Opinion: Tech journalism; where standards go to die

IT journalism is crap, says Jason Walsh.

There is a plague upon the land, the plague of appallingly low standards in journalism about technology. How can I say this, you ask? Let me count the ways…

Technology is one of the most interesting things you could possibly read – or write about. Or it should be anyway. Technology is the motor driving the world economy, it is where human creativity and new ideas burst forth, transforming our lives beyond recognition.

The typical lived experience of a person in the 1970s, even a fantastically wealthy person, is so alien to us today precisely because of technological development. Development both seen, in the form of personal computers and mobile phones and unseen; in the form of medical technologies, undersea cables, biological and genetic engineering and all of the rest of the glue that holds modern society together.

But open up any tech rag today or log on to the website du jour and this is not what you will find. Instead you will find dull and PR-led coverage of the latest yawnsome device that will fail to transform AC current into DC let alone the world and couldn’t change a ‘game’ if its manufacturer’s life depended on it. Even coverage of interesting, though flawed, devices like Apple’s iPad is little more than an exercise in Manichean dualism – except no-one really cares about the religion.

Most technology journalism is boring and unreadable bilge and, let’s tell the truth for once, a lot of it goes unread. I know this to be true. After all, I’ve written enough of the stuff.

I could write a sub-Chomskyite snarl about the plague of the so-called ‘commercial feature’ (and may yet do that some day) but the most serious problem with technology journalism lies elsewhere.

The relentless focus on consumer goods mirrors society’s increasing divorce from production, the fire in which human events are really forged and, indeed, the publishing industry’s own loss of faith in its mission. Consumer journalism has its place, but its place is in magazines. How, exactly, does a newspaper report on the latest Nokia phone fit in to the traditional role of a newspaper, to inform the read of events of universal significance in order to allow themselves to orient themselves in the world?

There is worse to come, though. There is user-generated content (UGC): why just have readers when you can get them to write your publications for you? Especially if it’s free.

Publishing companies, deeply hurt by their mega-profits being reduced to mere super-profits, latched on to UGC not because they really think it’s the future of journalism but rather because they think there is no future in journalism. If they are right it’s not because of the internet, it’s because journalists and publishers have lost all faith in their enterprise and no longer have the ability to understand the world. Instead of saying: “This is what we know” newspapers and magazines now ask readers: “What do you think?”

What, at times, looks like a democratic revolution in the media is in fact a response to being left rudderless in the face of social and economic upheaval that has made minced meat of all of the old certainties that we once traded in.

Tech journalists, whose critical faculties have been so easily bought-off with press releases and feeling the pinch from editors who are demanding more and more copy in less time, need to stand up and say there is a case for actual reporting and that journalism is not merely a forum for conviviality, community and therapy.

In short, get back to work.

Jason Walsh is a reporter and former technology journalist. He edits the Irish current affairs magazine forth.


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