We Won’t Say We’re Trustworthy on the Record: Red Ventures Squanders CNET’s Excellence

We all have our favorite news sources, and over the years, I’ve come to appreciate CNET’s excellent, in-depth coverage. But recently, things have changed, and now, distressingly, I know why.

Red Ventures acquired CNET in 2020. At that time, CEO Rick Elias told the staff that there’d be a red line separating advertising from editorial. 

However, that has not proven to be the case. As reported by the Verge, reporters have been pressured to alter reviews to be more positive in cases where Red Ventures has a financial relationship with the products in question. Additionally, journalists have been asked to create sponsored content – a request that directly calls their integrity into account. 

On top of that, CNET’s early adoption of AI-written content has led to more than 70 articles needing correction. The AI not only plagiarizes, but it also makes errors in fact – things you would think would be unacceptable in a publication devoted to truth-telling. 

Consider this in Context: Americans Don’t Trust the Media

Reuters, one of the stalwarts of the news business, commissioned research in 2021 to see how the public felt about the media. At that time, the US ranked last among 46 surveyed countries in terms of trusting the media. Political polarization was thought to be a significant cause – 75% of respondents who identified as right-leaning felt the news did not reflect reality accurately, for example – but it’s not the only issue. 

The introduction of AI-generated content complicates an already messy situation. And the fact that people in general don’t want to pay for their news content puts additional pressure on media outlets to find ways to boost revenues. Sponsored content and maintaining lucrative business relationships are not unique to CNET, which highlights the trouble they’re currently in: by participating in behaviors thought to be inherently untrustworthy, Red Ventures has thrown away what made CNET special.

Can CNET come back from this? Re-establishing trust is hard, and frankly, once the staff is talking about the pressures they’re under, I’m dubious that the brand can thrive again without a change of leadership. But what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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