Why is Tech Journalism Such Shit?

They hate you, that’s why.

Imagine you’re a tech writer for Vox, NYTimes, or some other mainstream outlet. You probably have a fancy Ivy League education. You’re smart, woke, and as well-connected as any of the tech bros you write about. Yet you’re earning chump change in a dying industry while Silicon Valley steals both your revenue and your relevance.

Resentment ensues.

There’s only one possible explanation: You’re poor because you’re righteous; they’re rich because they have no scruples.

Adam Johnson’s North Korea Law of Journalism dictates that a paper’s editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s enemy status. The more hostile the enemy, the more inclination for a journalist to simply make shit up as they go along.

The Law applies to domestic enemies too — Just look at how Trump supporters are portrayed in the media.

Now, I don’t know a lot about North Korea, but I do know a thing or two about China. Media coverage follows a basic formula:

  • Take a single image or event and ascribe the most uncharitable interpretation possible.
  • Generalize it to the entire population.
  • Hit up random Weibo users until you get enough quotes to support your narrative.
  • Sit back and wait for the clicks to roll in.

    For example, Winnie the Pooh. Five years ago, Weibo removed a number of posts where people used Winnie the Pooh to mock Xi Jinping. The cartoon character alone was fine, but a few innocuous posts got caught in the dragnet. Outlets like the New York Times ran with this story: Winnie the Pooh is banned across China because Xi Jinping is a thin-skinned ninny!

    Obviously Winnie the Pooh isn’t banned. The article above literally features a photo of Pooh dolls at a Disney store in Shanghai. But we hate China, so we suspend all incredulity when it comes to negative news.

    It’d be like, if Xinhua published a story about Twitter censoring the phrase “Learn to Code” last year, when some people were using it to troll unemployed journalists. Learning to Code is Banned in the USA because America hates education, Xinhua might say.

    And that’s what a lot of tech journalism looks like. Shitty journalism is not a conscious decision so much as a desire for confirmation bias. It’s hard to empathize with our enemies, and the media industry has good reason to see Silicon Valley as an enemy. Fixate on the negatives, ignore nuance, and turn the subjects into uncanny Others.

    Statistics for journalists: One is an outlier, two is a coincidence, three is a trend.

    The biggest mistake made within the tech industry is caring what media outlets have to say. Journalists aren’t writing for you; they’re writing for each other. Their bosses are journalists, their friends are journalists, the Pulitzer Prize Committee is made up of journalists. They don’t care what you think. If you find their coverage biased or unfair, they’ll blame your inability to take critical feedback (always impute bad intentions on your enemies).

    There are two ways to respond to a reporter. First, the Nassim Nicholas Taleb way:

    Or, have some fun with it. They’re gonna say bad things about you no matter what, might as well do your part to accelerate mainstream media’s spiral into irrelevance:

      Q: Hi, I’m a reporter for Recode. We’re doing a story about concerns about coronavirus in Silicon Valley. Care to comment?

      A: Yes, super terrified of coronavirus. All stocked up on hazmat suits and gas masks. I also have a freezer full of spare organs, since severe COVID-19 infections can lead to kidney and liver failure. My colleagues in China shipped them to me; I think they were harvested from kids caught posting Winnie the Pooh on Weibo.

    Silicon Valley spans a diverse population of 4 million people, but Marc Andreessen speaks for us all!

    See Also:

    2 thoughts on “Why is Tech Journalism Such Shit?

    1. OMG, I could never figure out why Kara Swisher is so resentful until now.

      OTOH, her widespread popularity is still a mystery to me.

    Leave a Reply