Samsung's mistake -- and CNET's reaction -- inspired me to work here

When CNET called out Samsung for its sexist, tone-deaf Galaxy S4 press conference, I knew I wanted to be more than just a fan.

Mike Sorrentino Senior Editor
Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.
Expertise Phones, texting apps, iOS, Android, smartwatches, fitness trackers, mobile accessories, gaming phones, budget phones, toys, Star Wars, Marvel, Power Rangers, DC, mobile accessibility, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, RCS
Mike Sorrentino
8 min read
Samsung Galaxy S4
Sarah Tew/CNET

I knew I wanted to work at CNET the moment Samsung introduced its Galaxy S4 in March 2013. The S4 itself wasn't the reason -- it was a great phone, but that point was lost in the awkward way Samsung chose to unveil it. What caught my attention was that CNET didn't waste any time explaining what the problem was.

Samsung debuted its next big iPhone competitor with a Broadway-style launch event at Radio City Musical Hall in New York that was thick with ridiculous levels of 1950s-era theatricality. It was two years before I started here, and I was watching the event as part of CNET's livestream coverage.

Actors in cheesy skits described the phone's many features, with a narrator introducing the series of stereotypical and cringeworthy characters. There was a parent apologizing to a child for not taking a photo with a Galaxy S4, and a young male tourist boasting about all his travel photos. But a final sequence, showcasing several women praising how the phone's health features might let them eat cheesecake or might take the place of the doctor they wish they'd married, took Samsung's event straight into unacceptably sexist territory. And other embarrassing lines, like "Our family videos look like a movie about a single mother" (seen at the 1:50:34 mark in the video below) and "While the women are cooling off" (at the 2:17:19 mark), only made things worse.

Former CNET Executive Editor Molly Wood wasn't having it.

"I am pissed. I am actually offended," she said to livestream co-hosts Donald Bell, Brian Tong and Lynn La. "The part where you start talking about women's wet nails and the lotion on their hands and how they can't eat cheesecake and how they should have married the doctor ... I mean what was that? I'm sure the phone is great, but I do not care. Samsung, you are not helping." 

Though I'd been watching CNET's livestreams and reading the site for years, Samsung's event lives with me seven years later because I remember how I felt watching it. I loved how Wood and her colleagues handled the situation. They didn't just run through the phone's specs -- they told me as a human why I should buy (or not buy) the GS4, and they didn't hold back in criticizing the company presenting it.

Senior Editor Jessica Dolcourt drove that well-balanced message home a few minutes later. In a hands-on video with the Galaxy S4 from the event, she intelligently went through its new features, and compared it with a rival phone, all in less than two minutes.

Simple. Succinct. Honest. Sign me up to be on that team.

Buzz Out Loud Ep. 1588: Loved the show (Part 2 of 2)

Molly Wood (right) producing the final episode of the Buzz Out Loud podcast with Veronica Belmont (left) in 2012. 


When I spoke to Wood last week about her memories of that press conference, she affirmed that the culture at CNET is what allowed her to practice nearly every form of journalism.

Brett Pearce/CNET

"There is this experimental bravery that was built into CNET in the first place that led us to even experiment with things like livestreaming coverage of events," she said.

She noted that a major focus of her time here was fighting battles about digital rights management and privacy. Both debates continue as companies like Apple have continued to build products that lock in consumers.

"There was a time where [CNET podcast] Buzz Out Loud was cited in amicus briefs by the Electronic Frontier Foundation arguing for strong net neutrality regulations," Wood said. She called Apple's recent acquisition of weather app Dark Sky and its removal from Android a "horrible ecosystem flex."

Watch this: A look back at the launch of CNET.com

Despite the continued dominance of companies like Apple, Wood said she's been glad tech has become more than just a niche. "What has been cool for me and my evolution as a journalist was that I don't want to just cover [tech] from a business perspective or talk about gadgets ," she said. "I want to talk about power and policy and money and business models and labor. I think as tech gets absorbed into the bigger journalism world, it's good to have those conversations." 

After leaving CNET in October 2013, Wood spent some time at The New York Times before joining American Public Media's Marketplace in 2015, where she produces shows such as Marketplace Tech and Make Me Smart.

Samsung declined to comment for this story.

From TechTV to CNET

But my journey to CNET started with the TechTV cable network, which I was a big fan of throughout high school. TechTV was where I first learned about CES , watched E3 coverage and discovered new gadgets. Shows like Call for Help and X-Play explained how technology works and reviewed video games in an engaging, helpful way that didn't talk down to viewers. When I felt a bit more comfortable, I worked up to The Screen Savers (TechTV's more enthusiast-level show) and appreciated Fresh Gear for its focus on explaining new gadgets of the early 2000s.

When TechTV's merger with the G4 video game network in 2004 altered much of its identity, I followed several TechTV staffers as they moved over to CNET. These were people like James Kim, who died in 2006 at age 35 in the Oregon wilderness while trying to help his lost family, and Nicole Lee, who's now at Engadget.

Reading some of their articles eventually got me addicted to CNET's reviews and its live coverage of Apple's product reveals. Before long, I felt like I personally knew several of my now-colleagues years before actually meeting them. When I needed a cheap laptop in 2011, I referenced Scott Stein's recommendation multiple times to make sure the computer could handle the work tasks and light gaming that I needed it to do (Scott is now one of my favorite people to creatively brainstorm with). I watched hours of CNET Update with Bridget Carey, and now we partner up on toy coverage. Kent German would take me to Mobile World Congress through his photos; years later he's edited several stories I've written for CNET Magazine as well as this one you're reading.

Watch this: Rise of Skywalker. Rise of the Resistance. Rise of Baby Yoda. (The Daily Charge, 12/11/2019)

I also developed an absolutely voracious addiction to Adventures in Tech by former editor Luke Westaway and the other highly produced videos from the CNET UK team for their accessible information. I freaked the EFF out during my first visit to the London office in 2016 when he and Andrew Hoyle invited me to be on their CNET UK podcast.

Applying and arriving

Deciding where I wanted to work was easy, but getting the experience to get there would take more time. From 2010 through 2014, I worked for Patch, the then-AOL owned local news property, covering news in my hometowns of Patchogue and Medford on New York's Long Island. As I reported on everything from devastating shootings to the literal moving of a library, I found pretty much any excuse I could to create CNET-like content. I wrote and filmed a hands-on first impression of the parking meters that were just installed in Patchogue. If a 3D printer showed up in town, I wrote about it. Later when I moved to the New York Daily News, I'd volunteer to help cover 2015's Apple Watch event and net neutrality.

At the same time I often flipped through the CBS Interactive job boards to see what was available at CNET and its sister sites like GameSpot. Then in May 2015 I found what appeared to be a perfect fit: an associate editor role managing CNET's home page and social media, copyediting content and covering breaking stories. It was an irresistible opportunity with a weekends-based schedule that would be familiar. I was already working weekends at the Daily News and it was a lifestyle I preferred at the time since it let me explore New York on the weekdays without dealing with crowds. (I'll admit now, though, that I happily have a normal Monday to Friday schedule.)

I also had the qualifications the job posting asked for: I'd managed multiple home pages, posted on social media, edited stories and wrote breaking news in every job I'd had since 2010. And if there's one thing I know about opportunities: If you don't jump on them quickly, they'll blow away. I knew I had to apply for the role immediately when I saw it, even though at the moment I was on vacation at Universal Studios Orlando and waiting to ride Poseidon's Fury.

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With plenty of time to kill, I used my phone and the park's Wi-Fi to edit and submit my resume and compose a cover letter. Thankfully, Poseidon's Fury queue area is mostly indoors, making it easier to see my iPhone 5S ' screen. Since the park's Wi-Fi was a bit spotty, I wasn't 100% sure my application was submitted. I checked later from my computer and it appeared to be in, thus beginning a waiting game.

A few weeks went by. Then one morning while getting ready for work I found an email from a recruiter who asked to set up a phone interview. I took a double-take: Surely CNET gets hundreds of resumes for open roles. Is this real? Let's refresh my web browser. Yes, it was real. I had to reply immediately.

A monthlong series of phone interviews followed, including one in-person interview at CNET's New York PC lab. I geeked out over seeing how the laptop battery tests were run, and I met Jeff Bakalar after telling Executive Editor John Falcone that I listen to all of CNET's podcasts, like The 404.

On July 31, 2015, I was officially offered the job, and a month later I walked into CNET's New York office as an employee. I couldn't believe I had the role, even after a few months of working here (Imposter Syndrome sucks). But a great thing about working at CNET is that new opportunities come fast, and in our culture of sharing expertise and thoughts it's really easy to turn your personal passion into something that becomes a full-blown project.

After simply raising my hand to offer to help, I've now attended multiple Comic-Cons, CESes, Toy Fairs and Star Wars Celebrations. I've written movie reviews, explainers and even a guide to every Power Rangers series so far. And behind the scenes I'm managing our home page, editing every day, guiding headlines and working with GameSpot.

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The wildest feeling is that while CNET is now the longest job I've ever held, I still feel like I only just got here. There are so many different challenges and new directions to pursue that even when you know Apple will unveil an iPhone in September every year, suddenly we'll launch a show about hacking the apocalypse or a multipart dive into what it takes to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Above all, all the work we do comes from a place of honesty. We just want to deliver readers helpful facts and advice, and hopefully that information can be your guide. Seven years later, how Molly Wood handled the Samsung press conference is a standard for how we can help our readers cut through the marketing spin we often get from companies: Be simple, be succinct, and be honest.