If you haven’t already, Ben Wallace’s profile of Kara Swisher is very good reading. To me, this was the most interesting passage:

Just how hostile should the technology press be? This question, which Swisher has circled for most of her career, came into sharp focus at SXSW, where she was on a panel addressing the responsibilities of tech media in the surveillance era and titled “Why Didn’t a Tech Journalist Break PRISM?” A co-panelist from the Guardian and the moderator both wore tiny plastic life-logging cameras around their necks that snap 120 images per hour. So, the moderator asked, why didn’t you? “We’re terrible,” Swisher said, to laughter, though “we did tell you about the Lyft funding today.”

Self-flagellation was a recurring theme, even though it would be silly to expect the national-security story of the decade to break in a California business publication. Swisher and fellow panelist Alexia Tsotsis, the co-editor of TechCrunch, spoke of the non-investigative nature of the bulk of their coverage—fundings, job changes, new product features. Tsotsis was especially abject, suggesting that even if she’d received the Edward Snowden documents, she probably “would have succumbed to the pressure of the Obama administration now”; TechCrunch “is just a cheerleader,” she said, and “a lot of tech media is sort of in the pockets of the people we cover … We’re inviting them to our parties. We might be dating some of them. We are right in the middle, in the thick, of the tech industry.” (Tsotsis dates a partner at General Catalyst, a venture-capital firm.) She noted that TechCrunch was entrepreneur-friendly from its inception and said she stays up nights worrying about sources getting fired: “There’s a part of me that’s like: No, don’t leak this to us!

“I never say that,” Swisher said.

“That’s why you’re better than us,” Tsotsis said sweetly.

Spencer Ackerman, a writer with the Guardian, stood up and said: “It sounds like you’ve just gotten used to not having an oppositional journalistic culture.”

“I don’t think we’re completely non-oppositional,” Swisher said. “I don’t think you can look at my history and say they love me to death in Silicon Valley.”

“A smart young person in the Valley thinks being a reporter is basically being a PR person,” says one tech journalist. “Like, We have news to share, we’d like to come and tell you about it.” Reporters who write favorably about companies receive invitations to things; critics don’t. “They’re very thin-skinned,” says another reporter. “On Wall Street, if you call them a douchebag, they’ve already heard 17 worse things in the last hour. Here, if you criticize a company, you’re criticizing the spirit of innovation.”

I quoted at length because I think it really digs to the heart of what’s wrong with with “tech” journalism – which is to say, it’s pro-tech. That matters because “tech” is something much more specific than the “A” in the Cobb-Douglas function. Tech is a network of very specific institutions, values, cultures, geographies, and peoples, that construct a relatively narrow and very linear narrative of the world. It is a narrative where progress, also called innovation, is defined almost axiomatically by markets and is inherently and inviolably good, and those persons, places, and institutions that perpetuate that progress are on The Side of Good, and all else is on The Side of Bad. If something new is popular or profitable, it must be a Good Thing, and the people and companies responsible for it are Innovators. Those who are skeptical of or, for whatever reason, impede the Innovation – often some blend of regulators, entrenched interests, and luddites – are anti-Innovation and must be disrupted.

The thing about Tech Journalism is that, in general, it is not just credulous of or invested in this narrative but unaware that other narratives can even exist. It views itself as an invaluable participant in that narrative, doing journalisty things as part of the collective effort to further innovation. That’s where the miscommunication between Ackerman and Swisher comes in. A true ‘oppositional journalistic culture’ isn’t just one where CEOs and VCs are snippy towards the top gossip; its one where journalism is and can be fundamentally skeptical of their subject’s mission, values, and methods. Snowden would never have gone to tech journalists for the same reason that he went to highly-reputed but notably skeptical and independent investigative journalists – tech journalism wouldn’t know what to even do about Snowden, and to a great extent they still don’t. The idea that Google, Facebook, Apple, and all these other firms could be bad, just don’t compute.

This is not to say how much of the Tech narrative I buy into or dispute – I’m on the record as an Airbnb booster, among other things, and in general I think technological progress has redounded to the net benefit of humanity – but that there’s room for complexity and ambiguity in every story, triumph and tragic, and that even progress has costs. When tech journalism can internalize that, then it’ll be, you know, journalism.

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