Tech journalism has lost its way

Tech journalism has lost its way

Summary: There's more to tech stories than product size and weight...


This week all the tech sites and newspaper tech sections will be full of stories about mass produced consumer electronics products being exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Some sites will claim scoops because they were the first to publish a list of tech specs for a product. All sites will report the color, the dimensions, and the weight of products. How did tech journalism become such tedious product reporting?

I’m mildly interested in tech products because I use them but it seems there are so many better tech stories to write than the ones being written by tech journalists.

Our digital technologies are incredible, they can be made into millions of specialized technologies in every industry. We’ve never ever had any tool that so adaptable and reconfigurable on the fly, that can be made into so many different types of tools. What can we do with these technologies? We’ve only just scratched the surface.

It’s a post-technology world in that the technologies are now woven into the framework of our reality, they help create a blended reality that will transform our lives, our communities, our future. But technology won’t guarantee a good future unless we work to create it.

The media performs a very important role in helping their readers and viewers understand the world and to bring attention to troubling trends. Yet our tech media is mostly interested in products which means we have even fewer watch dogs.  

If we aren’t careful, we could inadvertently paint ourselves into a corner with our use of technologies and end up inside a modern version of North Korea or some other horrific society.

Fewer watchdogs in the media is also an advantage for those groups that are working to create a future that favors a privileged few.

The 'Internet of Things' is mundane compared with the 'Internet of Life.' Products are meaningless, what we do with them is how we progress. And how technology can help us pursue meaning in life is by far the most interesting question in tech reporting. It won't be found at CES.

Technology could enable a future that’s golden for all, or horrific for many. If you consider yourself a techno-utopian you must also be a techno-activist.  We need to work for a future that turns out well.

Topic: CES

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  • The Journalist Bot...

    I think the bot is part of the issue here along with the data selling epidemic we have in the US right now as ridiculous queries and analytics are being written to make a buck and there's good stuff too, but myself I have supporting the mHealth devices and apps that do not sell user profiles...and there's a few. It's getting easier to kind of tell which one they are as the data sellers get the VC money while those who do not sell data go crows funding as VCs can't see an immediate revenue stream, all money.

    Quantitated justification, a post I wrote and there's a video showing how the Jounobot works, kind of interesting right now since Forbes is trying to sell their Jornobot they developed.

    It's like everybody must get fooled to keep the economy going? You are right how this can go out of control and already is in some areas.
  • All things in moderation.

    If we are Borg, things won't end well either. All things in moderation.
  • @Tom Forenski

    Can you, perhaps, do a long, good article on how real techies, the programmers and sysadmins, feel about things like Cloud and smartphones and tablets? I'd really, really love that. Make sure you get opinions from the really savvy people, not script kiddies. :^)
  • great article

    and zdnet is great example of what article talks about
  • Laziness and greed so back to the earliest days of tech press

    I shed no tears for the tech journalism sector (in fact, most vertical business press for that matter) who lost its way long ago through laziness (PR regurgitation) and greed (product shills).
  • Lost and far from found

    Tom, great post as always and thanks for taking the time to write it. Tech journalism's desert wanderings can be boiled down to this: we simply don't monetize the process of reporting anymore (more precisely, we don't monetize the reporter's time). We monetize the production of click transactions, either as advertising or lead gen.

    To craft a thoughtful story that (to your examples) helps readers understand larger technology trends takes time; it takes interviews and it takes writing and editing. Most tech journalists today labor under various quotas: Number of posts per day; number of comments to theirs and other reporters' posts per day; page view and visits metrics, etc. This output gives a site something to sell and it gives managers a way to measure journalistic productivity in an era of lean and mean publishing. In part, it addresses @BruceLynn's comments about tech journalism's laziness.

    We haven't yet found a new model to monetize the reporter's time, at least the reporter in a publishing organization. The enterprising reporter/videographer can monetize reporting by producing long-form content (books, documentary, etc.) because we've invented low-cost or free tools and cut out the distribution middle man. But this is rare no, and if really was the way, there wouldn't be ZDNETs and EE Timeses any more.

    So for now, we're stuck with product stories, which (cue @BruceLynn again) are extensions of corporate marketing and PR campaigns. They're quick and easy and generate page views or satisfy some paid-media campaign.

    But, in my optimist's heart of hearts, I believe that after nearly 20 years of digital publishing and "500 channels and nothing on" in the tech journalism sphere that readers are tiring of this. It's popcorn and we want protein and greens. We want trusted sources that optimize the time we spend gathering news and information with insightful, useful, thoughtful stories. But, as readers, we haven't demonstrated we're going to pay sufficiently for it outside of brands like WSJ, NYT, Financial Times and The Economist. And yet will will pay for Hulu Plus, NetFlix and Spotify amd happily.

    I spent three decades at EE Times watching this unfold. We shouldn't go back to the old days, but we need to find a different path than the one we're on now. And if I knew how to get there, I'd be building that company. (Actually, since you've been writing about this topic on and off for two decades, you would have beaten me to it!)
  • Tech: The Implications End of Things

    What a thoughtful and in time article Tom. Thank you.

    I don't have so much to add except that the demand (or trend) for tech stories that are "munchable bites" of information (or data) has outweighed (overbalanced) the story here. My friend Pete Cashmore over at Mashable used to take some hits over that outlet's "blurbish" regurgitation of press releases. Heck, he just gave people what they wanted.

    Richard over at ReadWriteWeb approached things from the "implication" perspective, Michael at TC played the middle ground, but in the end the readers demanded the blurb, the bulleted list of features, a short read with a big picture of some pseudo-science wonder.

    As you suggest, the warning label on the cigarette pack is absolutely necessary. However, getting the consumer to read it is a wholly more difficult issue. CES is a bit like blood in the water for hungry little sharks, or a pool of chocolate for candy bar loving kids in need of instant gratification.

    Thanks for reminding us Tom.