A Personal Fight Shows the Dichotomy of Technology Reporting

Why do technology journalists sometimes act like they’re in an episode of Jersey Shore? Everything is dramatic and personal. Priorities are all outtawhack.

If business reporters or political reporters threw as much shit at each other as a subset of technology reporters do, we’d think they were monkeys at a zoo. But the collective readership and professional community of technology reporting doesn’t bat an eye – and therein lies a serious problem. They report on companies that govern our lives. This is just as serious as covering politicians who literally govern our lives. We should hold them to the same standards and they should act accordingly.

I don’t want to go into a blow-by-blow of the latest between Dan Lyons, M.G. Siegler and Michael Arrington. You can follow the link fest for yourself. But here’s the short version: This whole bitchmeme (I believe M.G. coined that term) started when Path had a privacy SNAFU. M.G. and Arrington defended them and noted at the bottom of their posts that they are also investors. Many cried foul – Lyons cried the loudest. Both responded to Lyons saying ‘everyone’s doing it’ [the privacy SNAFU] you are just calling out Path because it was handed to you on a silver plate.

The problem here is that we get caught up in the personalities instead of focusing on the issues – and because their own personal egos are involved neither side can admit that the other is right. And that’s just the point – both sides are right.

Dan accuses Michael and M.G. of cashing in on their influence. I’d say technology journalism as a WHOLE is shallow and cashing in on their influence. An entire genre of technology blogs is built around peddling influence to get you to buy shit. They do this by pandering with the lamest, softest, link-baitery content possible. The case of M.G. and Arrington is a little different because their influence is undue. If the owner of a newspaper became Mayor, people would be concerned about the editorial influence of that paper. Something akin to real world events in Philly. People are concerned when the Washington Post sells “access” to editors for lobbyists and Washington insiders. They should be! And conversely people should be concerned with M.G. and Arrington. This is NOT akin to Disney owning the Angels and ESPN (as M.G. tries to suggest). This is not a multinational company with divisions. This is TWO people.

But as I said earlier – both sides are right!

The summarized response from M.G. and Arrington is that Dan Lyon is being lazy and should dig deeper into the story (ie: the old “do real journalism” line). The initial attack on Path was handed to him. Their defense was basically that “everyone is doing it” and they are correct. Today we see that the larger media world is catching up to the larger story. I’m not sure if this proves M.G’s point  or discredits it (it was just a matter of time and attacking Path was a gateway into the larger story).

The larger point M.G. was making, however, I have to agree with. The majority of technology coverage is lame. It is surface. M.G. and Arrington called out the other players who were just as guilty as Path and everyone else has now caught up. But it’s impossible to know if they did so because it was in their financial interest to shift (widen) blame or because they believed this was an issue society had to confront. So we are still at a tough spot. Should we rely on Whistle blowers and insiders to basically rat on each other (even Deep Throat had a dog in the race). At the moment that appears to be what’s happening in technology coverage. Sure, it can work, but only if there are enough insiders who are also at odds with each other so that society’s best interest is covered in total instead of just a few true power players (and it seems all the power players got in line behind Arrington).  Aside from the rare NYT expose on Apple’s FoxConn issue (which was fantastic and is having real world impact) the majority of what we read about technology companies is pandering, press releases, etc.* Unlike political journalism there isn’t a tradition or avenue for muckracking. The biggest idea of a “scoop” for many technology blogs is getting to see a consumer product before it should be released.

So we have two big problems and two anecdotes throwing mud at each other.

  • On the one hand Arrington and M.G. are correct in pointing out that the vast majority of technology journalism is lacking.
  • On the other hand there is a problem when the only folks that seem to be able to add substance can do so because they are true insiders in every financial sense of the word.

The reader is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Meanwhile the anecdotes of both sides fling mud at each other and the world watches because…. everyone loves to see mud flung.

 

*Another exception to lame technology coverage is if there is a business angle ie: the tradition of business reporting from WSJ supersedes the growing lameosity tradition of technology reporting.

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