Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
12/12/2006
04:48 PM
Patricia Keefe
Patricia Keefe
Commentary
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Ban The Analysts! Or Not?

It looks like the sometimes raging debate over whether journalists should quote industry analysts - be they technology or financial specialists - has flared up again, this time in an interesting story on a U.K.-based IT publication. Check it out - they are talking about whether to quote the same analysts that U.S. publications talk to. The article notes the New York Times has banned quoting analysts, and then violated

It looks like the sometimes raging debate over whether journalists should quote industry analysts - be they technology or financial specialists - has flared up again, this time in an interesting story on a U.K.-based IT publication. Check it out - they are talking about whether to quote the same analysts that U.S. publications talk to. The article notes the New York Times has banned quoting analysts, and then violated its own ban.There are several schools of thought here, obviously, but there are two basic camps:

* Analysts are paid flunkeys. They are hired by vendor companies (and other corporations and organizations with axes to grind) to survey and research markets and customer references, and to write white papers etc. that support product types or strategies. So isn't everything they say tainted?

* Good analysts are experts in their field, and they are sought out by vendor companies for the same reason user companies buy their reports and attend their conference sessions - they have expertise worth listening to. Sure, they make most of their money serving the vendor market with survey and research services, but they can't afford to discredit themselves by not being honest about the products and services they are speaking about.

There is no question who is paying the bills at most high-tech analyst firms - it's no secret. It's become so easy to sneer at the objectivity of the people who work there, as a result, that it's become knee-jerk.

But there are other issues for the press too. If we're honest, we'll concede that on some level, we now find ourselves competing with analysts to disseminate the news. For example, as pointed out by my InformationWeek colleague Mary Hayes, many analysts have blogs now, and act like journalists. (They are also in the newsletter business, I might add). That might be ok, but when vendors like SAP separate out the two groups, and tell stuff to analysts they won't tell the press, which winds up the next day in the analyst blogs, well, there is a competitive issue here.

I fall somewhere in the middle of this debate. I have quoted analysts throughout my 25 years covering high-tech, and I have come across plenty who knew less than I did - so, I avoided them. I focused instead on the ones who appeared to know what they were talking about, who were just as likely to harshly criticize a vendor or technology as they were to praise them, and yeah - these people do exist. For example, there isn't a crediable analyst alive who could cover Apple or Microsoft and not spend as much time bashing them as they do lauding them. So it's not hard to pick out the sycophants tracking those companies.

I also look for analysts who could speak to user issues, who had an understanding of IT in a corporate setting, and who could offer useful advice to readers. And then there are the analysts who got vendor access I and my readers could not - analysts, and resellers for that matter, tend to get briefed first about new stuff. Some don't mind talking about it(Apple hates those guys). As for the surveys - as a rule, it's just not that hard to pick out the reasonable surveys from the self-serving ones. As for market growth reports - I ignore them. They tend to be based on vendor projections, and what else do you think they are going to say? "We see huge growth, baby - off the charts!" Right.

The upshot for me is that the same people paying analyst bills, are for the most part the same people paying the bills at high-tech news organizations. I know what the cynics are thinking right now, but advertisers do not control content on legitimate publications. I've never worked on one where they did, and I never would. But I have worked on publications that gave up a year of substantial revenue as vendor punishment for publishing fair stories they did not like. And I have seen editors stand up to vendor/advertisers who wanted to remove reporters from their beats. My point is that if the press can draw a line in the sand, so can't analysts, if they want to. And some do.

So for me, whether to quote analysts is something you decide on a story-by-story, case-by-case, analyst-by-analyst basis. A blanket ban seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It looks good, but are you really serving the readers? On the other hand, quoting analysts who have nothing of value to add to a story, or who seem to have something to say about everything to everyone (how expert is that?) is stupid.(As an editor, I have banned analysts I thought were overexposed and overreaching.)

I know the press wrestles with this issue daily. But I'm really curious to know what readers think. Do you listen to analysts? Do you see value in their reports? Do you want see analysts quoted in news stories, or would you rather rely on the reporter's expertise? If we don't quote analysts, that leaves the vendors (talk about self-serving!), users (if we can find any who are allowed to talk on the record) or some mix of government, legal or other related, interested parties. Or would you just rather the reporter relies on their own knowledge and observation,(just like the analysts do, actually)?

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