Yesterday evening, renowned online journalist turned venture capitalist, M.G. Siegler, chimed in on the topic of quality in online media. M.G. argues that, driven by page views and advertising revenue, most online media outlets have tainted their accuracy, legitimacy, and credibility by rushing content, and shamelessly grappling for highly sought-after Techmeme headlines.
Although such trends are certainly apparent, I tend not to share the fatalistic sentiment of Mr. Siegler's view toward technology journalism. In my view, the mere fact that his opinion has been shared via his own personal Tumblr, and that my view here is being written unabashed and unedited, is testament to the growing undercurrent of independent writing in the journalistic world.
Self-publishing, as many have argued, is becoming increasingly accessible to the average Internet user. While that might result in a cacophony of opinionated noise, the growth in subjective blogging has also unquestionably given rise to a number of thoroughly brilliant voices. Unhindered by page views and corporate allegiances, independent writers all over the world are sharing their raw opinions on the latest technological occurrences, and they are cultivating enviably large audiences.
From my perspective, this phenomenon has engendered two online journalistic cultures: the objective media and the independent. Giants like TechCrunch and The Verge pride themselves upon objective media reporting - often relying solely upon quick interpretations of press releases to chase headlines and clicks. Meanwhile, writers like John Gruber have the latitude to approach current events days after something has happened.
Perhaps there is not yet mainstream traction for such writing but, in my opinion, its mere existence and growing relevance provides wonderful testament for the viability and importance of untainted writing. Although larger sites will continue to successfully chase page views and sometimes inaccurately report news, independent bastions of informed reason and logic are unquestionably on the rise.
As such, I cannot help but foresee the potential for the convergence of the aforementioned cultures. How long is it before independent writers band together to create a large-scale site built upon the foundational values that made their independent voices so affable? Although such a formula may not elicit earth-shattering success, such a notion is not outside the bounds of realistic possibility.
M.G. shares his opinion not from TechCrunch or PandoDaily, but from his own personal Tumblr. His words were not tempered by an editor, he presumably just articulated his thoughts and published. And yet, here his words are as a headlining article on Techmeme. That is, if nothing else, a strong endorsement of the growing undercurrent of independent writing, and the increasing relevance of the individual's opinion. Just as an uninspired Engadget post might reach the top of Techmeme, so too can a well-reasoned opinion.
Large-scale news websites, and the writers therein, are not necessarily guilty of anything. Those individuals are mere victims of their own environment. The increasing control of advertising and page views is of their own creation, not of some malevolent cabal of advertising executives. The Internet is what you make of it, and those sites are reaping the benefits (and negatives) of their own actions.
Although, on some level, that is cause for negativity, the level of commentary evident in independent news outlets gives me cause for optimism. For every rushed news post, I can generally find a measured equivalent a few hours later. Rather than relying on my "Technology" RSS folder, I can arrive in my "Independent Writers" folder later in the day and find splendid coverage of precisely the same topics. Although some of those writers may not be the absolute best sources of opinion on these topics, their contributions are still of the utmost importance. When I need soulless news, I know where to look, and I'm smart enough to spot a logical flaw if I see one. The same goes for an illogical opinion from a self-published writer. Ultimately, regardless of the source, I, as well as most online readers, have the intellectual capacity to discern between good and accurate, and just plain wrong.
Furthermore, thanks to the rise of social media, the average writer is subject to a far greater level of scrutiny than in the past. Accountability in reporting protrudes into the writer's online identity, with inaccuracies no longer rectified by a simple retraction or article revision. The increase of a journalist's followers and the associative dispersion of an article is in direct correlation with the amount of critical feedback that person will receive. You post something woefully inaccurate, you'll often be called on it within a matter of seconds.
I don't think there's any incentive for any writers to, as M.G. writes, "fall away" from the industry. In fact, I'd argue there's incentive for more to come to the table. As online media grows and self-publishing becomes even more accessible, it's logical to expect the arrival of more and more quality writers. Moreover, as larger sites have writers come and go, how long is it before some of the best independent writers join and infuse their subjective perspective into the running of such a site? What happens when opinionated journalism gains further mainstream visibility and well-reasoned and researched responses become more valuable for advertisers? Neither situation seems a stretch.
There is, of course, plenty of "nonsense" in technology journalism, but there is also a growing quantity of uniquely valuable insight. M.G. isn't necessarily wrong, but I contend that there is cause for optimism. When focusing on larger sites and the propensity towards rushed work, it's easy to feel disheartened. But, for me, looking at the independent community and all of the phenomenal writers out there, I feel more hopeful for the future of technology journalism than ever before.