The Sorry State of Technology ReportingDecember 4th, 2009 by Brian Edwards
As anyone who has been in the technology industry for a while knows, the heyday of the IT publications has long since past. I remember when PC Magazine was the size of one of the bridal magazines – a veritable tome chock full of reviews, commentary and, of course, tons of ads. Now the few publications that still do hardcopy are the size of pamphlets.
More alarming, however, is what the move to an online model is doing to the quality of the journalism and reporting, or lack therefore. The most recent example is the bogus report of a “black screen of death” in Windows 7. Security research firm – at least that what they say they are – Prevx published a blog post that a new patch was impacting “millions of users.”
As PC World reported several days after its earlier erroneous reports:
The initial blog post from Prevx on Black Friday claims that “millions” of Windows 7, Vista, and XP systems are impacted by the black screen of death issue, and that the problem is caused by updates Microsoft pushed out during the November Patch Tuesday. Neither of those claims has turned out to be true.
Reporters with even a modicum of training and discipline would have questioned the Prevx blog posting and gotten a second verification before running with the story. As I learned in J-school 101, the fallacy of the expert is a trap avoid. Ed Bott of ZD-Net does a great job of walking through the “sordid, depressing episode” as he calls it.
Indeed, it is sordid and depressing. But it’s hardly the first time and definitely won’t be the last. While publishing houses like IDC are no longer enjoying the bountiful revenue streams of the past, their influence still extends far and wide. With the decreased revenue streams, editorial budgets and staff have been sliced. This means more junior reporters with less editorial oversight. At the same, reporters feel the heat to deliver breaking news in real time. As Prevx demonstrated, this system is easily gamed to the detriment of all.
The tech media, unfortunately, appears to be trapped in negative feedback loop. As ad spending declines, editorial staff is cut back, this lowers editorial quality creating inaccuracies and errors, this turns off readers, the publication loses circulation, and ultimately ad revenue declines further, restarting the cycle. Continued shakeout is inevitable.
Given the flimsy state of the tech media, technology companies (and I’d venture companies in other industries as well) can ill-afford to have mainstream media be the primary method of communication to the market. It’s critical to use social media tools and build an effective channel that lets you talk directly to your customers and partners. Chances are your customers are much more likely to believe what your CEO writes on his blog over what some “research” firm with an agenda feeds to the media.