When did tech journalism become about scooping product specs?

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Why has tech reporting become such tedious product journalism? Why are reporters trying to scoop each other on news that is essentially a spec sheet about a mass-produced product?

Why are we reading about products as a news story and not in an ad?

When I look at the tech press it is heavily focused on product reporting; about gadgets, features in apps or online services, and details about underlying technologies in software, hardware, and the internet.

Product launches, especially by industry heavyweights such as Apple, are examined in great detail before the launch, in live reports from the launch, and for weeks afterwards.

The product is weighed, its specifications checked against the specifications insiders thought it would have; it’s measured and compared endlessly with other products. It’s taken apart and each component catalogued, and journalists report estimates of how much money it cost to make.

Even a product’s colour is questioned in news stories, as in the white iPhone that some said was more beige than white.

Similar attention is devoted to the reporting about software apps, web services and internet technologies.

Vast amounts of product journalism are being produced. Many mainstream newspapers and magazines are beefing up their product news and multitudes of reporters race to be the first to write-up the product specs of a new device.

When did this start?

When did journalists decide that it would be a great job, reporting about products?

When did readers start to think it was cool to read endless news stories about products?

There was a time when we didn’t. Reading about products was usually done by reading their advertising — reading news about products was rare. Why did it change?

Tech journalism became product journalism for one simple reason: it was created.

Tech companies spend 40% and more of their annual revenues on marketing. Their cost of sales is very high and it amounts to billions of dollars in marketing. But the problem with advertising, as we can see thanks to the Internet, is that it doesn’t work that well.

Over the past two decades tech companies have been steadily shifting their substantial marketing monies into public relations, where the express goal is to have news stories published about them and their products.

The reason is simple: advertising is only one-third as effective as a news story about a company or product. PR is much more effective than advertising and you get far more marketing bang. You sell far more through news stories and that’s what public relations firms do, they get your story into the media — and these days — into social media too. They help companies sell.

PR spending continues to increase, every PR company I know is booming, hiring like mad. And it’s because the PR firms do their job well, and the tech industry gets it what it pays for: lots of news stories about their products.

You’d think the tech media sites would prefer advertising money for product launches rather than reporting them for free. After all, there are far more interesting stories to write.

The future of tech journalism is certainly not in product journalism.

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  • http://www.nextlevelofnews.com Steffen Konrath

    Why not question tech journalism? – That was the reason I started to read your article, Tom. I now know what you think about WHY tech journalism in its current shape came into existence, but nothing about what’s your alternative concept? Also it is opinion and not researched. Why do you think readers expect something else? I’m an avid reader as much as a writer and yes I would like to know more about products/startups even when they are alpha or beta and still I wouldn’t say that it is PR for the companies. What I’m indeed missing in today’s tech journalism is the critic. What’s the consequence of a specific product vision for e.g. society? How will it change how we will live and work tomorrow and do we want this really to happen?

    Hope to hear from you soon (either email, update here, DM, …)!
    Steffen Konrath
    Future of Journalism
    Blog: http://www.nextlevelofnews.com
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/stkonrath

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