“I’m not blogger, I’m a professional journalist”, says Mobile Review Editor-in-Chief, Eldar Murtazin.
In a wide-ranging interview with last100, it’s just one of many misconceptions he’s keen to correct following reports last week that his “review” of Nokia’s N8 was responsible for a dive in the handset maker’s stock price and may have even forced it to bring forward the device’s launch. The then unannounced smartphone is the first based on the company’s Symbian ^3 operating system.
“I’m working for ages in the field”, says 34 year-old Murtazin, who prior to founding Mobile Review in 2002 was responsible for covering the mobile sector for one of Russia’s largest hardware review sites. “I like this job, I like different tasks, different goals, receiving different devices, and trying to find out what feature, what devices will be more interesting for the market.”
He’s also quick to point out that the N8 controversy is nothing new. Mobile Review is renowned for breaking the cover of unannounced devices, particularly those from Nokia. In fact, for Murtazin perhaps the hardest decision is deciding what not to publish or when.
“We have a very strict rule and Nokia know about that rule. If a picture or information about a product already leaked, we could publish a more extensive review, preview or information about that product. We do not have an NDA agreement with Nokia.”
In other words, if competing sites have jumped the gun, says Murtazin, it’s fair game for him to fill in the blanks even if the device isn’t yet official. He says that he could have talked about Nokia’s N8 and Symbian ^3 OS a lot earlier but waited until he got wind that the device was very close to launch.
“On the other hand we clearly understand that some things could damage Nokia or other brands as well so we are very polite and accurate with this information”, says Murtazin. “At the end of the day we decide not to publish a lot of information about products just in respect for people who are working in Nokia, working on this product.”
He also disputes that his coverage of the N8, which appeared in Russian as a small section of his weekly Mobile Review column, actually constituted a full review of either the device itself or, more importantly in terms of market impact, Symbian ^3.
“No, no, no. I never reviewed Symbian ^3. I just said that Symbian ^3 is old-fashioned, it’s not an up-to-date operating system. I never talked about stability of current software. It’s very silly, I know how different software can be in 3 months.”
Of course, regardless of Murtazin’s verdict on a particular product or its impact on Wall Street, what everybody really wants to know is how does the Russian journalist get such unparalleled access.
“It’s very simple”, says Murtazin. “I’m working pretty much around 10 or 12 hours per-day. When we’re talking about the telecommunications market, I have a very close relationship with a lot of people world-wide in different countries because we are all working in the same field. We are sometimes working on the same project or another project and we share information, we share sources, we share our vision of the market.”
When Murtazin says we, he’s actually referring to the fact that he wears two hats, something that seems little known within the wider blogosphere. Along with his work on Mobile Review, in 2003 he started Mobile Research Group, a “boutique” mobile consultancy that has contracts with major vendors both in Russia and worldwide, he says.
This would seem to represent a conflict of interest: How can companies trust Murtazin in his role as a consultant when he is best-known as a journalist who routinely publishes company secrets.
“It was the main issue when we started working as a research company”, concedes Murtazin. He says that both businesses are separate and are only connected by himself. “It’s very difficult… on the other hand, the research company gives me more views about future devices, future technologies and it’s not bad from my point of view.”
He says that regardless of the extra access that Mobile Research Group provides, as a journalist he already has “a lot of information about companies, prototypes, devices that I could show” and he never breaks Non-disclosure agreements.
“We do not reveal this information for one reason. I’m planning to stay in this field for ages, at least 10, 20, 30 years or more. I count this field as a job for the whole of my life. Other companies, they ask me numerous times about project partners without any success so far. They see no disclosure of any information and they like us.”
It’s not long, however, before the conversation returns to Mobile Review and the site’s reputation for publishing company leaks. “Frankly speaking, I never go out hunting for handsets or prototypes, I just receive handsets in very convenient ways. People often want to know my opinion”, says Murtazin. “It’s always our decision to publish or not.”
He says that there are a lot of “weak points” in any company and that if other journalists or bloggers were more active in the field they too could gain access.
“It’s pretty simple actually. Prototypes are widely available outside of the companies. You just need to find people who have not signed an NDA agreement with a vendor.”
Murtazin says that the number of people involved in the design, production and marketing of a new handset is in the “thousands” not hundreds. It’s not clear, however, what motivates company employees or partners to leak information on unannounced devices.
“It’s very hard to answer that question because sometimes even I do not understand the motivation of some people. Sometimes I’m puzzled, like you”, he says. “Maybe people try to educate me, people try to receive more valuable information in comparison to different products, maybe. I do not know.”
He says industry folk often just want to hear his point-of-view and for that he needs to “touch” the product itself . “It’s not a single person or several persons. It’s actually a lot of people”, says Murtazin. “All of these people know one thing: that we never reveal our sources and we have a very tough time with some vendors about that matter because they try to insist that we reveal sources.”
Another thing that Murtazin is also very clear on, he says he never pays for information. He cites one example of a company employee at a major vendor asking for €2,000 in return for a prototype. “I answer in that case: sorry guys, we’re not buying this prototype, we’re not going to talk to you about this matter and if you ask us about something like that, the next thing we do, we’re writing to security about this conversation.”
So what does he think of Gizmodo’s decision to pay $5,000 for an unreleased iPhone?
“Of course, like any Journalist I understand Gizmodo. They receive a lot of hits and a lot of new visitors to the site. On the other hand, I do not believe it was a good solution for them. From a point of view of law, their position is not so strong. At the end of the day, it’s not right when some journalist or blogger pay for information about a device. It’s totally not right.”
He also thinks Gizmodo’s attempt to cash in on the publicity has meant that they could lose objectivity. “It’s some kind of PR that they are not afraid of Apple but in terms of objectivity, they have to be an independent source, they couldn’t show that they do not like Apple. ”
It’s fascinating to hear Murtazin be so clear cut on such issues when he makes a living out of both keeping and exposing company secrets. In his combined role as a journalist and consultant he says he gets to test more than 200 to 300 different handsets in a year, many of them prototypes and, of course, top secret.
“My wife has a very good joke about that. One year ago we went to the O2 shop in London and a salesman tried to sell a handset to her. She looked at the handset and says, ‘Dear, I had this handset two years ago’. And the salesman says, ‘you’re wrong lady, you’re completely wrong, we just received this handset.’”
Of course, it was the O2 salesman that was wrong.
“It’s a different time frame for us and the whole market”, jokes Murtazin.