I am about to commit an act of meta-journalism. I’m sorry. I hate meta-journalism. I unfollowed GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram (a fine writer) on Twitter some time ago because I could not muster any more interest in articles about articles and blog posts about blogging. I believe that journalists (like people in most professions) vastly overestimate their own importance, significance, and interestingness.
But I suppose if I’m going to go meta, an end-of-the-year post seems an appropriate venue; and for once I have something both meta and relevant to talk about.
The question, provoked by a couple of “this is interesting but doesn’t belong on TC” comments on last week’s column, is: what is the remit of tech journalism?
The problem is that everything is tech now. Software is eating the world — a world increasingly festooned with new hardware. War, art, politics, romance, sports, business — these are all tech topics now. Every human activity is increasingly inextricably intertwined with technology. And if you’re going to write about new technology, you have to write about the sociopolitical implications of that technology or else, well, you’re neither a good nor an interesting writer.
At the same time, though, people don’t generally come to TechCrunch to read about war, art, politics, romance, or sports. (Though I think they do come to read about business.) That’s fine, and fair enough. If I ever write anything here that would still make sense if you take all the references to new technology out of it, then I’ve probably strayed outside my remit; that seems like a reasonable rule of thumb. So we’re done here. Right?
Not quite. There’s something more interesting and provocative going on here.
If the range of tech journalism has extended to pretty much the full range of human activities, then, at the same time, all journalism is becoming tech journalism. We’re not there yet, of course; but we’re getting there. That’s just a simple corollary of software-eating-the-world and one-smartphone-per-person. One day in the within-our-collective-lifetimes future, all stories will be tech stories to some extent.
Which in turn means that most journalists will have to understand technology a lot better than they do now. To be fair, the world is full of so-called experts who should understand technology and don’t: earlier this year a Gartner analyst–a Gartner analyst!–wrote the howler “In comparison, Facebook uses a programming language called AJAX that taxes servers less” in a piece for The Atlantic. (Hint: AJAX is not a programming language, and it doesn’t necessarily tax servers less. Scroll down to the comments on the linked post for more detailed and contemptuous complaints.)
But it’s no longer OK to get a few technical details wrong, or to dismiss mentions of technical errors in journalism as pedantic nitpicking. Maybe it was OK when technology was a niche and separate subject. But now that it’s woven into the bones of everything, journalists have to start getting the technology right.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not demanding perfection. I make tech mistakes myself in these pieces from time to time, and I have an EE degree and a decade of experience writing software. But journalists everywhere, not just tech journalists, have to stop vague tech hand-waving and start caring about getting the details right, and when they do make mistakes, they need to correct them quickly. Otherwise they’ll lose their audience; because today’s audience knows that those details matter.