The Trouble with Technology Journalism
Before I start, let me be clear that the problems I'm going to cover here don't just apply to tech journalism, but it's certainly prevalent within that area.
If you run a technology news site, there is constant pressure to be continually pushing out content; most of the time it takes the form of news.
In 'proper' journalism, news has to be verified before publication – by definition this rules out rumours and leaks. However, if you read any of the major technology news sites, you'll find that leaks and rumours make up a big section of the news. If you believe that there are print (tabloid) publications which don't adhere to that standard, you'd be right, and I'd contend that what they're doing isn't true journalism.
Most other sites want to be seen to be keeping up with the apparent 'breaking news', and so they repost the same stories they've seen on other news sites, without adding any more insight, and without any apparent verification of the facts. This trend is exacerbated because journalists and bloggers are making their livings from these sites and so they need the traffic that such content will bring because it will increase their advertising revenue.
Of course, for as long as there has been any sort of news industry, there has always been the desire to be first with a story – to prove that one's connections and journalistic instincts are the best. However, this is missing the point of journalism. We are here to provide a service to the public, we're obliged to report objective facts, and offer contextual insight based on the experience of our beats.
Take for example the recent news debacle over whether current Windows Phone 7 handsets would be updated to Windows Phone 8 or not. On one side we had The Verge quoting a source inside Microsoft saying it wasn't true, but there was a blog who had a Microsoft evangelist on video saying it was true, which most other blogs took as gospel. It took several days for things to die down and the evangelist having to publically say he was mistaken before the story was settled.
That was just the latest example I've seen in the tech blogosphere of retractions and corrections being posted after a 'breaking story'. But hey, that's okay because it actually means they'll get more ad-impressions!
Give me strength!
Of course, all of these leaks and rumours are entertaining to read, and it gives the commenters something to talk about. However, I fear that it's undermining the reliability and credibility of technology journalists as a whole. When someone does break a story, I (as a reader) am starting to feel like I should take no notice until the story is a few days old and has had time to be corrected. As a journalist, I want to get in there and confirm the facts.
Surely, wouldn't it be better to be known for publishing information that is confirmed and definite?
On the flip side, I understand why journalists and bloggers fall into this trap of passing on unconfirmed news – there is a tangible sense of pressure to 'keep up' every time you see a competing site publish a story. Even though you know what they're publishing is really a non-story, you also know they're getting eyeballs that your site isn't. The added problem is that (generally) readers have a less critical eye than journalists, and you can't spend all your time writing "Here's why what so-and-so said is a load of bunk" kind of posts, to put them right.
If you're a reader, the moral of this story is to get to know websites, work out their tone and what their bias' are, and see how often their information turns out to be true. If you're a writer (whether you call yourself a journalist or a blogger), then stop trying to keep up with everyone else. Instead, develop and share your insights on the tech world, and have a critical eye on the content coming out of your peers and competitors.