The name huckster alone should give one pause.
And now there's Hukkster, self-described as tracking "your favorite products online and lets you know when they go on sale." In a New York Times profile on the company, an enthusiastic user named Jen Hughes was featured, gushing "Now, of course, I'm hukking everything under the sun, including diapers, which I don't think is their target audience."
But oops! A comment in the Times comment section dropped a bombshell. Hughes turned out to be, according to a Jan. 28 comment from "Red Raider," a friend of the company's owner:
"I think that the author of this article ought to tell everyone that Ms. Finnigan and Ms. Hughes know each other from college. Couldn't they find anyone else that uses Hukkster? This is terrible journalism."
The New York Times soon posted a disclosure, blaming the PR firm. In a Feb. 5 Editor's Note, the Times explained:
"An article on Jan. 28 about online price trackers featured Jen Hughes, a user of one such service, Hukkster, who said she used the service to search for the best prices on 'everything under the sun.' A caption with a picture of Ms. Hughes and her infant daughter contained similar information. Ms. Hughes, whose name was obtained from a public relations official for Hukkster, has been friends with one of the service’s founders since college, a fact that The Times was unaware of until alerted by a reader.
"Had The Times known of Ms. Hughes’s connection to a founder of Hukkster, it would not have included her comments in the article or used her picture."
iMediaEthics has written to the New York Times asking if the public relations firm placed the story with the Times and who specifically provided Hughes as a source. An email has also been sent to Hukkster seeking confirmation that its public relations team suggested the New York Times contact Hughes and didn't disclose her conflict of interest. We'll update with any responses.
UPDATE: 2/8/2013 1:23 PM EST: Hukkster declined to give an on-the-record comment.