« The need for solid tech journalism

I’m a big fan of Dan Lyons. Like many, I read and enjoyed his blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. Lyons understood Jobs and Silicon Valley well enough to put himself in the CEO’s shoes, but didn’t deify the man the way fanboys tend to; he clearly respected Jobs, but didn’t take him (or himself) too seriously. It’s a shame that Jobs died, but doubly so for Lyons: it would have been in bad taste to channel Steve from beyond the grave. Every journalist needs to specialize in something, and Lyons’ lens through which to write about the world was taken off the table. So he needed something new. I couldn’t be happier with the direction he’s chosen.

The world is changing at a speed never before seen, and it’s getting faster. Technology is the driving force behind this change, and Silicon Valley is one of several hotspots where this technology is being built and transformed into businesses. Facebook has changed how people all over the world connect with one another, Kickstarter is fundamentally changing how a business can get off the ground, Path did something very bad by going out of their way to download people’s address books. We need real journalists and real watchdogs to report critically on these businesses, how they’re making money, and weighing in on whether those business models, revenue streams, and ethical decisions make sense.

TechCrunch, the de-facto homepage for “news” about tech, does absolutely none of this. Lyons gets full points for pointing out, Jon Stewart style, just how terrible the state of tech journalism is–if TechCrunch and the like are any indication.

I won’t spend too much time complaining about TechCrunch, it’s terrible and has been for a while. Clicking a link and seeing techcrunch.com resolve in the address bar is always unpleasant, and sometimes morbid curiosity keeps me around to see just how bad the article is going to be. Siegler’s posts probably being the worst–he can neither think nor write.

In terms of reading tech news, nothing makes me happier than seeing that the URL I’m loading resolves to bloomberg.com, you know, real journalists. But Lyons is a real journalist too, and his opinion pieces are well-reasoned and take a stab at the big picture. We badly need more of this. Tech is too important to be left to the bloggers.

The problem is of course money. So far journalism has failed to adapt to the internet. The intermediate solution, or rather the one that’s currently working online, is the Gawker/TechCrunch business model: you can monetize page impressions, so do whatever you need to to get them. The result is a fast and continuous stream of sensational drivel.

People take information for granted. There’s a reason why companies like Gartner and Forrester can charge companies tens of thousands of dollars a year for information and expertise: at its best, this research helps them make better decisions. With techblogs, we’re getting what we’re paying for.

This isn’t a problem unique to the Valley, and no one but The Economist is having much luck staying afloat. While I agree with Paul Graham’s call to Kill Hollywood, I think an even more important project is to Save Journalism. There’s a lot of benefit to those of us who care about tech, like getting access to high quality, reliable, considered analysis, and what works in tech may work for journalism in general.

Access to good information is a public good, we all have a role in making it available.

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