Old media tech coverage is stupid. Time to stop biting its ankle and rip out its throat

Old media coverage of cutting-edge toys is increasingly hapless. If you ever have trouble sleeping, just read the gadgets column in a lifestyle mag. The big newspapers' gadget blogs are phoned in, too: they want to beat techie sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, but they stick with a stuffy approach at odds with the enthusiast subject matter. This blurring of "blog" and "newspaper" also makes mistakes look like journalistic misrepresentations. A great example of all this is at Digits, the WSJ tech blog. The Journal's Ben Charny writes about a dinner hosted by the people who run the Consumer Electronics Show. Slipped into a post so perfectly unexciting that it reads like an AP news item, Charny offers an amazing fact: "Apple plans to attend the show's 2010 version, marking the first time in memory the Cupertino, Calif., consumer-electronics giant will be there." Wow! But there's a problem.Not only is there scant evidence this is the case, CEA president Gary Shapiro denied the rumor at the very event Charny attended. And there's no source, named or otherwise, for that claim. Engadget's Ryan Block, who also attended, takes it down, hard. But while Block strikes each debunking note with excruciating precision, the way he did it was a missed opportunity. It's as if Block, far more popular and credible than his target, thought the reverse was true. Responding to a one-line mistake with a big wall of text feeds the assumption that old newspapers are the ones with reputations to live up to, and that bloggers are better at reading than they are at reporting. But the truth is that blogs like Engadget, Gizmodo and the Crunches are coming close to supplanting traditional outlets entirely when it comes to technology news. It's time for bloggers to stop chipping away at the credibility of fusty rivals, assume that they have no credibility advantage left at all, and simply get on with the job of out-writing them. After all, responding to something at all grants it a measure of equality, and responding to it at greater length offers it primacy. This is why scientists are so leery of smacking down flat-earthers and the like: it gives them credibility they don't deserve. A better way to put a screw-up in its place it is to make fun of it, or give it a quick kick in the balls. It's not just about technology reporting, either: online news will polish off its traditional counterparts by ignoring, rather than reacting to, their mistakes. Instead of attacking its credibility when it wanders into our yard, it's time for us to invade theirs--before they get a clue.

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at besc...@gmail.com  
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14 Responses to Old media tech coverage is stupid. Time to stop biting its ankle and rip out its throat

  1. BritSwedeGuy says:

    “And this week in Click Online, I’ve discovered a website where you can care for a virtual pony!”

  2. Francesco Fondi says:

    Slapping traditional media is fun. I always do even tough I’m technically a publishers/journalist.

    BLOGs as a media already won but this doesn’t mean that average blogger is more skilled than a journalist as “blogging is fast-paced, subjective and prone to error”.

    Traditional media is sinking as an industry but the journalism profession is still there.

    I think that blogosphere should make a step foward and learn something from professional journalism. But at the same time journalism should learn from blogging. What puzzles me is that when bloggers show up on printed media often their writing is not better than average journalist. The point is that both sides got something to teach and something to learn.

    Often bloggers critic the traditional media for something they do themself but do not recognize:


    “It’s true that the journalistic food chain runs both ways: Big media like the Times often pick up stories and information from smaller fish, often with insufficient credit or none at all.”

    How many times bloggers do the same? Or even claim that they are the original source when a simple search of their post title reveals several older posts about the same story!? (“Google never forgets, of course.”)

    I feel this is a fascinating time to work in the media business as there is so much to be learned, discovered and, why not, created from scratch!

  3. Rob Beschizza says:

    Amiga Format was my primary reading matter for years — I got it every month! Where are you at now?

    Charny’s certainly not the first to get something wrong — it happens to all of us, all the time. And he likely got it wrong for the same reason any other blogger gets it wrong — because blogging is fast-paced, subjective and prone to error.

    The problem is that the WSJ’s approach makes that mistake much worse that it would do here or on Engadget or another blog, because the post is written up in a dull, sententious news style that reflects its traditional media background.

    If the same thing had been said at Gizmodo or TechCrunch or another bloggy blog, Ryan might have made fun of it or kicked it in the nuts, but there wouldn’t have been the earnest, brutal takedown than Charny got — because he wrote it at the WSJ.

    So, my point is that we just have to stop paying attention to the masthead, because we, the bloggarz, are already winning.

  4. obo says:

    Better writing in blogs is desperately needed. So is better editorial judgement (oh, Arrington).

    But then again, the culture of hype in tech blogs is as big a turn off for me as the confusion of old-media coverage, which makes me an old fuddy-duddy. :D

    I want the old PC-review concept – listing specs, detailed benchmarking of common tasks against direct competitors, making pragmatic judgments based on testing and observation – applied to gadget news. More stuff like this, less stuff like this. More business analysis, less research-free opining.

    It’d be be boring as wood but really, really useful, considering gadget fandom is, at its root, about spending as little money as wisely as possible.

  5. Francesco Fondi says:

    Jack Shafer @ Slate wrote an interesting post about the “The Newspaper-Web War”


  6. Rob Beschizza says:

    “both online and print are melding into one beast”

    But where is it published?

  7. Rob Beschizza says:

    “I think that blogosphere should make a step foward and learn something from professional journalism.”

    This is key. The traditional outlets have the skills, experience and the (fast-declining) resources, but have begun adapting. Online-only outlets have much more promising numbers, but quote unquote “bloggers” must accelerate the move to producing original, researched, reported work.

  8. Rob Beschizza says:

    The point being that the glomming is happening, but that this glomming is internal. It’s happening within publications, not between them. Offline publications are trying to go online, while online publications are trying to beat newspapers in those places newspapers remain better, or at least more credible.

    So, existing publications that are either online or offline are adopting characteristics of the other. But I think that online publications are better, because they don’t have the financial and productive drag of offline publication, etc.

    Hence this post, which intends to highlight how in one niche, gadget coverage, the online side is already better on most fronts–but just hasn’t realized it yet.

  9. underwhelmer says:

    Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m a gear editor at a major lifestyle magazine and you’re advocating my obsolescence, but I don’t agree. Here’s why:

    Gadget blogs like BBG, Gizmodo, Engadget, TechCrunch, Crave, etc do an amazing job covering tech news as it happens, from product releases to industry news and rumors. It’s why I spend (too) much time refreshing all of them during the day.

    But for the average consumer, they provide no context. And by average consumer, I mean the guy or girl who doesn’t visit tech blogs, who doesn’t know the difference between an Ion or an Atom, and who walks into Best Buy unaware that the pimply salesman is shoveling B.S.

    That’s why I exist. I’m here to test the six best teched-out adventure watches and tell my readers which one’s worth their money, or assemble a page’s worth of gear for having their own outdoor movie theater. Because they can’t do it themselves and, thus far, few blogs can be bothered. Blogs spend so much time covering the news — this product came out today, the Apple Tablet will/will not exist soon — that they rarely provide the one service demanded by the non-geeks of the world: useful advice.

    Steven hates the N97? Great, you just saved someone from making a mistake. Now tell your readers which smartphone they SHOULD be buying based on what they need out of one. The Shuttle XS29 works just fine, but lacks HDMI? Why not include in the same piece a review of three other HTPCs, so I know if I can live with the Shuttle’s shortcomings or if there’s a better deal to be had?

    And it’s too bad, but Rob and Steven are clearly experts at this stuff — as are the guys at Gizmodo and Engadget — and they’ve got the room to do so. (You have no idea how jealous I get seeing 500-words screeds on one product, when that’s more than I get for an entire review.)

    Except you’re also so desperate to do anything but what we dead-tree folks have done for years that you can’t see how relevant some of it still is. You’re right — eventually my job will be irrelevant. But the way blogs are working now, that won’t be too soon.

  10. JadedJourno says:

    I’ve covered consumer tech for 8 yrs. Started in print and did the “blogging” thing. I agree — both need to learn from each other. But in the end, it’s not about “winning” or ripping anyone’s throat out. IMO, journalism as a whole is dying. Old media is dying bc they’re so busy trying to win their “prestigious awards” that they’ve lost touch with their readers. Meanwhile, bloggers are spending way too much time talking abt how much better they are than old media. (Leave trash talking for rappers plz.)

    Rather than report on some steampunk pos that will never see the light of the day — why not investigate how Time Warner/Comcast are laughing it to the bank while they screw over customers?

    Rather than repost DigiTimes’ latest Mac rumor, why not get Apple to actually talk to journos instead of using journos as hype machines for their latest toy? Is it bc Apple posts get crazy clicks and crazy clicks = money?

    Like I said, journalism as a whole is dying cuz the fat cats who own all the outlets are out chasing the dollar rather than reporting what needs to be reported. That’s just my 2 cents. Maybe I’m overly jaded.

  11. Rob Beschizza says:

    Underwhelmer, I fear you just described precisely what we (online markets) need to do to polish your employers off!

    I don’t think your job is irrelevant, though: Tech blogs should hire away writers like you, with expertise writing for a general audience, to produce mainstream-accessible coverage, and to edit original reported content to remove needless jargon.

    And so on.

  12. Rob Beschizza says:

    OBO, I’m always in two minds about the specs and benchmarking stuff.

    We’ve veered away from it mostly at BBG, but I can’t figure out if that’s because we (a) want to appeal to people in a broader and more instructive sense (like how Underhelmer describes), (b) just don’t have the time to do it (tests, benchmarking) as well as more dedicated sites like hardocp and toms, or (c) if it just gets in the way of our quasi-literary pretensions.

  13. sparkplug says:

    Underwhelmer’s point is correct. The truth of the situation is that both online and print are melding into one beast- it’s not a war, it’s a glomming. Right now they’re seamlessly part of one ecosystem. While online has the superior means of distribution, print has the better discipline. And it wouldn’t hurt to learn one of the chief value-sets from the print world (which I have worked in as an editor and writer): stepping back to reflect before writing and editing.

    We may be brain-to-mouth-to-web lately, but our job as journalists in a hive mind age, more than anything else, is serving as The Filter. For that to work properly, we have to have perspective. And, of course, enough of pointing out mistakes on either side. Everyone can be found at fault at one time or another. Humans do make mistakes.

    What we really need are a serious of steps: immediate feeds of info, quick summations after, and then more digested analysis later on. That’s already happening, in a way, with Twitter/blogs/print. It’s not a bad system, as long as one doesn’t usurp and think it’s the only solution.

  14. Rob, speaking as an old-school print tech journalist (I started out on Amiga Format, for god’s sake) now working online, I’m in two minds about your post. On one side, the writer was clearly wrong and deserves to be castigated; Shapiro did not say anything about Apple attending, so his story was clearly wrong. But he’s hardly the first to get something wrong, and he won’t be the last, and it’s wrong to assume that online writers don’t make mistakes; they do, and probably just as much as old skool ones. The difference is that purely online media can go back and revise, and can even remove the original mistake in a Stalinist purge of the truth. Or rather try to; Google never forgets, of course.

    Should we then denounce every lazy blog or online news source that took the WSJ article at face value and reported it as fact, or used it as the basis of a news story? Of course not, but it is just as foolish, I think, to assume that all print tech journalists are idiots because one of them got something wrong.

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