It’s been an awkward week for tech bloggers, and for this post.
I’d meant to start this piece by complimenting TechCrunch alumnus M.G. Siegler for nailing the traffic-besotted worldview that has too many tech-news sites wasting their collective processor cycles on hasty, shallow write-ups chasing the same trending topics each day. That is a formula for failure: commodity content written by burned-out journalists, skimmed by transient readers who click on to the next site moments later. (In the bargain, many of these stories wind up being surrounded by generic remnant ads that make hardly any money–and sometimes turn out to be an outright scam.)
Except Siegler also felt compelled to devote a huge chunk of the post to bashing one writer not known for chasing page views–the New York Times’ Nick Bilton.
Bilton had just written a post denouncing the photo-sharing startup Path for its hitherto-undocumented habit of uploading iPhone users’ address books to its servers without permission–and the quick forgiveness Path found among Bay Area tech types. Path founder Dave Morin hasn’t made much noise since the story broke. But Siegler felt compelled to wield his keyboard on Morin’s behalf anyway, calling Bilton “way off base” and saying “he goes about it the complete wrong way” before categorizing pretty much everybody else’s tech coverage as “stories that suck and/or are bullshit.”
Oh, and Siegler had already invested in Path through CrunchFund, the venture-capital firm TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington founded before getting kicked out of that tech-news site by the company he’d sold it to for $30 million, AOL. And a day before, Siegler’s old and new colleague Arrington had written an even more scathing review of Path coverage, including a weird overdose of dogfight imagery. Then Arrington revisited the topic the next day.
I can’t endorse that ongoing pity party for Path.
Then Newsweek’s Dan Lyons–often a stranger to subtlety himself–felt compelled to return fire with a post condemning Siegler and Arrington and the whole insiderish culture of Silicon Valley. That quickly yielded a spittle-flecked reply from Siegler… aren’t you tired of reading this already?
Meanwhile, an old Post colleague I never met died yesterday while trying to tell the truth in a country whose government is busy murdering its citizens. If you want to be upset about something in journalism, read about Anthony Shadid.
Back to the original point I had in mind, which still stands: When story assignment is driven primarily by what pieces will get the most clicks, news organizations invite a comparison to content farms. And things don’t have to be that way: See Salon editor Kerry Lauerman’s account of how that embattled news site has found that fewer, higher-quality, more-memorable stories draw more traffic.
At the same time, tech journalism doesn’t need the high-school-cafeteria cliquish crap we’ve seen this week. It’s made for some good-natured humor, but readers shouldn’t care about any of these slapfests. And journalists should know better. Seriously: Who has the sheer egotism to think that a reporting-free rant on a personal blog about somebody else’s reporting is worthy of attention? And I, for one… oh, hell. I think I see what I did here.
I await your scorn in the comments. Or in my chat on CEA’s blog, from noon to 1 p.m. today.
(2/17, 11:12 a.m. Fixed some errant links. Don’t you hate it when ranting bloggers can’t even check their work before posting?)