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Why can't all "tech" journalism be like this? (kottke.org)
239 points by hernan7 on Jan 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments


Pretty much any sentence of that piece could be spun off into an individual post on techcrunch &c. Spread your insight over a dozen blog-posts, and you get far more ad revenue

The New Yorker, on the other hand, gets the very best writers and gives them massive amounts of time to write a very small amount of text. So when you read, say, an article by Seymour Hersh, you know he's spent anywhere up to 6 months working on it.

Let's keep it in perspective: each of those sentences does have a background story worthy of exploring further.

One may get the best of both worlds if one could, like, click on those pieces of text. That would be awesome. We could call it "hypertext"...

The bottomline is that we've been stuck with the same issue for the past 10+ years: bloggers don't have the writing/journalistic skills, and MSM refuses to take advantage of the technology. And we'll have to make do with two types of half-assed products, piecing them together ourselves (with the help of sites like HN) to get the whole picture.

No wonder no one is willing to pay for content.

There is some hope.

While I can't provide huge amounts of detail, some TV stations are seeing the writing on the wall. I've spoken with one in particular who realizes that a) NBC/CBS/ABC is going to become a cable / internet network at some point, leaving the local station that much more time to fill. Also b) most people aren't turning to TV news, except in extraordinary cases where it fills a real need. (TRUE breaking news, think 9/11, local standoffs, fires, earthquakes, etc.)

They're talking about giving reporters 2 days to do 1 story. Each story is double or triple the length, and hopefully even more times the quality of the traditional 1:30 package. They're hoping the quality of the story can be spread via Facebook / the internet, and then have people come back and watch the newscast because it's a place to find out about quality things happening in their community.

The current problem? The news staff doesn't want to do that. They want to stay on their current course.

These signs point to a new hybrid form of journalism that excites me. A longer, in-depth story where appropriate, but also the bite-sized chunks which blogs have somewhat perfected.

Will it work perfectly? Not tomorrow. I'm confident, however, that it will work at some point in the future.

Anyone else who reads HN and who's looking at solving the same problem should get in contact with me. I want to talk to smart folks about the future of journalism. My specific slant is the video part, but I'd love to hear from smart folks thinking about all angles.

Problem with your idea: "a place to find out about quality things happening in their community" is not something normal people actually want.

It's something HNers and a small subset of news consumers want, but not the general public. They want to be entertained, even while watching "the news."

Normal people never want something to be "longer" and more "in-depth." That's a niche.

Looks like we'll have some data to back up these assumptions. That's all they've been in the past.

Who says entertainment and quality have to be mutually exclusive? I don't. I think the counterpoint to this is what got us in this situation where people are turning off the tube en masse.

Writing multiple short blog posts is also easier. Re-blogging is also easy. Bad writing tends to drag on for paragraphs with no real point. Good, concise writing is difficult.

Also, good writers like Ken Auletta are expensive.

Techcrunch couldn't justify this style of writing for every post, though it does have Lacy, Carr, Gilmore et al as high-level editorial

though it does have Lacy, Carr, Gilmore

Yes, but they can't touch Auletta or Hersh. Not even in the same universe. TC, Mashable et. al. are out for maximum ad impressions and that's why churning out weak gruel is part of their mission.

Sensationalism, link-baiting, etc all SELLS. Look at Fox News.

Sidenote - I'm starting to see a major increase to the frontpage of HN in such related articles (and consequently the number of comments to those articles). STOP UPVOTING THIS SHIT.

Sorry for language and caps.

Analysis reporting (making educated guesses and telling stories) has valuable functions. It "shakes trees" in the sense that sources sometimes come forward to confirm or deny an analysis. It promotes skepticism by providing alternative to controlled press releases and controlled leaks. It also is a dog in the fight to influence the "commonly accepted narrative" of events - the interpretations about the uncertain aspects of reality that dominate our collective response to the present and near future.

If you eliminate all of these functions and just let a few official sources fill the news-hole, it is not as though non-objective analysis will disappear. Far from it. Instead, all non-objective but authoritative-sounding analysis will come only from those with the greatest economic and political power. In short, you will have a fascist propaganda machine.

(There is constant rebellion against the tendency of the press to enrich its pockets by turning away from the wild speculation and radical analysis. Uh... Hunter Thompson was one symptom of that rebellion a few years back. More recently, I suppose that the "right wing talk radio" crowd is another symptom of the same tendency to rebel against simply receiving truths and their interpretation from the powers that be. Tech is a microcosm different in topic, not kind from the general field of national news reporting: people fight over which facts to highlight and how to interpret them. Some reporters are supposed to be in there slugging it out.)

Techcrunch is what I imagine it would be like if Perez Hilton blogged about technology.

Nah, TechCrunch is newsweek - Valleywag was Perez Hilton

I suspect you haven't read TC in a while...

I'm thinking you haven't read Newsweek lately....

Ah, no. Actually, I have. I think our eyes are wide open, thank you very much.

At least the spelling/grammar mistakes on TC seem accidental, they dont liek right liek this 2 make u think they are kool.

Example from the most recent article currently on the PH site:

  What do U think??

One reason is, the New Yorker pays real editors.

Another reason is that it's written by a guy who has studied this company for years, interviewed Schmidt eleven times and links to his own Google book in the body of the article.

Freelance tech journalism, this ain't.

This. I don't care how much a tech blogger has studied Google from afar. Ken Auletta actually embedded himself at Google and wrote a frickin book about its history, its culture, and most importantly how it makes decisions. He is in a crazy strong position to comment on why Google does what it does.

Indeed. Also, this is traditional journalism, done in a new medium.

TechCrunch is the new medium (Blogging) with a rough journalism slant.

There is a real life comparison too; TechCrunch is like the tabloid papers - they have all the content, plus the biases and the speculation and a bit of trash. The New Yorker content is like the Business dailys - curt, to the point, aimed at people who want to know the facts, plus sensible analysis from people who understand the context in detail (and are writing from academic interest as much as commercial).

> this is traditional journalism

The fact that this style of journalism is considered "traditional" is itself quite lamentable.

Absolutely. Also, publishing in the New Yorker is considered a pinacle of achievement for writers. They attract the best talent.

What this tells me is that there's an opportunity in tech journalism to disrupt the current scene with upstart notions like good editing and good journalism.

The New York Times was such an upstart in it's day with it's revolutionary notion of impartial reporting.

While I don't disagree, the problem is that this doesn't necessarily make good business sense; the dollar value of good editing and journalism is (currently) in decline. I think an institution like the New Yorker has some natural protection as a cultural mainstay; if you were to go to an upper middle class dinner party near where I grew up and be unable to discuss the current issue of the New Yorker, you might feel negative social effects. It is hard to create a similar effect in an already saturated market.

While I don't disagree, the problem is that this doesn't necessarily make good business sense; the dollar value of good editing and journalism is (currently) in decline.

No, the dollar value of good editing and journalism as currently packaged and distributed in public is currently in decline. I am sure that there are hundreds of executives scattered across the globe who each just arranged for someone else to compose a report that thousands or even hundreds of thousands of other people would indeed want to read or at least know the contents of.

The New Yorker is still a small niche publication, despite its notoriety of excellence. While I'd love to read a high-standards technology review, I'm not sure there's an "opportunity" of sufficient size. I'll have to settle for The Economist's tech coverage until someone proves me wrong.

Sure, if you consider a million* subscriptions paying cash money every month "niche." I certainly wouldn't call a blog with a million paying customers "niche!" You could have a tenth of that and run a profitable website, with plenty of money to pay good writers.

* http://www.magazine.org/CONSUMER_MARKETING/CIRC_TRENDS/2009-...

Yea, that is pretty niche considering the size of their operation. Check out how far down the list they are and who's above them (US Weekly, Newsweek, Readers Digest, etc). Then there's the web: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/newyorker.com+techcrunch.co...

All that high quality content and the likes of TechCrunch are crushing them one "Twitter is down" post after another.

I don't see how that graph is interpreted as a "crushing" -- you may as well make a graph of the sales of Techcrunch's print edition, and see who wins then. The New Yorker could have flat zero web presence and I doubt it would make very much difference to their bottom line. They sell printed pieces of paper, not page views.

It's true that there are lots of other magazines which sell many more copies; I'm just suggesting that they appear to have a lot of headroom in terms of "having a big enough market to be a profitable business."

Wait a minute. The TechCrunch coverage on Larry Page replacing Eric Schmidt is a simple 4 paragraphs of editorial. It also simply states facts and doesn't include conjecture or spun opinion. See for yourself: http://techcrunch.com/2011/01/20/google-ceo-change/ It may not contain the same level of information potency, but it's not drawn out gossip either.

Also, the other post sort of on the topic simply includes the author's account of development of the story, about how he was going to break it beforehand. Similarly, it's pretty straightforward without a lot of unnecessary fluff. It's here: http://techcrunch.com/2011/01/20/techcrunch-interview-with-e...

Thanks for noticing that Kottke's post is really an epic troll.

As a newbie in the blogging culture in Silicon Valley, I honestly can't agree more. I want to see more of this style of reporting and I try pretty hard to do it myself.

I guess I'm what you'd call a "classically trained" journalist. So maybe I'm just feeling a little pretentious or annoyed at the state of things out here. But 99 percent of the time it feels like people are too damn lazy to pick up the phone and call their sources — or even shoot them an email and ask for a quick comment. I almost fell into that trap when I first joined the technorati out here but have since reverted to my own personal instincts of actually talking to people for stories (I know, what a concept, right?)

For a new face in silicon valley it's honestly extremely discouraging and frustrating — not only seeing it in other blogs but from my co-workers from time to time at VentureBeat as well. It's even more discouraging to be encouraged by my editors from time to time to simply bust out a story without any additional reporting. I feel pretty proud that I have not done a straight reblog without additional reporting in more than a month when it's merited.

Naturally, some stories don't demand that kind of additional reporting. So there's a place for analysis, commentary, and the like. I'll be damned if I end up as an MG Siegler-type reporter that injects opinion/praise/vitriol in every single article I write, though. I don't really see that opinion changing any time soon, either.

(Edit for quick background: former Reuters reporter, graduated in 2010.)

I'll be damned if I end up as an MG Siegler-type reporter

Turns out that guy isn't a reporter, he's a blogger. That's why TC is light on journalism, analysis, and cogent commentary.

Unfortunately, Internet journalism has become primarily about speed -- so the fastest to report or even speculate wins on aggregation services -- thus the lions share of the traffic.

Speed has its advantage, as in the case of this story posted here a mere four hours after what it reports about: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2128825

"according to associates" and "According to close advisors" isn't the strongest I've seen in the "properly sourced" department.

It wouldn't be if it was Tech Crunch or Mashable, but it's The New Yorker and they have real reporters, editors, fact checkers and standards.

In other words, people are far more impressed with this article because of the newyorker.com in the URL than they would be if it appeared anywhere else.

Sure. But that's because the one with newyorker.com in the URL has a 85 years of credibility behind it. TechCrunch and similar are concerned with speed, not quality. The New Yorker would rather be a day (or week/month!) late and have the full story than be first and have the most re-tweets.

Credibility is important, but credulity is always a risk.

People would be cautious and skeptical if these exact words were posted on TechCrunch. Instead, we're hearing how awesome and correct this article must be because it's posted on newyorker.com.

I think that in its length, this thread has attenuated reality a little bit. The reality is, the New Yorker piece was more spare, less breathless, and better reported than a typical TechCrunch posting. The New Yorker byline is not the only thing that makes Kottke think the article is awesome.

The other side to your argument is, yes, the New Yorker byline does make Kottke think it's "correct". It does the same thing for most people, probably including you. It probably is correct. You said it yourself: credibility is important. TechCrunch has done a lot of stuff to burn credibility instead of building it.

Or perhaps shorter: people should be reasonably skeptical in approaching articles like this. That they should be much more wary of a tainted source like TechCrunch does not change that first fact.

The reality is that Kottke is mostly wowed because of some decent prose.

I read the post and wonder how much of this is true (if "correct" is too alarming a word). How objective is Auletta about Schmidt? How reliable are the unnamed "associates" whose mention thrilled Kottke?

I don't have an opinion about whether this post is accurate because I don't have enough information to make that judgement. This post doesn't provide that information, and I haven't happened to read Auletta's book, or even any reviews or criticism of his book.

I don't dismiss it like I would anything remotely questionable from TechCrunch, but I also don't buy in because of the brand in this case. I see Kottke and people in these comments making firm declarations of confidence based on, according to them, some clean prose and a brand name.

Or in other words, reputation does matter.

Much more than the content, yes.

In the short term. Content begets reputation.

In the long term, this three-paragraph blog post everyone is rapt about will be completely forgotten.

I mean that the collective sentiment from these blog posts will remain, though, and form the reputation.

You've hit on the right word - sentiment. Prejudgement, reaction, emotional appeal, and biasing of expectiations before one word of content is read.

I'd really go further and say that many of the reactions here have a lot more with Kottke's framing than even anything to do with The New Yorker, if the relative dearth of comments and adoration on the thread about the writer's actual post at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2127876 is anything to go by.

As I write this, not much at all there about how awesome, well-written, and insightful those three paragraphs are.

And to more directly respond: not really. This blog post could be utterly wrong and, absent someone screaming bloody murder enough to embarrass The New Yorker, not affect their reputation one iota.

These things are aggregate in nature. In the specific, things aren't so harmonious. Mistakes get made; Pulitzers get awarded to frauds.

That's why I get dismayed at people turning off their brains and pointing to reputation.

This blog post could be utterly wrong and, absent someone screaming bloody murder enough to embarrass The New Yorker, not affect their reputation one iota.

Except that if it were utterly wrong, somebody would scream bloody murder, and it would affect their reputation. Perhaps not overnight, but these sorts of things add up in the long run. This is exactly why TC is held in such low regard around here.

That's why I get dismayed at people turning off their brains and pointing to reputation.

Huh? The only sentiment I see being expressed here is: "Because they have professional writers, editors, and fact checkers, I trust the New Yorker more than TechCrunch." Not sure where you're getting the impression anyone is "turning off their brains and pointing to reputation"

You seem to think that people are applauding the New Yorker for being the New Yorker. They aren't. They are applauding the New Yorker for not being TC or Mashable.

Good fact checkers make a huge difference. So many organizations got rid of them first ("our reports can google / wikipedia it") and have suffered in the quality of their articles.

The sad thing is that "tech" journalism is amongst the least biased out there. I have come to hate watching the news (blogs included). Journalism has become a relentless quest to instill emotions rather than just inform. Blogs originally appeared as an opportunity for journalists to throw in facts up top and let opinions brew down bottom, so that every one could find what they were looking for, but how many times have you found yourself infuriated by some idiotic speculations mingled with half truths posted by a "respectable" source in the blogosphere?

Ken Auletta got outstanding sources at Google because he had already climbed his way to the top of the journalistic food chain. If he hadn't, his sources would not have spoken with him. See also: why can't all students with decent grades get into Harvard, why can't all soccer teams starting with my child's under-8 squad win the World Cup, why Warren Buffet returns Barack Obama's phone calls but not yours, etc. People at the top of one hierarchy want access to the tops of external hierarchies they deal with.

"I would have written a shorter letter but didn't have time." - Blaise Pascal

If "we" didn't click on the TC stories or vote them up, they'd probably get the idea pretty quickly. Just sayin'.

I don't. Unfortunately, TC's style sells, and they're quite popular. The loss of traffic from me and similar is less than the gain of traffic from others.

That's awesome. The way it's described, that's something most of us have run into in our careers, and it makes Eric sound like a real person.

Actually, the only difference here is a semi-clear narrative and decent writing. What indication is there that this is any less off-base than a thousand other speculations?

The elephant in the room question is why Kottke never writes anything original? Every one of his posts (including the linked one) is a quote or an embed. Yet this hasn't prevented him or TC, etc. from having a widely read blogs. He is an aggregator or a curator. We need less curators and more writers.

There’s no reason to see it as zero-sum between writers and curators. One of the reasons The New Yorker has such good writing is that is has such good curators, or “editors” as they’re called in publishing jargon. Kottke (assuming he’s as good as he used to be – I haven’t been keeping up) is a net benefit to the reading public because he exposes and encourages good writing.

One could say the same about journalism in any subject. It's cheaper and often as profitable to pump out shallow celebrity gossip and infotainment than to put out factual reporting and well thought out commentary.

If you're wondering at a higher level why this is so, the simple answer is that almost all modern journalism is ad supported. Attracting eyeballs matters for the bottom line, how much people value or even believe what you report is irrelevant as long as you can mantain viewership.

The New Yorker is pretty much the standout print publication of our age (certainly in the US). Expecting everyone to be this good is understandable but unrealistic.

Achieving zero bias is among the most difficult things to write in journalism, even in something as seemingly binary as technology. A bigger question might be "was the answer any different than what you imagined it would be?"

Even if journalism is far from objective, I think people are good at making inferences as to what really happened in the articles they read (at least in this crowd).

This is so true! It happens to on nearly every tech article that the author just pushed the buttons and turned a three paragraphs info in a murder-tech-blog-murder-looking-article. The bad thing about it is that you can't more out of those articles as you could from those "original" three paragraphs.

It's not that article size or letter count matters to all of us. I just want to get informed the right things. No long history telling, cause mostly I know it cause I hang around in this area everyday and for more I have Wikipedia. No long opinions and suggestions, cause most time I don't care or I disagree. No long mambo-cambo which let's me ask "Wait. What did I just read".

More of those short, quality and informing articles please.

We should look at ourselves when we ask why. Especially in tech, everyone just loves to be opinionated. Look at at least half of all the blog posts that make it onto this site, for instance.

I don't get it. What properly sourced facts? Since when does adding an occasional "according to a close advisor," or "according to associates" count as proper sourcing? Proper sourcing means that an independent third party could verify the claims. The article is very even handed, and may even be correct, but at face value it's nothing more than the author's opinion and unsubstantiated references to unknown people.

Most tech journalism is purposefully dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience. Just like reports on government economic policies don't include references to specific economic theories and complex equations.

In this case, the article is purely factual, so it's also short. If the editor has some pages to fill, he wants it long, and to pad out the article, a journalist will fill it with fluff opinions and emotional statements.

Hiring good writers and good editors is expensive. The New Yorker cares much more than most web publications about the quality of their output.

After reading that I have no need for more details, where the sources came from, or what the latest "rumors" about Schmidt are.

While in theory, I support the massive potential for new media to democratize journalism, right now we're at a point where the standards are simply not yet in place. Bloggers and online journalists are the cowboy coders of the early days of the web. A necessary transition, but sweet Jesus, can the results be ugly most of the time.

Its pulp / fluff reporting, and it distracts a ton of people from doing something valuable

i like techcrunch. they call it a blog, not a newspaper/journalism.

the cited article contains nothing to read, i think the same: google has issues, the leadership changes, nothing strange. sure i'm glad that people say (and print) the same, but sometimes it's interesting to read some contrary, longer or personalized blog post.

and, techcrunch lets me be closer to the Valley while being far overseas

TechCrunch allows one to view a microcosm of the Valley through colored lenses.

right. especially the comments (which are the part of TC, aren't they?).

for example, the comments to the posts of my beloved Alexia Tsotsis are of a certain colour! which says much about the microcosm

This phenomenon is hardly unique to tech journalism. Unfortunately, sensationalism sells in just about every form of journalism.

There's a difference between writing with the sole aim of getting it out first (so that TechMeme gets you first or you get the most retweets) and writing a good analysis of a story.

That's why, imho, blogs can never replace real publications. Pick up The Economist or The New Yorker and you still get a lot of added value and insight, even if the events happened days earlier.


It's always struck me as appealing to an upper crust, New England liberal arts elite with a heavy focus on discursive essays on dead literary figures and trying to recapture the cultural pinnacle that was New York City in the 1950s

You obviously missed the Tina Brown years.

The New Yorker has always covered a wide variety of topics; it's eclecticism is part of its charm.

And the cartoons.

I like reading the various "Best XYZ Writing 20xx" collections, and the New Yorker is pretty much always represented multiple times in the "Best Science and Nature Writing" anthologies. There's a "Best Technology Writing" series, too, and in both the 2009 and 2010 books, the two publications with the most stories were Wired and the New Yorker. For example, one included piece was on R. Buckminster Fuller, who wasn't a literary figure. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/06/09/080609fa_fact_...)

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