Banning bad reviews undermines the very purpose of reviews

In an interview with Poynter back at the beginning of November, BuzzFeed book editor Isaac Fitzgerald said that the site will not include negative reviews. "Why waste breath talking smack about something? You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all". Is this the right attitude to adopt? I won't even pretend that this is a rhetorical question. It is absolutely the wrong attitude, and any publication that adopts it does both itself and its readers a disservice.

Of course, Fitzgerald was talking specifically about book reviews, but the danger is that other publications follow suit. His justification for this line of thinking is that people understand that authors "have worked incredibly hard, and they respect that. The overwhelming online books community is a positive place". But this is hardly a reason to avoid negative reviews. The fact that someone has worked hard on something in no way means that it is automatically worthy of praise.

The "only good reviews" policy is also slightly dangerous. If a book -- or other product -- does not receive a review, why is this? Is it because it is bad, or simply because a review has yet to be written? In this scenario the absence of a review becomes almost more powerful than one that actually exists.

Should only products deemed worthy of adulation receive coverage? Is it not better that potential customers are warned about products that are below par or have issues? A website or publication that decides to publish only positive reviews opens itself up to accusation of sycophancy and even presents the possibility of writers finding themselves on the receiving end of allegations of bribery. Obviously this is something that could be the case with any positive review, but when writers are free to say what they think there is a degree of honesty that is just not possible with a move to positive-only reviews.

It's hard to imagine how such a policy could be implemented with a tech website. In order to determine whether a product is going to receive a good or a bad review, it needs to be evaluated. It is hard to imagine a writer with enough spare time on his or her hands to evaluate a product for a reasonable length of time, determine it's bad and then not bother writing a review. Having invested time in testing a product, there is going to be an understandable desire to write about it and be compensated for doing so -- hell… why not just gloss over the bad bits and write a glowing review?

There are very few products that will be worthy of an entirely positive review. Where is the line drawn? If there is an overall positive tone, a rating equal to 5 out of 10 or above, does that suffice? Featuring only positive reviews seems like a terrible idea to me. Sure, there is a lot to be said for trimming back on the unnecessary panning of products, but even this has its place. There is enough censorship in the world without self-censoring and failing to point out failings. Who does this help?

As a consumer I devour reviews -- for music, books, films, TV shows, computer hardware, apps. I want a properly balanced selection to choose from. If a site openly admits to including only positive reviews, its opinion is as good as worthless to me. Any credibility it may have had went out of the window the moment it decided that negativity is a bad thing. As a consumer I can learn from negative reviews, but so can companies.

If a tablet is not reviewed because it is "bad", how do we know why it is bad? What is bad for one person might be great for another. If a review points out the failing of a product in a negative review, the manufacturer -- as well as readers -- can learn from it. It's how products evolve, develop and improve.

Looking at the world through rose-tinted lenses, pretending only great products exist is an absurd editorial stance. It helps no one. If a site, newspaper or magazine says everything it covers is good, the value of that "good" rating quickly diminishes.

Rest assured that here at BetaNews we will never be anything other than completely honest in our reviews. If we love a product, it is because it is genuinely good, and we'll let you know why. If something is crap, we feel it is our duty to let you know. It is worth bearing in mind that reviews are almost completely subjective. A product I love may be hated by other people. But if I take the time to explain why I love something, readers have the opportunity to decide whether to agree or disagree with me, or just to use what I've said in their buying decisions.

Would you rather only hear about great products? If everyone decided to write only great reviews, would there have been no reviews of Windows 8? How would consumers know what to make of it with no points of reference? This is the very purpose of a review -- to point out the good and the bad. To focus entirely on one side of the story means you may as well do away with reviews entirely and just print a "buy these products" list.

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