A weekly podcast on news and technology with Jay Rosen and Dave Winer.
In Podcast on August 30, 2010 by Jay Rosen
Show notes to come.
I’ve enjoyed the discussions you have had about Consumer Report in the past, and find am glad to actually be able to provide a partial answer to the question Dave raised about why isn’t there a Consumer Report for New York. I work at a nonprofit that works on a similar model to Consumer Report. We test medical devices and publish our findings in our own journal that is available to our hospital members. Like Consumer’s, we accept no advertising in order to avoid any apparent conflict of interest.
I’d say the main reason there aren’t more organizations like us and Consumer’s Union is that the profits are small. But I’d also add that my job requires actual expertise — in my case both the technical skills involved in the testing as well as the subject matter knowledge about medicine. Also, this work takes a lot of investment, in both time and money. Consumer’s Union buys the devices they test. That isn’t really viable for us, so we work with medical device vendors to get loaner models for our testing, but we still have a large lab and a lot of test equipment. Getting the devices, coming up with the test criteria, performing the testing — this all takes a lot of time. An evaluation can take us over a year from start to publication.
Another thing I’d add is that there may be other organizations that work on the same model. I’ve been in the medical device engineer for years, but had never heard of my employer before coming to work here — so maybe there are other groups doing similar work in other niches but aren’t widely known outside those niches.
Finally, Jay said that (I’m paraphrasing based on my memory of the podcast) one of the limitations to the Consumer Report model is that the publication has to be willing to make controversial claims and news organizations aren’t comfortable doing that. Whether that’s preventing the political media from becoming more like Consumer Report or not, I can say that the ability to say what we think and the institutional support when we say something that may piss people off is one of the best things about my job. We have to be sure we’re right, but we can’t pull our punches either — if we did our members would stop finding us useful. To me, it’s very easy because both my moral and fiduciary obligation is to the people who use medical devices.
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