom's Hardware. Thus, if you wanted to know what AMD has in store for the 2012 Holiday Season - you can with just a few clicks of the mouse. Our own preview was unfortunately delayed due to a faulty motherboard, but we have Windows back and running and there is a complete review coming from us.
However, one media outlet which we considered in high regard did something I believe no journalist should ever do - posted a content of a confidential mail between Peter Amos, AMD's manager in the New Product Review Program and the media which had the Virgo reference platform. The reason for the publication of this email was AMD's requirements of what should be posted on September 27th, 2012 at 12:01AM Eastern Daylight Time:
"The topics which you are free to discuss in your preview articles starting September 27th, 2012 at 12:01AM EDT are any combination of:
- Gaming benchmarks (A10, A8)
- Speeds, feeds, cores, SIMDs and branding
- Experiential testing of applications vs Intel (A10 Virgo will be priced in the range of the i3 2120 or i3 3220)
- Power testing"
The article on Tech Report took a hard and honest stance which we respect - and that was that publication will not participate in the partial review. However, we noticed several problematic statements in the story:
"As we said before, what AMD is doing here is quasi-clever, taking an existing form—the "limited product preview"—hollowing it out, and using it in an innovative fashion in order to achieve a previously unheard of measure of control over reviewers."
"Yes, AMD and other firms have done limited "preview" releases in the past, where select publications are allowed to publish a few pictures and perhaps a handful of benchmark numbers ahead of time. There is some slight precedent there.
But none of that changes the fact that this plan is absolutely, bat-guano crazy. It crosses a line that should not be crossed.
Companies like AMD don't get to decide what gets highlighted in reviews and what doesn't. Using the review press's general willingness to agree on one thing—timing—to get additional control may seem clever, but we've thought it over, and no. We'll keep our independence, thanks."
This article also sparked a conversation among members of media and technology companies on Facebook and quite frankly, this statement was the trigger for this article:
"For those who see little harm in AMD's practices in this particular instance, I get it. It's just one product release, and not perhaps the most consequential one in your book. But the principle at stake is paramount to the continued production of reviews you can trust, and that is a much larger issue than this one incident. If you're an AMD fan, perhaps this case doesn't bother you, but the next one, where Intel or Nvidia or whoever takes a similar approach, may not sit so well. Whatever your allegiances, your interests as a consumer would be better served by a truly independent review press."
Short Memory: Intel Releases Controlled Reviews of Conroe
First and foremost, we are taking an issue here, since all media, Tech Report and all of my previous publication, The Inquirer - were guilty of. In 2006, when Intel was preparing its onslaught codenamed Conroe, the company gathered press in US, Europe and APAC and invited the media to do a controlled review of Core 2 Duo and pitch it against AMD's systems.
Intel not only did exercise absolute control over benchmarks, but also over the setup of AMD systems. All media had to do was come over, run the preset benchmarks and go and gloat just how great the "Conroe" is. Here's a quote from Tech-Report:
"We were among a select group of publications here at IDF to get a chance to do some hands-on testing with Intel's next-generation desktop processor, code-named Conroe. Although the results are obviously very preliminary, they give us something of a window into how Intel's new CPU may perform when it arrives. Read on for a first look at Conroe performance, compared directly to an overclocked dual-core Athlon 64 system."
This is the intro text into of a what Tech Report alleges now, a canned article on no other media should cover. The conclusion was in the same tone:
"Clearly, it's way too early to call this race, but these preliminary benchmarks from Conroe are very exciting. Intel processors have fallen out of favor with gamers and PC enthusiasts due to relatively weak performance in certain types of games and apps, and Conroe looks like it has the potential to turn that situation around—perhaps in a very big way."
"Of course, you'll have to make what you will of these numbers, given the conditions in which we obtained them. Had we the freedom to run a broad spectrum of tests, we might have found the Athlon 64 dual-core system coming out ahead by similar margin in many cases."
The same introductions and same conclusions came from The Inquirer and colleagues on Tom's Hardware, AnandTech, Legit Reviews, PC Perspective and all others. We all participated in those preview articles, read by millions of you, respected readers - on publications that earned your trust. We as media are all guilty of gunning for hits, because hits on a free website (you don't pay for this content, now do you?) means a life line. However, when somebody calls for principles and at the same time does not apologize for breaking those same principles in the past... we leave you to reach a conclusion what should be thought.
Furthermore, after the Intel sanctioned event I learned that the Core 2 Quad QX6700, which I pre-reviewed - was a mistake and should not have been subject to performance evaluation six months ahead of its launch. Then again, the question of editorial decision and journalistic integrity is always easily solvable. Just like today you can read a full review on media that quite frankly, doesn't give a damn. Think of them as you please.
All we know is that all companies, including AMD, NVIDIA, Intel - especially Apple - Qualcomm - all try to control the information. There are two ways to work with those companies - and ultimately, tough but fair is the only ground you can stand on. If you ask industry vendors what they think of a publication, be that BSN or somebody else - you will usually get either a candid answer or an honest one.
Nobody is perfect. No human, no hardware or software product. Hardware products have errata (bugs), software has bugs and humans have egos. But to glorify yourself and raise above the others is something I personally consider a no-no. While I was growing up, I was taught to say "we", regardless of being in a Formula 3 racing team, where you can be the biggest talent, but without mechanic to start the engine - you'll be cooking in your own sweat and able to do nothing - regardless of are we talking about software developers, who spill sweat, blood and tears in creating virtual worlds we like to take for granted… examples are countless. We live in a social world and can choose either to respect each other, or go for glory.
We do not agree with the way how AMD shaped up this launch date. But we also have the responsibility to our readers to deliver the news and in case you were afraid there's nothing else but good news for AMD, check our architectural overview. We leave you to voice out are we paid, biased, etc etc. Just bear in mind that AMD PR boss thinks we're anti-AMD biased, Intel VP Marketing thinks we're pro-NVIDIA and NVIDIA's own VP of Product Marketing once torpedoed an automotive project we were developing, after a well received talks during the GPU Technology Conference. Unfortunately for NVIDIA, that behavior was a red card for us and we will leave them wondering why our current client switched to competing products. Such is life.
Getting back on subject - is AMD the first to do a controlled review push? Actually, they had to start doing it given Intel's pre-configured desktops and servers/workstations. It took Intel several billion dollars in fines and settlements to change their own ways and Intel now is a vastly different company than it was in the past. Still, it employs executives which have dubious comments and disrespect their own marketing and PR teams, but again - such is life.
Is AMD beginning to take the same route as Intel once instituted? Somehow, we doubt it. The real challenge for both AMD and Intel does not lie in the desktop market, though. Real verdict of Fusion "Trinity" processors will only be given after Windows 8 come out, at the tail end of October.
Where do we Stand
Here at Bright Side of News*, a part of Bright Side Network Inc., we have "the luck" of not being dependent on advertising deals we mentioned above. While it would be nice to run something else than Google Ads, we do not trade our journalistic integrity and use the resources of our other business units to keep us more than afloat. If you're wondering what those services are, let's just say 4K/5K Video production, financial analysis and automotive/embedded/mobile software development. For as long as those business units are successful, there's no fear for the journalistic integrity on this website. And even then, we'd rather sell our organs than trade our integrity. In case you are wondering - yes, our BUs are successful. :-)
Our integrity resulted in having the privilege to greet former executives of companies such as NVIDIA, HP or Nokia to the team, as well as CPU architects that shaped the world of computing or co-founders of industry events such as SIGGRAPH. This is something we firmly stand on and will not budge, regardless of who's blacklist we might ending up on.
Our articles are firmly independent and no, you cannot buy our reviews or our awards. Since our launch in 2009, we have lost almost $100,000 in advertising for not "going in line with what tech media is expected to do" - a statement coming from a former marketing executive in a motherboard company which advertises regularly with the competing publications.
On Bright Side of News, our tolerance for Bull S**t and hypocrisy is less than zero.
As a disclaimer, I have worked in the media industry since 1999, for publications such as VIDI, PC Play, The INQUIRER, TG Daily, Tom's Hardware - prior to establishing Bright Side Network, Inc. a Delaware Corporation headquartered in San Diego, CA. Prior to journalistic engagements, I was involved with Mercedes-Benz, Microprose and Electronic Arts. Should you wish to comment, you can do so below or contact the author directly at firstname at brightsideofnews dot com.