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National media outlets need to broaden their tech horizons

Posted by Ben Smith on 17th November 2011

Milo Yiannopoulos, columnist and blogger, has recently bemoaned the state of technology journalism in the UK and Europe. Specifically, he asks why there is not far more commentary, analysis and opinions in the technology media landscape. Whilst he makes some interesting points, and I agree with a lot of what he says, I don’t agree that a lack of ‘good’ journalists is necessarily the issue.

I would argue there are plenty of good journalists out there; the problem is that technology coverage at a national media level is actually quite poor – not in terms of quality, and certainly not in terms of journalists’ interest and knowledge, but actually in terms of the variety and balance of technology coverage.

Lacking in particular are publications willing to make space for broad technology features and commentary – especially amongst national newspapers. There is instead a very narrow focus on news and products that are on shelves today. Of course there is nothing wrong with either of those aspects; however, when technology coverage consists of only those two things to the exclusion of more in depth and ‘big picture’ coverage then I feel readers of national media are being short-changed.

Beyond the usual suspects

The main problem I have is that if you look at some national outlets, both in print and online, you could easily believe that the only technology companies worth knowing about are Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter. That is not a criticism of those companies, however there is so much more going on with technology in the world today beyond a handful of very successful software/device companies.

There are rapid technological changes going on all around us today, changes that will impact how we work, how we communicate, how we look after our health and, without wishing to layer on the hype too much, how we live. These things are long-term trends, changes that don’t fit easily into the daily news schedule. Just for illustration a quick search on one national newspaper’s website reveals over 5,000 hits for ‘Facebook’ compared to less than 300 for 4G.

Does that mean these trends have no place in national media outlets today? Are these issues of absolutely no interest to ordinary readers? I would argue no, in fact I would say the opposite is true – this big picture of where technology is heading is both hugely important and something a lot of people would take great interest in.

Getting under the skin of technology

I know from some of my conversations with journalists over the years that this is an opinion many share. And of course there are some titles with a national presence that are producing these features, but I feel there is room for so much more, particularly with national newspapers.

Technology is already a huge part of all of our lives, so why is national media coverage still looking at technology in such a superficial way? Would we accept this from the politics or economics desks at newspapers? Of course we wouldn’t. Journalists need to be given the licence to explore the technology landscape much more comprehensively, and their insight and opinions need to be given platforms in the national media.

Ben Smith

Ben’s deep knowledge of sectors as diverse as electronics and IT, cleantech and medtech means he has a wide range of experience to draw on for his clients – ensuring that no two campaigns are the same. Ben’s expertise lies in helping his clients to raise their profiles beyond trade media and he has a proven track record in running campaigns that deliver coverage in national, business and consumer publications.

  • Unfortunately we live in a world where newspaper production costs are covered mostly by advertising, not the cover price (and many copies are given away free). It follows therefore that coverage of specialist topics  — and tech is considered such — often depends on advertising. And that advertising has diminished steadily over the last decade. One area where ads remains strong is in personal tech such as smart phones.

    That is not to say papers only cover a topic because there are advertisers out there (that’s certainly not the case for the news pages), but the demise of specialist sections, from the Independent’s Network to the Guardian’s printed tech pages, is largely down to the fall off of technology advertising, and IT recruitment advertising in particular. Only the FT has a regular, non gadget, tech section now.

    There’s also a feeling among news and feature editors that ‘big tech’ stories don’t really appeal to readers or sell papers. The exceptions tend to be IT disaster/public sector project failure pieces. Whereas an iPhone poor signal story – or today’s data bill shock story – are consumer affairs pieces rather than tech pieces. Since the dot com bust tech stories have been a ‘hard sell’ for editors and for writers pitching to them, and no-one wants to see a return to the puff pieces of 1999/2000.

    It is possible to gain editors’ interests for good tech stories – you just have to find the angles. But when you do find those angles, and there’s a real story (a privacy leak, a massive waste of public funds, a technology that’s being used to suppress people), all too often PRs run off and hide under a rock somewhere until it blows over…

    • Ben Smith

      All good points, and I agree it is still possible to catch editors’ interest. I was very keen that this didn’t come across as a PR moan as generally the team here has very good relationships with the national media. I just think the idea that tech is still a ‘specialist’ subject is a shame. I’m not arguing for a return to dotcom puff pieces, or for discussions on the details of deep semiconductor science to become mainstream – but I do genuinely believe that a middle ground whereby some issues beyond end devices are discussed in the public arena would be of interest to a general audience. This isn’t a one way street – tech companies need to be better at articulating what they do at a high level, we as PRs need to encourage our clients to talk more broadly rather than pushing product and ultimately some of the companies we represent just aren’t going to be of interest to most people. However, there remains a huge number of companies and organisations out there, making decisions that could affect all of us. It is this that needs to be given the proper attention, and scrutiny, of the national media.