The role of tech journalism in a post-technology world

The role of tech journalism in a post-technology world

Summary: Technology is important in determining our collective future but intense media coverage of the specs of consumer products such as the iPhone misses more important issues.


Tech journalists swarmed into Yerba Buena in San Francisco earlier this week to cover the much anticipated Apple iPhone 5 launch. Some news organizations sent multiple reporters, Fortune sent five.

That's quite an over kill to cover the launch of a product that turned into an iYawn. The iPhone 5.0 is about 20% thinner and lighter than the previous model, with a slightly larger display.

This small improvement in a mass produced consumer product resulted in a flood of news coverage. Yet just yards from where the legions of the tech press were packed into a dark theater for a very long Apple product pitch, Intel, the world's largest chip company, was holding its Intel Developer Conference (IDF) where it was releasing details of its next generation Haswell microprocessor, and discussing where it sees the future of computing.

How many stories have you seen about Haswell and IDF compared with the launch of Apple's slightly longer, slightly slimmer iPhone?

If you are going to go all out on covering tech products, such as Fortune's five reporters -- surely Haswell is by far the more important news story because it will touch the lives of hundreds of millions more people around the world than any iPhone. Intel microprocessors power the server infrastructure of our digital world. Intel's roadmap for its microprocessors determines the shape of the future.

That's an extremely powerful position for one company to hold. Yet it seems of little interest to tech reporters.

The rise of pageview journalism...

Tech journalism has become tedious product journalism where printing the spec sheets for mass produced consumer products is celebrated as a great story and where there appears to be little understanding of bigger picture stories about how our digital technologies are transforming our industries, cities, and our societies, at a pace and scale that's never been seen in our history.

While tech companies, including Intel and Apple, are partly to blame for the rise of product journalism, because their news releases are essentailly product spec sheets, there's also another factor at work. The impact of digital technologies on the media industry is causing a massive disruption in its business models.

The news business has always chased readership numbers but now its easy to tell which news stories generate the highest views and to focus resources there. It's also possible to tie reporters' salaries to pageviews and unique visitors.

The rise of pageview journalism now dominates most newsrooms and its effects are seen in the torrent of near-identical news stories that desperately link-bait readers to click on rewrites of corporate pr releases.

Where's the satisfaction in that type of reporting?

There's no space to develop stories over time, there's few opportunities to educate readers about the importance of key trends, and there's no room for stories on small, up and coming companies because they won't get the pageviews to pay salaries. And by choosing to allow reader numbers to dictate the editorial decisions of the newsroom, publications are losing the ability to standout from competitors. Pageview journalism is creating a bland media landscape where everything looks the same.

A post-technology world...

By miopicly focusing on tech products, newsrooms are missing the bigger picture, that we are increasingly living in a post-technology world, where it's what we do with technology and all our other tools and processes, that matters. We have plenty of "technology" but we've barely scratched the surface of what we can do with it. It's the applications, the way people are changing, how our societies are being transformed, and the new types of businesses being created that make for far more interesting stories than the technology of a product.

A change in the size and weight of a cell phone is a waste of time for tens of thousands of journalists.

The future is not about technology, it's about our collective ability to harness what we already have, to prosper and to solve big problems.

Innovation is not a technology...

It's easy to confuse innovation with technology but that's a mistake. Innovation is about creating new types of businesses in which technology is but one piece of a far larger story. For example, the iPhone is considered innovative but it's based on technologies that have been around for many years; top Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook or Twitter didn't require the invention of any new technologies to be called innovative.

Tech journalism will change but that change is unlikely to come from reporters trained to churn out six product stories a day.

We need newsrooms that have the skills to write compelling, high pageview stories, where the 't' of 'technology' represents just one letter among many letters in far more interesting words such as: investment, employment, healthcare, education, cities, culture, and the arts.

- - -

(Each time I write about the dull state of tech journalism I get a lot of support from readers. Much of it comes from the PR industry where there is a surprisingly large and passionate distaste for product journalism. It's encouraging to know that there are many others fed up with the state of tech journalism today and that there's support for change.)

Topic: Apple

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  • "Post-Technology"

    The term "post-technology" makes me think of a world without technology. A world where technology has come and gone, and we're all organic farmers outstanding in our fields.... No, really, though, that's what I thought. I used "the Google" and found one reference to the term used as you used it, so I suppose "post-technology" does in fact mean the state of the art of using the current technology?

    Actually, I just asked out loud to my co-workers, all software enginers, "What does post-technology mean to you?" They all thought it was post-apocalyptical or a world without technology. Heh. I'm not alone.

    Anyway, I'd find a decent definition helpful.

    Regarding the rest of your article. Yeah. Most of the stuff here in ZDNet is simple click-fodder. Honestly, reading the tit-for-tat flame wars your writers intentionally spark is part of the fun. The comments are more entertaining than the articles. It's like watching Jerry Springer.
    • I second this

      "post-technology" needs a definition.
      • Definition; Attempt at turning a phrase.

        Okay I think we can all agree it's a silly term, post component focused, usage-focused, application focused, device era may all be better terms as technology is too broad - as ido17 points out, even a stick you use to dig a hole to put a seed in is technology of a sort.

        But that's beyond the point; it was a term designed to spark debate and it has.

        What concerns me is the whinging about tech writters. As has been suggested tech writters have always written up about popular topics. Now like many geeks I was far more interested in the news comming from intel, and no not haswell - sure more mobile x86 is great, but we all knew about that, their thoughts and preperation for non-volitile memory based systems, now as a life time nerd, that's exciting - haswell to me was as revolutionary and as well kept a secret as the iPhone.

        Here's the thing; relatively speaking, no one cares. I don't mean to be mean, but all the hype about iPhone and the teen wars between android, iOS and soon WM online do actually promote interest in the conponents and features that end users seldom care about. Sure they are going to tech specks and such to try and win petty online battles, but they are learning, and this may promote interest in tech post college.

        When I say nobody cares, I am of course taking an average; I care immensly about what many find duller than life itself. Your end user couldn't care less what processor version, architecture, or even volitile/non-volitile in the future - they only care about how they use it, not how it works.

        Contrary to the theme, this isn't new; we've always had articles about new machines that will be the first to use a tech or use it in a different way than the development of the tech itself. This is normal; people need to see something working, not hear about it.

        If you don't like the "state of tech journalism" then change it - write different articles. I'm sorry but as a writer, it's down to you to make the things you want to say popular, not the editors and owners; thet steer an organisation and ensure profitability. If you dissagree with them, just make a website and youtube channel.

        Personaly I can't see any real change in tech reporting. It's the audience that has changed; in the early days of my youth it was just us select nerds that new what many of these terms meant or cared, now the general masses are more involved users and want to know about the latest thing. There are now many more ways to be intereted in tech... The percentage of people who care about the kind of things I do doesn't seem to have changed much to be honest!
    • ...and we're all organic farmers outstanding in our fields.

      What, no ploughs? No grain silos? No horse-drawn carts? No paper, pen or ink? No houses? No carpentry? No clothes?
    • Ditto

      It's an absurd claim... post-technology would be more like devolution - going back to paper and pencil or, more likely, stone and chisel and stick figures of cattle painted on them.

      But it's all "what the market will bear"*, even if it's so blind to the gruesome realities of the human condition that we don't reward the efforts of farming with fair income in return...

      * or whatever the version spun for next week will be
    • Post technology...

      Post-technology in the same way as "post-modern" that what comes after "modernism." So post-technology refers to a society where the focus is not on the technology itself but on what comes after.

      For example, instead of thousands of journalists writing about the product specs of a slightly slimmer, slightly longer cell phone, they'll be writing about more human ventures and how our economies and cultures change.
      Tom Foremski
      • Re: Post technology...

        The problem we have is, you're using the word "technology" to exclude a lot of technological things. It seems like, if it's not something digital and electronic in nature, then it doesn't count as "technology" any more.
  • You can't hide losses forever

    It would be very nice to be able to do long pieces that really educate readers and explore the social, business and cultural impacts of trends in tech. But it would also be nice to spend my days doing whatever pleases me and be paid millions for it.

    "And by choosing to allow reader numbers to dictate the editorial decisions of the newsroom, publications are losing the ability to standout from competitors."

    In an era with far, far less choice, publishers/writers/editors could force feed readers with valuable content, as long as they packaged it with enough of what they were willing to pay for. That isn't the case any more; readers only consume what they want now, and you have very little room to add in your own extras. It is hard enough to survive in media today, with SEO and Social Media manipulation being more important than what you publish; if you don't also really try to cater your content to what will draw readers, you will simply go under.
    • Or what is perceived as valuable, rather...

      After all, this is the market we're dealing with.

      And how do readers "consume"? It's not a chicken sandwich or possum stew...
  • Excellent article

    I hope most of the so-called tech journalists read this and see how futile and shallow most of their articles are perceived by a majority of readers and true journalists
  • Products for the masses

    Just as high-tech products went from niche market product to mass market products in the past 20 years, publications about high-tech have also become mass market products. Even though they still appear to be publications about technological stuff, in fact their audience have completely changed. They're not targeted anymore to just a small, special, niche audience, but to the widest possible audience - to the common people.

    And since most people have no clue about what a processor is, what it does and how it looks, information about a processor is not suitable for these mass publications anymore. On the other side a display getting a few millimeters taller is comprehensible even for the Average Joe, therefore as long as that change in the size is that of a technological product, it is well suited for these modern technological publications.

    If we want to be honest, we also have to admit, that in today's world most so called "tech writers" have also no clue about what actually a processor does. They think they have, but in fact they don't. So we're better of with these "tech writers" not even attempting to write about actual hard core stuff, because they could only spread even more disinformation and make the Average Joe understand even less about technology, than he does now.
    • Dumb 'em down and then lasmbaste them as being dumb...

      Gotta love this society...

      But "Mass audience" does seem to have one slight type in its first word... which is what all within are expected to be...
  • The role of tech journalism in a post-technology world

    apple is the big news of the day. the same thing happened with popular tunes, same music with different lyrics, sort of flavor of the month. journalists are kinda dying breeds, and journalism is relegated to facebook type of news gathering and reporting. gone were the days when investigative journalism is at the heart of the democratic process, and news reports are gauge to the highest standard of journalistic work. now it is more on reporting mundane and insignificant facts that you can glean at blogs on the internet. even a junior high can do those kind of reporting, without the need to finish a degree in journalism. i believe in the end, the profession will suffer, kind of shooting themselves on the foot. even the editorials nowadays are somewhat luckluster and lacking content and intelligence.
  • Room for all types of journalism

    IMHO (to steal a phrase), there is room for all types of journalism. "Chronicling news" is certainly what you are talking about when the topic is new specs, sizes or capabilities of a phone. And, clearly there is an appetite for that as witnessed with the amount of coverage of the iPhone5 or other major product launches.

    There is also appetite for "trend and analysis news" that you and other journalists do so well...(I put Steve Levy, Steve Lohr, Ellen McGirt, Michael Copeland and others in this category).

    (plug alert!) I also put the journalists at Cisco's The Network in this "trend and analysis" category. They are telling real and compelling stories about technology's impact. But, you and others can be the judge of that...see our stories here: (click on any of the bios to see the stories they have contributed).

    Thanks for fighting the fight, Tom.