Friday, December 7, 2012

Taking the tech pundits to task

If you're at all like me you'll find yourself regularly sampling the tech podcast offerings from places like TWIT, Revision 3 and whatever strikes your fancy on YouTube.  Being interested in tech not to mention making a living from it, I'm an obvious part of the target audience. 

If you've read any of my previous articles it's likely I may seem a bit, "snarky" in my views.  It's not that I'm some disagreeable "troll" rather I'm just annoyed at the sheer volume of BS that comes out of the tech punditry.  It seems the Internet is a haven for insecure egomaniacs with just enough personality to attract a following.  There's so much of it that it's hard to separate real content from all the parroted noise and groundless opinion.

The worst offenders are in the tech "news" sphere.

It's good to keep abreast of new developments but I've learned to take tech news with a grain of salt.  Don't expect to find much objectivity in podcasts even if the presenters profess high minded, journalistic ideals.  They don't exist simply because they can't.  The topic of discussion won't allow it. 

Keep in mind that most tech journalism is based less on factual information than press releases and personal opinion.  The sad truth is that every tech podcast is little more than a poorly researched editorial.  The dearth of real information and an imagined "nanosecond" news cycle has prevented anything resembling journalism.

No matter how professional the delivery, the minute they start quoting some article from Ars Technica or The Verge it's no longer journalism but rather an op-ed piece.  Journalism requires tracking down real sources and verifying a story before reporting it.  Anything less is just parroting somebody else's information.

This is the trap many podcasters fall in to, especially the ones that make a good living at it.  Pick a tech news podcast and you'll undoubtedly find 3 or 4 pundits tossing topics around the set and playing journalist.  That's all they're doing by the way, playing.  Their opinion is no more valuable than the guy in the Blue shirt at Best Buy.  And why not? Their information comes from the same place, a carefully prepared marketing brief designed to be easily digested and regurgitated. 

It's not that an opinion is a bad thing so long as you have a foundation of knowledge from which to form it. 

Most pundits don't and it drives me nuts.  

I don't cut any slack to the so-called tech "veterans" either.  Just because you've been practicing a pseudo-journalistic binge and purge for decades doesn't make your information any more valuable.  If in the course of your reporting your viewpoint becomes the most critical component of the story, you're of no use to me.  Op-Ed pieces get a pass on this but you have to make it clear that's all it is right up front instead of passing it off as news.

Look,  nobody cares about your opinion on the merits of replaceable CPU's on Intel motherboards if your experience with CPU's is limited to reading copy off your MacBook Air.  I'd also rather not hear about "value" from someone with a six figure income.  I'm sorry but whether you spend your vacation in Paris or Greece for the holidays is not a dilemma your viewers would identify with. 

I understand why this happens, though.

Let's face it, most people in the technology industry (no pundits allowed here) have the personalities of a brick.  That doesn't make for an interesting podcast unless you're in dire need of a cure for insomnia.

It's the same on the cable news networks where we suffer the glittering "personalities" fronting seriously named news "programming" like "The Situation Room" or "On the record".  Devotees undoubtedly care more about the presenter's Facebook page than the veracity of the "news" being reported on any given day.

In a world that tolerates an ever decreasing attention span it's really no surprise.  30 second sound bites are even too long now, unless we can use part of it as a ringtone.

They drone on and on and the longer they're in the "biz" the more convinced they become of their legitimacy.  When they finally reach the exalted ranks of "the punditry" their egos begin to trump the value of their reporting.  They are the geek equivalent of rock stars living the in the bubble of their hipster fantasy, drunk on their own popularity. 

Oh but when they fall...

And they will. 

Cronkite, Murrow and Winchell are the standard by which journalistic integrity will be measured for at least the next century.  Nobody will ever hold up Leeza Gibbons in the same light.

Yes, you've likely already guessed where I'm going with this. I am in fact saying that most tech podcasters are no more relevant than Leeza Gibbons.  You're not as attractive either.  When the fickle tastes of the Internet no longer have use for you, your day if not your "career" is over.

Perhaps it's wiser to be more Cronkite than Felicia Day.  At least reserve your "enlightened" opinion for those topics in which you're really enlightened.

If you do a podcast on social networking and you actually use it, your information is relevant.  If, however, you do the same podcast and offer "expert" commentary on the merits of fuel injection over carburetion you're just polluting the topic. 

Remember the basic tenet of any presentation, consider your audience first.  We're a fickle bunch...