Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Retweet: Tech reporting at mainstream news outlets often lacks 'depth, expertise, and reflection'

It is pretty easy to pick on the tech press, so many stories revolve around picking up rumors from 'Asian tech sites' and regurgitating them for easy traffic boosts. (It is my own opinion that those 'Asian tech sites' aren't really writing about the new Apple iPhone but are talking about local restaurants – I have no evidence on this, but I'm sticking to my opinion since most of the Google translations still make no sense to me.)

But it is also true that many of these sames tech sites are doing a great job of aggregating content and creating new content at such a rapid pace that they are putting their old media colleagues to shame. News on the web at tech sites are at light speed compared to the work at many old media outlets.

But with speed, of course, comes a superficiality that eats at the credibility of many news outlets. Eventually, I fear, readers tire of bad information, even if it is dwarfed by good information.

Unfortunately, many of the bad reporting traits of tech sites seem to have migrated into the tech coverage being written for mainstream media outlets.

Steve Wildstrom, writing on the Tech.pinions website, talks about the coverage of the Apple-Samsung patent trial and some of the misinformation being spread. In particular Wildstrom highlights reports from writers from the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times that said the verdict involved Apple's pinch-to-zoom and "rounded rectangles" – they didn't, but the faulty coverage has now led many online commenters to believe that Samsung was nailed by the California jury unfairly – a hometown jury, some have called it.

How did so many get this so wrong? I fear it betrays something ugly about the way tech reporting works–and doesn’t work–these days. Depth, expertise, and reflection are all lacking. So is serious research. If you are going to write about a patent case, it’s a good idea to read the patents in dispute. Reading patents is not a particularly pleasant business. The language is tedious, legalistic, and often deliberately obfuscatory; you want to give the Patent Office the required information while giving away as little as possible to your competitors. But reading the claims, the critical section of the patent, isn’t all that difficult. There are a total of 101 claims for the three patents and they fill about five printed pages. Yet I suspect very few of the people who wrote about the trial actually made the effort. If they had, they would have known that the range of gestures covered was much narrower than has generally been reported.
Wildstrom talked to The Verge's Nilay Patel via Twitter to work through the actual verdict, and his entire post is worth reading.

I think it is great that Wildstrom is taking these mainstream media sites to task, and maybe it might even do some good. My own focus on what is being written on the pure play tech sites sometimes mean I miss the articles written on tech news by outlets with far larger and less tech savvy audiences.