Tech Journalism

This post is one I’ve meant to make for almost two weeks. It has very little to do with having a disability, and everything to do with being a long-time user of technology. Specifically, I’m almost 52 years old, and I’ve been hip-deep in technology all my adult life both as a creator and a user. As such, journalism about tech is of interest and value to me. That’s why I’m even bothering to weigh in on the subject.

I listen and/or watch a number of tech-oriented podcasts. "Time is money," as the saying goes, so I tend to subscribe to what the industry calls "news aggregators." These are shows that present news gleamed from third-party sources. Virtually any news organization you might care to name aggregates to some extent, but the trend in the tech field is to intermix news and analysis. Although that practice has obvious pratfalls, it could be useful if the commentators understand the given topic. It’s a pity that’s usually not the case. Instead, we often get people who seem more interested in building their popularity than understanding what they are talking about!

What brought this to mind was the latest edition of Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech where his panel gets into a thought-provoking debate about the ethics of tech aggregation shows. To be sure, Leo is himself a publicity hound, coming from a broadcast radio background. He goes to lengths to get as much "air time" as he can. I find this a bit worrisome because Leo still hosts a two-hour nationally-syndicated tech "help" radio show twice each weekend. That means he’s advising technical newbies. As best as I can tell, Leo’s breath of tech knowledge is on par with mine, perhaps a tad less, and I know I’m fallible. To his credit, though, Leo often dines on crow in his podcasts and is man enough to admit it.

Unfortunately, not everyone on Leo’s TWIT panel this time had such a good reputation. Molly Wood co-hosts one of the more popular tech podcasts, Buzz Out Loud. As the name implies, BOL is an aggregator of current tech events. They report and then comment. I find that to be very reckless, because you might be analyzing a story that the next day proves to be totally bogus. Tom Merritt, Molly’s  co-host, tries to dismiss this issue by calling BOL "entertainment." However, that argument ignores the fact that the publisher, CNET, pushes BOL as tech news and analysis. The availability of BOL on iTunes means that everyone’s cat can get it, not just the tech-savvy pros as Tom seems to think.  Molly is proud of her journalism degree, but her overall lack of tech understanding combined with other aspects of BOL caused me to drop it after two years. Molly, if it’s any consolation, Dvorak’s Cranky Geeks also got my boot.

Yet, tech news aggregation can be done well. Two examples are Loaded (from CNET)  and Webb Alert. Yes, Morgan and Natali are hot, but I’ve seen the former for years and can tell she has more than a few working brain cells. If either lady says a story smells fishy, it’s time to grab a gas mask! I am also relieved to hear that Veronica Belmont is bailing out of the silly Mahalo Daily to return to doing tech stories. Jason Calacanis can’t buy everyone. 🙂

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