There has been a storm on Twitter and (due to Robert Scoble’s involvement) Google+ recently over bloggers, journalists and the relationship between the two. It seems that Dan Lyons, a technology journalist for Newsweek, was upset — “Hit men, click whores and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Valley cesspool” — and took to his personal blog to vent. Aiming at Michael Arrington and MG Siegler will inevitably draw fire but a week or so later, Lyons has further drawn on the ire of the social media elite by accusing Robert Scoble of trying to employ similar tactics. Scoble very publically rebutted Lyons’ arguments but the argument continues…
For me, a lot of this seems to boil down to one thing: the consumerization of technology journalism.
I am amazed that many of the technology journalists that take such pleasure extolling the virtues of the consumerization of IT and other high-tech fields such as photography, music and other digital media are utterly blind to their own parallel trend within journalism. Furthermore, they are as reactionary as the Luddites they mock when talking technology. Consumerization is a broad trend that extends well beyond IT. Yes, it has its roots in technology, as the enabler that is lowering the entry bar for people to participate. That may be the choosing the technology they use at work, submitting their photos to Flickr to be syndicated by Getty Images or even blogging about technology for a living! However, the consumerization trend has pushed into every facet of modern life — it is the 21st Century’s spin on democracy.
Blogging arose from an easy way for people to write down their thoughts and self-publish them to hundreds of millions of people. As with many things on the Internet, the advent of Google’s AdSense monetized this practise so people could bring in that highly valuable niche audience and make money…sometimes lots of it! Suddenly, bloggers were just as likely to be invited to a product launch or press briefing as the mainstream press were. A very fine, very blurry line seemed to have been drawn between journalists and bloggers.
So what are the differences between bloggers and journalists? From reading MG Siegler, Alexia Tsotsis, Arrington and the like, the only difference I see is that bloggers like to use the words ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ in their articles. Bloggers tended to post without necessarily verifying their sources (Engadget’s Apple rumours…) but for the most part, the quality of writing is on par with decent technology journalism. After all, it is their writing that generate the pageviews that brings in the revenue from advertising.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say there are no differences between the two. Is someone with a journalism degree and employed at a mainstream media outlet a journalist? Does TechCrunch’s recent AOL ownership suddenly make all the bloggers now journalists? This parallels the same arguments raging in other industries — are musicians and bands that pass through the Simon Cowell machine just as deserving as artists who have performed and worked their way up the musical ranks? Is an amateur photographer who uploads his holiday snaps on to Flickr unfairly taking money away from true, professional photographers?
All these points are moot. Like it or loathe it, consumerization has lead to an exponential dissemination and aggregation of information and content. It is up to us (the bloody consumer!) to ensure that the quality bar remains intact (I have written about this recently.)
On Lyons’ particular pains, he may have a point regarding conflict of interest and promoting increased transparency within the industry but his condescending tone does him no favours. His opening paragraph sums up his sentiment and blows his credibility in one deft move:
It’s tough being a journalist, especially if you’re covering technology and living in Silicon Valley, because it seems as if everyone around you is getting fabulously rich while you’re stuck in a job that will never, ever make you wealthy. What’s worse is that all these people who are getting rich don’t seem to be any brighter than you are and in fact many of them don’t seem very bright at all. So of course you get jealous.
He talks about Arrington/Siegler’s conflict of interest (real or not) as though it is something new — I would suggest he speak to his friends in financial journalism. They have been covering stock they own for decades and continue to wine and dine investment managers far away from the audit trail of modern, corporate, financial governance.
Lyons seems to suggest that bloggers are out writing half-baked articles that make them millions while journalists scrape together a meagre living writing the real stories (in fact, he even refers to his own posts on his personal blog as ‘articles’). The truth though lies in something much more basic — influence drives power which drives money. Silicon Valley and the stupidly competitive atmosphere of technology startups make influence the most precious commodity there is. Siegler and Arrington trade in influence. Simple as. Technology journalism, writing about the larger, global (potentially more interesting!) stories do not yield the same impact — that pivotal ‘power’ moment has passed and with it the journalist’s ability to influence the outcome. Niche blogging and journalism gives rise to a greater degree of influence.
Does this leave room for corruption and sychophantic behaviour? — of course it does! However the increased consumerization of technology journalism brings with it a gamut of bloggers/journalists/whatever who will be quick to expose these transgressions.
In fact, maybe one day Dan Lyons will be one such heralded journalist. Today, though, he isn’t…