The Pageview Machine
Great post by MG Siegler on the current state of tech news:
Most of what is written about the tech world — both in blog form and old school media form — is bullshit. I won’t try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80%, but it’s a lot. There’s more bullshit than there is 100% pure, legitimate information.
The problem is systemic. Print circulation is dying and pageviews are all that matters in keeping advertisers happy. This means, whether writers like it or not, there’s an underlying drive for both sensationalism and more — more — more.
In November, I was forced to stay out of the office for a month or so, but that didn't mean I couldn't read and catch up on the news from my iPhone and iPad. I, too, gained some perspective in watching tech news and commentary unfold from a bird's eye view that, because I wasn't forced to “be first” anymore, allowed me to reflect, and understand what's wrong with the majority of tech news these days.
As MG says, a large part of news is bullshit. Especially when it comes to Apple-related news, my RSS is filled every day with linkbait, misinformed opinions, inflammatory blog posts, and just plain wrong articles. People that don't even bother getting the actual facts right. Rumors, silly speculation, “exclusives” put to rest by a simple “Nope” after a few hours. I've been guilty of insane rumor reporting as well.
I just finished watching “I Love You, Man”, and in the movie there's a line that stayed with me – it goes along the lines of “Don't say you're trying, say you're going to do it”. Personally, I have been trying – thanks to the help of my team – to give MacStories a more in-depth perspective of Apple news in the past months. We have been focusing more on editorials, reviews, and “curated news reporting” with the sole intent of cutting out the bullshit you see on Techmeme and bringing our readers quality material that we can be proud of. Because, trust me, I came to the point where there was no fun anymore in waking up in the morning and having to write about rumors and others' EXCLUSIVES because of the pageviews. Screw the pageviews – I wrote in an email to my team last year – I don't want people to visit our site for that kind of content. Sure, pageviews are our business after all, but I want them to be quality pageviews, I want them to translate in readers that we can trust they'll come back and they'll send us an email because they care.
I have been trying; now I know I am going to build a better site. You can like it or despise it – all I can say is that my team is happier, I am happier, and the pageviews are stable since we started applying this new “policy”, showing signs of growth in the past weeks. Our readers seem to be happier.
As a brief follow-up to MG's post, I don't think the tech news scene is doomed (he didn't say that, but he sounds pretty pessimistic). MG speaks for experience, and I respect his point of view, but I believe there are still some good guys doing great work out there. The folks at The Next Web aren't afraid of voicing their opinions; iDownload Blog does a great job at covering Jailbreak material and showing that they are doing it because they love what they do; iMore does some spectacular in-depth reviews and videos; TUAW provides the right balance between news and commentary; The Loop is, well, The Loop. Macworld is another publication I admire. And then there are the “independent writers” – guys like Shawn, Ben, Stephen, John, Gabe, MG, Dave, Marco, Horace. These guys do great work. In fact, I have a theory that, eventually, most people that are obsesseded right now with tech news (like I was) will stop reading the Bullshit™ and will get their news by simply trusting websites that care about doing the hard work, plus the voices of independent writers. We'll see. But I'm a firm believer that hard work always pays off.
I remember my friend Dave Caolo once said: “If you want to be a blogger, prepare to work your ass off for a very long time”. I know there are some people that are doing exactly that, and I hope that eventually they'll get the proper recognition they deserve.
In Italy, there's an old saying that, roughly translated, goes something like this: Nobody wants to work for glory alone – it implies that, ultimately, money – the business – matters. In our case, the tech news, money is fundamental, but I believe there's a better way to increase pageviews, and likely money, than write Bullshit.