Agenda “Journalism” and Waiting for “Perfection”

WP_20130728_004I think we’re at a tech crossroads. I’m not sure which road we’ll travel down.

There’s a problem with how we talk about news in this industry. I’m complicit in that problem to a degree, and around me I’m watching the foundation of this market start to crumble. At its core, we tech journalists are beholden to metrics like views and bounce rates. To satisfy those demands we have to get you, the reader, to actually engage. The most popular sites among us have developed a number of handy tricks to goose interactions from their subscribers. Tactics known so well that we’ve coined terms like “Flame Bait” to describe them. We all know what’s going on when we come across these types of tactics, and we know that the site using them is rolling in traffic.

As with political news delivery, the tech landscape is fragmented into reinforcing a reader’s previously held notions. We don’t strive to challenge anymore, to present the “new” in this industry. If your site starts to find some popularity among a certain niche of readership, that’s what you are. An Apple blog. An Android blog. A Microsoft blog. You’re done. Whatever commentary you can hope to offer beyond that branding, you’ll always be colored by that general perception. Your audience will take those things for granted, as they too are fans of the things you like, and hate the things you hate.

Moving beyond the natural biases an author holds, we all hold a certain bias regardless of our attempts at objectivity, we’re human, but beyond those biases I’m saddened to see once respected organizations catering to blatant agendas. Misrepresenting products for no other benefit than to increase site hits, start flame wars, and satisfy an audience who doesn’t want to see competition, but see their “side” win. Whatever that might mean…

I’d address specific articles directly, but on principle I won’t link to flame bait. I won’t give them additional clicks even to refute their flawed articles. The most depressing aspect of this behavior is knowing that these articles aren’t being written in earnest. When these “journalists” crack hard on a player in the tech industry, it’s not out of any love for technology. They aren’t being consumer advocates. They’re knowingly gaming their readers for better leverage on ad buys. Just like cable news.

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We’re witnessing a growth of uncertainty clouding around us geeks. That we’re in such a rush to be the first to trash something, that our industry now moves forward at a slower and slower pace. We’re ruled by caution, as consumers expect and wait for some level of “perfection” that will never arrive. We say we want “new” and “exciting” and “revolutionary”, yet we only seem to accept “modest iteration” without acidic cynicism.

With every new start up, with every new phone, with anything that might push a boundary, you can expect a hailstorm of comments from people loudly proclaiming they won’t like that new thing. We’ll watch our current “King Makers” in the tech media shrug off “new” because it’s not like the thing they already use and like.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having to qualify everything I write. I refuse to type out the phrase “this gadget might not be for everyone” in an actual review ever again. We should be able to take that kind of “informed commentary” for granted by now. I feel, moving forward, that if you’ve even found this blog, you can appreciate some of those nuances without me having to smash them in your face. But I digress…

Perfection will never come.

These lofty comments surrounding upstarts “They don’t have enough apps” or “I’ll get the next version when it has such-n-such processor” or “It’s not good enough for me yet” only reinforce why we’ll rarely get anything truly exciting. This arrogance that we’re somehow above it all. That there could be a “best” product. “This product would be good if it were more like this other product I’m already using”. That we’ll rank and score tech, and that those scores will be in anyway meaningful mere weeks after the score was delivered.

We’re at a crossroads. I hope the road we choose is one which looks towards more optimism. Optimism on the internet is tricky. Optimism means engaging with a little more risk. Optimism means you might not always back a “winning team”. It means having to challenge previously held notions on what is “good” and “bad”. It means holding back from rewarding people who cynically profit off of conflict and fear.

Above all else, it means working without an agenda, and trusting our readers to be savvy consumers. It means trying not to view tech through the lens of our bias, but trying to judge each piece of gear on its own terms after coming to understand that product.

It means realizing that tech enthusiasts don’t need us as much as we “journalists” need them.

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