Journalist Q&A: Scott Ard, editor-in-chief, CNET

At CNET since 1996, Scott Ard has witnessed the ups and downs of both the tech sector and tech journalism. Ard, who was named editor-in-chief in April 2009, speaks with David Ward about the new tech renaissance

Name: Scott Ard
Title: Editor-in-chief
Outlet: CNET
Contact: scott.ard@cbs.com
Website: CNET.com

At CNET since 1996, Scott Ard has witnessed the ups and downs of both the tech sector and tech journalism. Ard, who was named editor-in-chief in April 2009, speaks with David Ward about the new tech renaissance.

CNET features both e-commerce and editorial. Does that present any challenges in how you review and cover products and companies?

Ard: That was a big concern for me when I first arrived at CNET. I was well aware of the potential for tension because I had previously worked at the business sections of newspapers. A lot of the stories we wrote were about companies that could also be our advertisers.

However, I've never had any problems with this at CNET. We have a very strong wall between the two. The business side has never infringed upon what we do here.

How do you deal with companies who feel CNET has reviewed or covered their product or service unfairly?

Ard: There isn't a news outlet that hasn't gotten a complaint about a review, though typically they'll reach out to the reviewer first. Maybe there's some wrong information, but if it's a situation where the reviewer, editor, and company still don't agree, that's when I'm sometimes brought in.

I like to give a fair vetting of the facts and, in some cases, we've had to go back to the review and change something. When we do that, we insert an editor's note at the top noting if the rating or content was changed. I'm most upset when I hear from a vendor who feels they didn't get proper attention. I was taught early on to treat all companies as individuals because companies are made up of individuals. Sometimes reporters get jaded to that.

CNET's audience is very tech-savvy. Does that impact how they like to get their news?

Ard: Yes and it is changing how we deliver content. We've had podcasts for a while, we have a lot of blogs, and we'll soon incorporate Twitter feeds, not just from our own editors, but from people or publications that we approve. We also have forums and user ratings, so there is a lot of user-generated content as well.

What are the big tech trends on the horizon?

Ard: 3D is really generating buzz among manufacturers. They would love to create another upgrade cycle, as everyone who wants HDTV probably has it.

We recently invited a bunch of users to come in for a panel discussion with some of our reviewers, an outside analyst, and five manufacturers showing 3D TVs. One way we're addressing new technology is having our users come in and check it out themselves.

Apple's iPad is getting vast press attention. Will it be a game-changer?

Ard: Tablet computing has been around for a while, but they're scaling it more now. The bigger trend is how the barriers between how you access different types of media are disintegrating, with users able to get content in new ways. The iPad is just another part of that. When you put streaming media on a device like that, you create a new channel for people to get information.

Major companies now seem to prefer to make big announcements separate of trade shows. Are such events still important in the tech world?

Ard: Trade shows are becoming less important for media. Apple has proven you can go rogue and still be very creative in reaching the consumer. Now you're seeing companies coming out with announcements before shows like PMA (Photo Marketing Association), which gives the reporter less incentive to be at the actual event.

Companies still go to trade shows because they want to meet customers and business partners, so they're not going away. But they're not as much of a media event anymore.

Many tech journalists were criticized after the dot-com bust for buying into the hype. Does that experience impact how CNET covers Silicon Valley and new tech products?

Ard: CNET has changed its focus since then. Back then, there was an investor site that was part of CNET News.com. We were covering a lot more of the business of technology than we are now. But it can still get a bit frothy when dealing with products because you do still sometimes come across "vapor ware" when you're reviewing hardware or software.

Now, we only review the finished product and don't accept prototypes or stuff like that. We are also doing things such as stories or blog posts in advance of major trade shows such as CES, noting these were the products announced at the last CES that never made it out. We try to be transparent about it.

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