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The Failure of Tech Journalism

By TheophileEscargot in MLP
Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 12:36:30 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

There is an interesting article/rant here about the failure of tech journalism.


The article points out that tech journalism is inferior even by the standards of normal journalism. Reviews are routinely biased, and inferior products praised, to maintain advertising revenue. The article argues that even though this tendency is present in mainstream journalism, it is greatly exaggerated in tech journalism, partly due to the cost and rapid change of computer technology, partly due to the attitudes of the journalists.
  The article also argues that websites such as SlashDot are also of little help in obtaining accurate technical information, since they are somehwat biased towards certain technlogies.
  I think that this is a real issue: it is very hard to get unbiased and accurate technical information. For instance, there are some circumstances when an organisation is better off with Windows, and some where an organisation is better off with Linux; but with most information sources heavily biased towards one or the other, it is difficult to get accurate enough data to make the correct decision.

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The Failure of Tech Journalism | 39 comments (31 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
The shame, the shame... (2.00 / 3) (#1)
by the trinidad kid on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 06:07:18 AM EST

The linked to article says: Well, if you get all your toys for free, yeah, technology rocks like a Rush concert. and people will know I voted it +1, cringe...

This is simply shocking! (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by 3pennyTroll on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 07:20:11 AM EST

Oh well, there's always the Wall Street Journal and professional wrestling.

This is nothing special about tech (4.40 / 5) (#4)
by loaf on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 08:02:35 AM EST

All journalism is about being able to write a story and summarise a position.

All media news sources are believed and trusted according to their track records and your experience of them.

That's why I read particular newspapers, particular websites, particular magazines. Some I know will entertain, some will inform, some will enflame. But if I start to not trust a source, I stop reading there.

You know that if you read /. you will receive yards of pro-Linux/OSS polemic. You know that if you read the BBC news website you will received a Anglo-phile view of the world. You might know that if you read anything written by me you will be reading right-wing, libertarian, generally pro-capitalistic, faux-geek, pro-Brit, anti-Aussie, anti-MS disjointed diatribes.

The key is whether you know enough about the background to your reading material to be able to apply the right filters.

Of course. Whether there is anywhere else to find what you seek ....

Well, you're here. Which is a start.

Answer to advocacy (4.25 / 4) (#5)
by slaytanic killer on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 08:18:58 AM EST

I never said Slashdot was neutral. Neither is News Forge. They are advocates. My question was why are there no neutral sites.
The author wrote this in the discussion forum. And the simple answer is this: The reality of the tech industry is not neutral. It is driven by zealots and advocates. To work on "Free Software" or "Open Source," you need quite a bit of belief that you are doing something worthwhile. Neither the business world nor the tech community is fully rational.

If he doesn't believe this, he should take a trip to the PR departments of any company. Their magic is to dress up the software and lend it a cachet that it doesn't really have. That is why the developers in tech companies rarely interface with the public -- it is only the PR and executive groups which do so, since they are the ones who formulate their image.

When I watch CNN, I see all the meaningless pictures of Sun's exteriors and random people doing some work with a profound air. I think that while Newsforge and Slashdot are advocacy sites, the quality of their journalism is better because they at least interface with the right people and issues.

Absence of neutrals, not presence of advocates (4.66 / 3) (#7)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 08:45:43 AM EST

I don't think there is any problem with the presence of sites/journals that advocate specific technologies. Every industry has people who advocate specific solutions. The problem is the absence of neutrals.

If you're, say, a civil engineer or an electrical engineer, there are dozens of trade magazines that discuss the issues and technologies in a rational manner, in spite of the same marketing and social pressures being exerted upon them. The computing industry seems to me to be exceptional in that we're missing the neutrals.

----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
"Neutrals" are not possible (3.50 / 2) (#8)
by slaytanic killer on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 09:25:10 AM EST

Mainly because the computing industy is very unstable. Any discussion on technical advantages of some product generally must include a look at backward-compatibility with existing systems. And once you do that, you must dip into politics and the current climate.

For example, you can have the greatest OS. Let's call it BeOS, though I have never used it and have no idea of its merits, but let's just assume. A "neutral" party can proclaim its technological superiority... however that news is fairly useless, because there are many factors that keep the technology from being adopted, such as MSFT's illegal strong-arm tactics.

Any neutral party would have to factor in the current climate and in doing so, become nearly impossible to differentiate from an advocacy. They'd have to make judgment calls and have opinions.

With all the Slashdot articles on how Stallman is a power-hungry beast and how ESR is a prima-donna... I actually wonder how bad Slashdot is at being fairly objective. If it seems they're very pro-Linux, well, all technical people I personally know actually like Linux. When they say "Linux," they in some vague way refer to the entire gamut of Free/Open technologies that make their lives and work easier, including the BSD's. It's hard not to appreciate it, unless you're a curmudgeon who doesn't think it's technologically stunning. Slashdot certainly has BeOS reviews, as well as of Apple's Darwin, Google, and other products from proprietary companies.... I don't know about anyone else, but my in-depth knowledge of companies such as Cisco and IBM rivals anyone who gets feeds from the NYT, Economist, CNN, or WSJ. My knowledge more closely approximates insider knowledge, which gives me a financial advantage. That is news.

The message can not be separated from the zealotry, because zealotry drives the industry right now. The only saving grace is that one can intelligently think about her zealotry.

Now, I voted this MLP up because I think someone might take his recommendations to heart and create a truly incisive tech journal. There are recommendations in that article that waste no one's time. But to that article, I add there is a fundamental misunderstanding of a site like Slashdot. It is only advocacy if you approach it from a classical journalistic worldview. In reality, its setup is far more complex than old conventional wisdom understands.

[ Parent ]

Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#28)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:31:37 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:31:57 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#30)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:32:15 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#31)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:32:23 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#32)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:32:34 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#33)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:32:42 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:47:13 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:47:24 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#36)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:47:34 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#37)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:47:44 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#38)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:47:54 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Ignore this [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#39)
by TheophileEscargot on Tue Jun 04, 2002 at 06:48:05 AM EST


----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Neutrality is untenable. What's needed is... (4.00 / 8) (#9)
by marlowe on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 09:36:05 AM EST

investigative journalism. I don't care what opinion you have so long as you go out and get me the facts.

But, you object, won't a biased reporter seek and report facts selectively? That's why we need a variety of opinions. If no one can be neutral, we can at least let the different biases cancel each other out. As long as there's more than one bias out there, this'll work. It worked for the mainstream press, and it'll work for tech reporting.

But who will bell the cat?

Maybe we could collect firsthand anecdotes of tech workers. That's how I get my best information now. Aside from the anecdotes I personally participate in, that is.

It's worth observing that such anecdotes are predominantly anti-Microsoft, and overwhelmigly so after you filter out posters who sign up for their ISP accounts with Rick Segals' credit card. This trend will of course offend the pro-Microsoft crowd. But if they have any honesty and interest in the truth, they'll stop and ask themselves: why is this so, and what does it mean?

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Is everyone here a zealot? (3.83 / 12) (#12)
by Carnage4Life on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 11:46:17 AM EST

The article raised a fairly good point which most people who have posted are shouting down because it dares insult their beloved Slashdot. The article has a very validn point.

Nowhere else have I read such blatantly biased and unresearched information as in Tech media. If it isn't a site bristling with religious fervor (e.g. most Linux and MacOS sites) then its the sites that are so obviously spitting back press releases (almost all of them during the dotbomb boom) or the bogus review sites (such as the PC magazine mentioned in the article).

Why does the technology media not even keep attempt to keeop up the pretense of objectivity which most mainstream media still do in some form or the other? Why are tech journalists so seemingly clueless about the very things they are writing about? Why don't people in the technology industry care?

bah (3.33 / 3) (#23)
by regeya on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 12:12:43 AM EST

A valid point doesn't necessarily make a good article
Simply trashing Slashdot doesn't necessarily make a good article

Other than that, you're right, it makes some points.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

Irony (3.66 / 3) (#13)
by DeadBaby on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 12:19:27 PM EST

"The Failure of Tech Journalism" as an MLP. Am I the only one who can see the utter irony in this?

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
Industry coverage... (3.20 / 5) (#14)
by DeadBaby on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 12:27:35 PM EST

Is always pretty poor. Everyone takes sides because everyone is involved with the industry directly. You can't report on somethings and NOT be involved in it.

Sure, it would be nice if some sites (slashdot.) wasn't so outright bias and FUD-a-riffic but why shouldn't they be? They're a bunch of Linux fan boys. My only problem is how they try to hide that fact by reporting things as "news" instead of just "FUD".

It reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Homer starts eating "Power Sauce (TM)" bars and at some point, when Homer's life is on the line, a TV commerical for Power Sauce (TM) breaks into the coverage to say "in other news, Power Sauce (TM) is fantastic"

That's about how I view slashdot. A site so desperate to spread their FUD everything else on the site is just an excuse to spread it.




"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
i'll tell you why. (3.00 / 4) (#18)
by rebelcool on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 06:36:36 PM EST

Because so far its techies during the reporting. You never should do a report about something you're intimately familiar with - it'll come out all biased.

As much as we all lambast the traditional media for reporting incorrectly on things they dont know much about, it's actually a GOOD thing.

Some familiarity is good, but when you have too much you tend to take a side.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

Really (4.50 / 2) (#22)
by adamsc on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 12:00:00 AM EST

It's rarely techies doing the reporting - that's no small part of the problem. Your average tech journalist understands very little of what they report and tends to trust the vendors *way* too much. That's how so many bald-faced lies get passed on without question.

I would also disagree that bias is always bad. The problem is when the reporters biases don't match those of the users. As an example, I've seen reviews which complain about server software's control apps offering too many choices and wishing for things like wizards to reduce the number of options - that sort of mindset makes sense for a novice consumer oriented products but absolutely no sense for something which is intended to be used by experienced system administrators.

[ Parent ]
What they forget to mention (4.40 / 5) (#19)
by Tachys on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 08:14:03 PM EST

The people who use it say "I got my grandmother on it" neglecting to mention they have 130 IQ's and are computer professionals.

Wrong what they neglect to mention is that they set up the computer and do all the maintinance. While grandma has a user account and has no idea what root is.


Any game that gets banned by the Austrailian govt can't be all bad... - Armaphine


Well duh :) (4.00 / 3) (#20)
by RangerBob on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 09:35:22 PM EST

This isn't anything new. I mean, heck, ZD was telling companies that they'd get better reviews by buying more ad space long before there was a Web.

Information is biased, that's why people should read several different reviews before forming an opinion. Yes, this does take effort, which means most people won't do it, but it's better to read everything and then pick out the commonality. Relying on places like Slashdot alone for accurate info is just plain dumb. It's really not that different from the "real world". People shouldn't just rely on the word of a car dealer alone either.

Okeydoke (2.00 / 4) (#24)
by regeya on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 12:26:06 AM EST

The linked-to article rambles on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and has several zingers I just love. Here's one.

A person with this kind of track record is probably best suited for advertising, where a respect for facts is not part of the job.

Wow. What a jackass. Nothing quite like having a healthy dose of Not Knowing What One's Talking About. Or rather, Using The Bad Seeds To Make A Point, I suppose, though the bad seeds are left unnamed. Go right ahead, kiddies, flame away, and for once I'll ignore you. Don't take that as me agreeing with you, me acknowledging your superior intellect, or me just deciding that, oh, I had a bad point and you had a good one. I'll let you know if that happens, m'kay? Start holding your breath.

Please, wake me when it's over...


[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

You know, that was ALMOST really cool... (3.66 / 6) (#25)
by Kasreyn on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:47:58 AM EST

... but a derisive correction/flame goes along these lines:

*restate other guy's point *make fun of it *prove why it is wrong *make fun of it some more *funny sig

...only you forgot the third step. You did real good at the "making fun" part, but I did not see anywhere where you even contended the statement "A person with this kind of track record is probably best suited for advertising, where a respect for facts is not part of the job."

Now that I'm done with steps one and two, I will show you how step 3 is done.

As far as I can tell that statement is correct. Not to say there are no facts needed in advertising, only that if you let facts be the only basis of your ad you will not be a very successful ad man.

Hypothetical factual ads:

Tylenol: 5 out of 10 Doctors Recommend it!

Gap Clothes: They Cost More because Such Pretty People are Wearing Them!

Pepsi: Tastes Just Like Coke!

Compaq: It's Cheap but So are the Parts!

Budweiser: Nothing Turns Women On like a Drunk Guy Puking and Slobbering All Over Himself!

Ford Expedition: Because You Need to Prove You Don't Have a Small Dick.


...nnnnnnnnnnnno, I don't think facts play a very large role in advertising. ;-)


-Kasreyn

P.S. You can ignore this all you want. If you think it makes you superior, fine. All it make you is another ignoramus who knows he's wrong so he ignores all further discussion.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Context, dammit, context. (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by regeya on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 03:53:05 PM EST

The author used "facts" in the incorrect sense. The author said "fact" when the word in question is "truth." That's what I was taking exception to.

The kiddies like to flame me when I suggest that advertising professionals are at least a couple of steps above used-car salesmen and abortion doctors.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

Why journalists suck at tech (3.75 / 4) (#26)
by Skwirl on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 11:49:22 AM EST

Having spent the last three years alternating between classes in the Indiana University jounalism and computer science buildings, I've formed a few opinions about why, as the article points out, "journalists are fucking idiots."

Well, at least as far as dealing with anything technical, or scientific, is concerned journalists are out of the loop. The brightest journalism students are usually idealists who eventually succumb to cynicism, and sometimes a major change, fairly early on. It turns out that you can't quite change the world on 18 grand a year while constantly tracking down elusive sources for that dog show feature.

What you have left are the zealots who are never in class because they're spending 70 hours a week editing the school paper, the wanna-be broadcast anchors and the people looking for an easy major. The average journalism student is usually looking for the quickest path to get through their few math and science requirements.

You're much more vulnerable to PR spin when you don't have any grasp of the subject, and honest, technical sources won't trust you because they think (perhaps rightly) that you'll misinterpret their information. One visitor to my Advanced Reporting class explained that he only responds to the calls of a few select journalists that he has "trained" to understand his field.

I believe there are a lot of (probably) accidental circumstances that contribute to the Chomsky-esque fact that all news doesn't live up to what it's supposed to be. For instance, I'll guess that you didn't see many negative stories about doomed dotcoms early on because of the chilling effect of possible lawsuits. Also, as seen on Slashdot, hypothetical, peer untested, "junk" science is the only science that leads due to the universally accepted news values of timeliness and relevance to the reader. Science that makes good water cooler conversation fodder wins. Furthermore, journalists are expected to be experts at everything as they switch from story to story, and some topics just can't easily be boiled down to the 5th grade reading level.



"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
The Failure of Tech Journalism | 39 comments (31 topical, 8 editorial, 0 hidden)
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