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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How did that get published in Forbes?

The Fact Sheet

In 2018 URISA published a Fact Sheet about open source GIS. One sentence in the sheet reads:
Forbes magazine publishes articles encouraging corporate managers to involve their staff members in open source development, and highlighting the advantages of open source.
The sentence includes links to two articles. Shweta Saraf 's article is titled Why Your Engineers Should Spend More Time Writing Open Source Software Code. Laurence Bradford's piece is How Open-Source Development Is Democratizing The Tech Industry. That's what prompted the question in the title and two others:
  • Does Forbes endorse open source software via these articles? 
  • Does the fact that these articles are published on Forbes.com give them authority?  
Forbes Councils

On the webpage for Saraf's article, in small light gray print, just between the title and the  the banner ad graphic you'll find some text:

It's a bit hard to read; here's what is says:
Forbes CommunityVoice Connecting expert communities to the Forbes audience. What is This?
Here's the (non-copyable) text presented when you scroll over "What is this?"

Next to Saraf's byline you'll find this statement along with a Technology Council badge:
CommunityVoice Forbes Technology Council i [Via hover over "i"] Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
At the end of the article, just above Saraf's one sentence bio, you'll find this text:
Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?
So, how did Saraf's article, which is solely her opinion, get published on this page? 

1) She had to meet the council membership criteria (self-reported) to apply:
[be] a senior-level technology executive at a company that meets the following minimum criteria:
  • generates a minimum of $1M in revenue, or…
  • has a minimum of $1M in financing
  • has headquarters located in North America.
2) She had to apply and be selected; Forbes makes it clear that just meeting the criteria does not ensure acceptance. The application page notes, "Forbes Technology Council is a highly-selective, quality-over-quantity organization."

3) She, or perhaps her employer, had to pay $1200 per year to join a Council. The Technology Council, which she joined, is one of the 15 industry and geographic councils; others include non-profit, business development and finance. The benefits page notes six benefits for members:
  • Get published on Forbes.com - there seems to be a cap of one article per month; Saraf published just one during the year she's been in the council
  • Insights and advice from fellow tech leaders - have access to support forums and member-led webinars 
  • Prestige of association with the Forbes brand - badges, press release templates (example of someone who used it), etc.
  • Personal service from our concierge team - for introductions to other members
  • Exclusive rates on high-end services - travel, etc.
  • Access to your benefits, anytime, anywhere - mobile app
4) She had to navigate the writing and editing process. 


There's some pushback on the council business model. A Quora post from 2016 asking if the $1200 fee is worth it prompted responses from individuals who find the program valuable and others who do not. An article from 2016 from Everything PR uses the term "scam" when exploring the Agency Council, a council for those in public relations. A 2018 blog post from someone who joined, then left, the non-profit council indicates concerns about participants buying their way into Forbes. ARpr makes the same argument in its review of Pay for Play scams.

My Take

Council articles should be considered paid placements. Further, Forbes should do a better job identifying them as such and readers should be clear that they are not earned media

Forbes Contributors

Next to Bradford's byline you'll find this statement: 
Contributor i [hover over i] Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
A Forbes Contributor sounds like a a real writer with subject matter expertise. And, it is. The current state of the Forbes Contributor position was detailed by Forbes post in February 2018.

Basically, the variety of contributors before February 2018 - some unpaid and others with a variety of contacts - signed contracts with a guarantee of a minimum of $250 a month plus bonuses for hitting specific audience goals. To get the minimum says a blogger who sells "guest post" services, "you’ll be expected to write at least one post each month, and generally closer to one a week. You’re usually presumed to stay within a narrow lane of expertise based on your channel and the content that got you brought into the site itself." Getting into the program, and then staying in (the bottom 10% will be cut periodically) requires significant writing ability, subject matter expertise and effort.

My Take

Forbes Contributors are basically paid opinion writers or columnists; they are not paid reporters.  Forbes notes that in 2017, of the estimated 1,500 contributors, about 100 made five figures with just five contributors making more than $200,000 per year. I would imagine some contributors write for the supplemental income, along with the "prestige of association" which they hope will enhance their resumes or their employers. The contributor I read most is an Atmospheric Science professor at University of Georgia, Marshall Shepherd. He published Blame Extreme Weather For A Collard Greens Shortage This Christmas on Forbes on Christmas Eve. 

Other Forbes Publishing Opportunities

There are a few other monikers you might find next to author's or company's name on Forbes. 

  • Contributor Group - This appears to be a group of people "sharing" the role of a contributor, but I've not found confirmation. Esri has a contributor group. Here's a sample post
  • Brand Contributor - This is a paid post. The organization the post is part of the BrandVoice paid content program. Oracle is part of the BrandVoice program; here's a sample post. Again, Forbes could do a better job making clear these are paid posts. 
  • Forbes Staff - Actual Forbes staffers. This is earned media. Here's an article about Esri.
  • Forbes Insights - Forbes fee-based content marketing arm: "Forbes Insights serves as the strategic research and publishing practice of Forbes Media. We leverage our access to senior executives, industry expertise and content marketing experience, in order to provide an understanding of changing markets, and answers to drive our client’s business forward." Pitney Bowes worked with Forbes in 2017 to produce this report.

Bottom Line

We as consumers of Web content need to be wary. We need to read with care and confirm we are working with authoritative sources. One of the many questions to ask is how content made its way to a website.