Writer apologizes after comment backlash

Two weeks ago, Jon Fingas wrote an interesting opinion piece for Engadget about how Amazon and Google selling hardware at a loss--a classic anticompetitive strategy--reduces choice and hurts consumers. Spotless corporate idols thereby insulted, commenters were angry. So, Engadget he apologized to them.

MG Siegler:

As [he] tells it, the piece should have had more examples and “set a more neutral tone”. Um, why? To ensure that it’s yet another boring-as-fuck piece that no one would even get through let alone think about ever again? As a writer, I feel disgusted seeing such an update. As a reader, I feel even worse. It reads as if the Engadget editors think their readership to be morons who can’t think and/or reason for themselves beyond what they’re told.

Which would be a real problem, given that this situation arose because Engadget's contributor apparently believes, or is made to accept (see update below), that readers are his critical equals.

In this view, the writer sees his job as not to share insight or perform acts of journalism or entertainment, but more a kind of PR filtration duty for a specified "community". The process of turning industry news into blog posts has long worn its own quasi-formal language: engaging and sufficiently stripped of marketing to be readable--with a hint of snark to establish that all-important critical distance!--but punctilious in its servicing of reader expectations.

Update: Engadget EIC Tim Stevens writes to point out that I was wrong to attribute the apology to Engadget itself:

The editorial went up and of course riled up a heck of a sandstorm in comments and elsewhere, as many good editorials often do. The editor in question, who is relatively new to us and hasn't written such a high-profile opinion piece before, wasn't prepared for the sort of vitriol he was receiving on all fronts. Beaten down by the hate, he began to second-guess his argument and posted the update, which has caused the subsequent storm.

Now, we have a policy for updates that materially change the content of the post. (Basically, anything more than quick additional bits of info or something like "Oops, that's out of stock now.") Those updates need to go through a senior editor for approval and anything big, anything that boils down to us blowing the story, needs to go through me. That didn't happen here, as this editor wasn't aware of the process. Had that update been run by me I would have shot it down, as would have any other editor, and it would have never appeared on the site.

This is an excellent policy, and I apologize for assuming that Engadget itself was responsible for the apology--even if it was removed without much explanation.

Unfortunately, it also means that my remarks on editorial confidence would apply directly to a specific person--Fingas. And they seem rather mean-spirited in that context. When it comes to your own writing, however, the fix is easy: stop worrying about what other people think, especially vitriolic commenters.


  1. “engaging and sufficiently stripped of PR language to be readable–with a hint of snark to establish that all-important critical distance!–but punctilious in its servicing of reader expectations”


    1. The funny part is that the basic premise is a matter of fact, not opinion.  It can be verified or falsified.  I realize that we live in post-factual times, but still, apologizing for an unwelcome fact is so craven.

      Doing it anonymously, even moreso.

  2. Here on BoingBoing we know that the contributorim are the equals of the commentariat (excepting, of course, that one idiot), although they primarily exist to satiate our need for Wonderful Things.

    For which service we are grateful, and should probably Tip Better for the Holidays.

  3. Given how most readers of Engaget are involved in the computing technology industry, one would assume a significant portion of readers would be critically superior to those whose expertise is merely journalism. /snark

    All personal technology journalism is by fanboys for fanboys.

  4. Engadget is not Gizmodo, but they’re kidding themselves if they think their viewership is there for the quality of journalism. Like it or not, these second tier tech blogs are glorified PR outlets. I go there for announcements, pictures, videos and specs not their analysis or opinions. If I have the patience, I’ll parse through the comments, because more often or not, you will find a more insightful write up from select contributors. Assuming you have the patience to navigate around the troll mines. I won’t even go into MG, but I read his articles to get angry for the gym. I guess I should thank him.

      1. Verge and TNW are my go to because at least they’re pretty. But I have everything in Google Reader so I can quickly skip through the text. No way to block out MG’s well crafted headlines though.

          1. I took them off the list when they started the investment fund CrunchFund. I don’t want to read articles from a source that clearly has a vested interested in hyping their own companies.

  5. Amazon and Google are idolised?  B’jeez.  Yes, they’ve changed society in many good ways.  But Google in particular in so many ways is a razor-wielding monkey.

    Admiration, I’ll do.  Idolatry, leave it to the innocents.

    btw Rob you have a beautiful turn of phrase and amazingly succinct way with words: “punctilious in its servicing of reader expectations” – wow.

    Good on ya.

      1. Of course towards the end of that brandy you’d fess up that what you really meant was “the occasional reach-around keeps the punters happy”.

  6. I’ma gonna delete any comment containing the word “fanboy” both on general principle and to illustrate one amusing inequality datapoint between “contributorim” and “commentariat”

    1. I personally prefer to have my expectations serviced sedulously.  With conscientious assiduous diligence, if possible.

  7. “It reads as if the Engadget editors think their readership to be morons who can’t think and/or reason for themselves beyond what they’re told.”

    Oh irony! Thy name is MG iSeigler.

  8. Sure, you CAN go all meta about how you managed to provoke a certain outrage thereby exposing something even more meta until your face turns blue.

    The somber reality is that this was a cheap shot article of almost randian idiocy trolling people into rage based on either outdated or nonsense economic blah blah.

    It is very simple to react to price dumping: Let em bring it. They wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for market blah bla blah my god this is boring.

    There is something to be said about annoying Torvalds into responding (which is how I found the article) and I guess that’s to their credit and blah bla bla, bla blah bla Jesus Criminy is this boring.

    This is hipster noise shouting and fingerpointing very hard at other hipster noise and blah blah blah just kill me now.

    1. I thought the article was well thought out; it went into detail, and the conclusions were not as simplistic as the headline would lead one to believe.  

      The major fault was that it simply assumes predatory pricing works.  But it’s not a cheap shot, or trolling.

      1. Fair enough. I guess my tone was mainly due to being overly allergic to the attached histrionics.

        I would still stick to my original point for two reasons. One being that yes, the idea that predatory pricing always works is brittle at best.

        Second, though, the argument was that all this hurts competition and innovation.

        I must say I don’t find the tablet market to be terribly innovative. It’s another screen with another computer behind it. The big innovations, if you can call them that, have been made (basic technology, making everything approachable), leaving the market to run its natural course: commoditization.

        Where the innovation is happening now is not in hardware, it’s in software, but that isn’t as simple a market as hardware. All rules are different and the barrier of entry is much lower. Even if there was a successful drive to close up the market by limiting access, Android has the FOSS exception built in and you see a lot of jailbreaking over at Apple.

        All that leaves me wondering why people are making such a fuss.

        1. A good answer. I wasn’t quite sure I understood your original point. I know exactly nothing about the tablet market, so I found the article pretty informative. I had heard (possibly here on BoingBoing) that Amazon’s margins in many areas were razor-thin.

        2. Perhaps the tablet hardware market isn’t particularly innovative precisely because it’s effectively closed to any entrant who makes money off hardware alone.

      2. What conclusion? That dumping is bad? He offered no analysis beyond a stupid analogy to the PC (as if it is now impossible to buy a high quality PC), and no course of action to take to solve this supposed problem beyond a general whine admonishing us to buy good stuff and not cheap crap. It was a rationalization against complaints on the price of the iPad mini and a subtle disparaging of the latest Android tablets which are reviewing very favorably against the iPad. 

        If it wasn’t trolling, it wasn’t trolling the same way certain political pundits’ association of race with entitlement isn’t necessarily racism. When thousands of loyal readers accuse one article of trolling, you look kind of silly telling them it’s their fault for being offended.

        And besides, it was just plain dumb. Apple changed the game by making it about ecosystem, so Google and Amazon embraced that change by making money on the blades and not the razors. How is it an injustice that Apple now finds it harder to profit on razors? How is that bad for the consumer? You don’t see people crying over their video game consoles for being sold at cost. The lack of awareness of this point seems almost intentional.

        The lack of the words “anticompetitive” or “dumping” occurring anywhere in the article is also conspicuous. Obviously Rob and Siegler know what’s up, so does that make the article dog whistling, or simply ignorant?

  9. People go to Engadget to fling poop. The amount of ipoop shipped in and flung around in industrial quantities by professional poop flingers is what annoys the average Engadget poop flinger. It goes without saying that many comment monkeys fling poop for their favourite team but this poop flinging is less contentious due to its amateur status.

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