The Media Problem

As I see it, there’s an inherent problem with the scenario that currently exists in the media, whereby people who go to school for… journalism, end up writing about everything else. For example, what exactly qualifies a writer to write about technology? Is it good enough that they once were considered a guru at their last job because they knew how to recover from an Outlook crash and they kept their virus checker up to date? I think not.

Of course, I’m not saying that technical people can write either. The *other* big problem with coverage of technical subjects is that the writers, even if they have some exposure to what they’re covering, often don’t have the exposure needed to address the audience they seek to address. They also don’t have the resources to emulate an environment similar to that of their audience members. Read on…


This problem runs rampant, really. It happens *daily* — indeed, even multiple times a day, that I see stories about an enterprise-class something, reviewed, critiqued, praised, covered in some way by someone who somehow thinks that their little workshop, complete with a few PC’s and (gasp!) a sottering iron, is a suitable environment for putting enterprise-class software (or even hardware) through its paces in a manner that can possibly result in a review of that product worth reading by someone who might be in a position to deploy said product.

I have news for these writers: a publicly routable IP address does not a production environment make! Still, editors put really attractive titles on these stories, regardless of their technical merit (or lack thereof), in the hopes that they’ll attract…. mouse clicks!

That’s right folks! They really don’t care if the material is worthy of being read by their target audience. As long as the title is tempting enough to get you to click through to the full article (and all of the ads in the process), they’ve fulfilled their goal. They can now tell the people paying for ad space that their ad got another viewing.

Cynical? Perhaps. Could it be that the tech news “cognoscenti” (so called because their web sites look nice, apparently) actually care about attracting a technical audience by putting forth articles worthy of being read by a technical audience? Well, certainly there must be some cutoff of quality, otherwise they wouldn’t get hits. But they’re not trying to attract technical people. They’re looking to attract tech wannabies, which in the context of the technical world make up “the masses”.

The problem then becomes that you have mediocre material being read by large numbers of people who know enough to be dangerous, who are now going and professing absolute knowledge of a subject that they themselves learned from someone who is, alas, but a writer, not a tech.

So what is the solution? Well, I guess one would be for advertisers to put a higher value on the class of user clicking through a given site. Why HP would advertise highly technical products on a site that draws clicks mostly from people who still call AOL for support is beyond me. I guess because PHBs who call the shots in terms of budgetary decisions also mostly call AOL for support.

The only other solution I can see is what already happens. Savvy users recognize a flawed information distribution model when they see it, and seek out more useful sources of information. Some of the best information I’ve gotten is from non-commercial sites that don’t exist for the purpose of amassing mouse clicks. Other great sources are IRC channels, and google groups (an interesting model that seeks to amass mouse clicks by republishing useful information from sources that don’t).

Reader beware.