“The Mac has always been about being the best, not making the most.” Tim Cook, Apple CEO, All Things D Conference 2012.
Apple’s approach to making products could be an interesting approach for tech journalism.
In business, companies talk about “market share”. Every quarter, they rush to beat Wall Street estimates. It’s okay if they make crap products and piss customers off as long as they keep delivering the goods to shareholders. Customers and product quality are only acknowledged when they affect share price.
Technology journalism works in a similar way. In this world, the Wall Street quarter is monthly pageviews and advertisers are the shareholders. Tech journalists are factory hands, pumping out press release rewrites every day like toys on an assembly line. Readers don’t realise they’re getting a bad experience because nearly all of the tech sites play this game (with a few exceptions). So bad quality doesn’t stand out. As long as the pageview bucket is topped up and the ad revenue keeps rollin’ in, the clickbait lives.
And there’s a predictable theme in tech news: startup raises money. Startup launches product. Startup dies but no one notices because it’s not announced with a press release.
Let’s call this for what it is: embarassing. Technology is no longer the preserve of geeks. It has invaded the mainstream population. Decisions made by technology companies and those who use technology (read: everyone) affect us all. The work of tech reporters is becoming increasingly important, such as Lois Beckett’s expose of Microsoft and Yahoo selling politicians access to their users. If we took Apple’s approach, focusing on “better” journalism instead of “more i.e. one post a week instead of twenty a day, things could change. Matter, the publishing startup co-founded by Gigaom’s Bobbie Johnson, is a great example of this.
So too is A.J. Daulerio’s experiment over at Gawker. It can easily be replicated for tech news: keep one reporter on “breaking news duty” (as opposed to “traffic whoring duty”, in Gawkerland) and allow the rest to work on longer-term pieces, investigations and analysis. Rotate it around the team so that each reporter has one day of churning out news but four days of working on important stuff (assuming you have a team of five but it works for smaller teams too).
But never mind paedophiles preying on a children’s social gaming site, let’s talk funding rounds.