One of the most popular tech writers in the world has been called a shill for Apple and is dating a powerful public relations executive

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The New York Observer relaunched today with a fresh look, both on its salmon-tinted print edition and its digital pages. Spearheaded by the recently appointed editor-in-chief, Elizabeth Spiers, the new paper will focus on scooplets and longer, reported pieces. "[N]o assuming that if something runs longer than 500 words, it can only run affixed to a slice of dead tree," Spiers told Yahoo's Joe Pompeo Tuesday. On the new site, you can't tell if something is a part of the printed paper or not; all things are considered equal, except for those three items that an editor or producer moves to the top of the homepage and promotes.

Today, at launch time, those three stories were profiles of the New York Times' Jill Abramson; Maer Roshan, former editor of Radar and a frequent subject of media gossip; and David Pogue, another icon from the Grey Lady. (Spiers, formerly the founding editor of Gawker, is making it clear that the paper will often feature big media stories.)

A tech columnist for the New York Times since 2000, David Pogue is a powerful figure to take on. But the Observer has never shied away from the powerful figures in the city it covers, especially those in media, real estate or finance. And Spiers isn't known for playing nice, even when the target in question has a larger following (in readers, in Facebook fans and in Twitter followers -- more than one million more Twitter followers) than her entire reporting team combined.

The Pogue story does run longer than many of the posts that one could expect to find on the old Observer website, but it isn't a scooplet. It's a wider look at a recent Daily Beast story from long-time Pogue foe Dan Lyons. "Mr. Lyons wrote for The Daily Beast that Mr. Pogue had been dating Nicki Dugan, a public relations executive who works out of San Francisco," Foster Kamer and Benjamin Popper wrote for the Observer, which refuses to drop the honorific, which is even more awkward when used in a dressing down. "A journalist dating a public relations executive is hardly novel, but Ms. Dugan is a vice president at OutCast, which represents some of Silicon Alley's most prominent tech companies."

According to the Times, Pogue told technology editor Damon Darlin this past December about his budding relationship with Dugan, and, because they review these issues on a case-by-case basis, no action was taken. Pogue wasn't even reprimanded, despite the fact that this is clearly a conflict of interest, one that pales in comparison to that of Mike Albo, a former Times reporter who was fired for taking a paid trip to write for another publication -- his first ethical misstep. "[W]hen asked if Mr. Pogue had been given preferential treatment by Times editors during past transgressions" -- he's long been considered a spokesman, not a reporter, for Apple -- "Mr. Darlin noted that he wasn't familiar with Mr. Albo's situation and that the Times had 'addressed all of this. We've been satisfied that under the rules we've set up for [Mr. Pogue], and that there is no conflict,'" the Observer reported.

Nobody knows what those special rules are. And that's why it's that extra one million Twitter followers that makes this story so interesting. Pogue is clearly valuable to the paper -- the Observer describes him as one of the most widely read tech writers in the country, if not in the world, with a "massive and devoted following" -- but can it afford the mounting criticisms? What does an extra Twitter follower buy you?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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