The Appalling State of Tech Journalism: Reflected in the Chrome

Taking a page (or is it a post?) from Brad DeLong’s long-running laments on the state of journalism in general, I have been reading the coverage of the Chrome announcement and keep asking myself “why, oh why, can’t we have better tech journalism?”

Take, for example, ZDNet’s gutter-to-gutter coverage which, I’m afraid, simply ends in the intellectual gutter. Larry Dignan’s piece does the profession no favors by simply recycling the tried-and-true blogger formula for traffic generation:

I know about X, Google did Y, which is clearly *all about* X

The best of this flavor of “story” approaches the quality level of a plausible but objectively outlandish conspiracy theory, often pulling together bits of fact with a healthy dose of wild speculation (journalistically couched as the unfounded and unquestioned opinion of some supposedly credible third party).

ZDNet piles all aboard the loony-bin express with Paula Rooney’s “analysis” piece, helpfully asking the non-question “is this a prelude to Google acquiring Mozilla?”. In what twisted alternate universe would this wild, hair-brained straw-man garner a full ‘graf in a legit online publication, let alone a respected print daily? A small, tiny dig into the strategy of Google’s Mozilla search placement deal and the infrastructure of the Chrome browser would lead anyone (and everyone) to conclude that Google’s interest here is in keeping the browser a viable platform by any means necessary, not that they would ever gain anything by “acquiring” MoCo or MoFo (an even more nutty idea, since it would be difficult for a 501(c)3 organization to transfer resources and assets to a for-profit entity anyway).

The strategic and tactical incoherence continues with the daringly dumb quote:

Larry Dignan of ZDnet suggests that perhaps Google and Mozilla are working together as a tag team to defeat Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and that Google may perhaps purchase the Mozilla Firefox crew and integrate the two code bases to deliver a kock out punch to Microsoft’s IE. Will Mozilla become Google browser labs? Given the close cooperation of the two projects, it’s more than possible.

Ignoring the incestuous and dubious use of a fellow reporter’s speculation as a source for an article, the idea that the Google would want much (if any) of the Firefox team (or vice versa) beyond those which they already pulled away. It does Google no good to reduce competition in the browser space, and one can imagine that there’s no love lost at Mozilla over Chrome, particularly after Google shunned the Firefox rendering engine, replaced the JavaScript engine, and re-built the entire visual and end-user experience from-scratch with completely different technology (i.e., not XUL). Good sourcing might have fleshed out the idea and perhaps even made a case for the theory, but alas, that seems far too much for ZDNet to produce on deadline. I mean, it’s not like they cover technology for a living…gosh, that’d be embarrassing. Quick tip for the next time they want to write this story: Google just became “Google’s browser labs” after giving Mozilla a good long run at it. They’re still strategically aligned, but Google seems impatient and is likely most interested in having direct leverage in the browser space (first via Gears and now Chrome) instead of the indirect influence they exerted over Firefox when it was still “Plan A”.

The coupe-de-disgrace belongs to PC World, though. After laying out 7 sensible, but “we’re just cribbing this from the press release, really” reasons to like Chrome they proceed to indulge in 7 forehead-slappingly idiotic reasons why you might consider something announced as a Beta to be…well…a beta. It feels kinda dirty just linking to it. Luckily, the PC World crew was able to get it together enough to publish a scoop-free “I played with it for 5 minutes” piece that WaPo wasn’t embarrassed to run, although the “like being there!” aspect really looses it’s punch when anyone can download the beta and, well, be there.

At least with Wired you know you’ll be getting fawning access journalism without the pretense of objectivity, but damnit, it’ll be well written and vaguely cogent.

I won’t even start on the blags. It’s to depressing. I’ll except Ajaxian and Philipp Lenssen here as they added some useful background from the inside perspective and scooped the story (respectively). “Citizen journalism” has a loooong way to go before it earns a place in the 4th estate, though.

Why, oh why, can’t we have better tech journalists?

9 Comments

  1. David
    Posted September 2, 2008 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    You worked in the security world, right? Oh, that was a *rhetorical* question. Carry on.

  2. Posted September 2, 2008 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    But I read on TechCrunch that Chrome is a “desktop operating system” that will replace Windows…

  3. Posted September 3, 2008 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Niall:

    Har! I nearly spit out my coffee when I read that = )

    I guess it’s kinda sad, though, that that’s a somewhat more accurate (if somewhat sensationalized) assessment of the situation than what the dead-tree journo’s were able to cobble together.

    /me sighs

  4. Posted September 3, 2008 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Same holds for science. Articles in popular science magazines, particle physics, supernovas, and the like, are mostly written by people with not the slightest clue in physics.

    Somehow, readers seem to be attracted by that.

  5. Posted September 3, 2008 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    George Bush got elected president. Twice. Why are you expecting more of this world than clearly it is not capable of?

  6. Posted September 3, 2008 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Why do you fret so? Do you think I don’t know the difference? You must have a low opinion of me.

    Sturgeon’s Law, “Ninety percent of everything is crap”.

  7. Posted September 3, 2008 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Rob:

    Sturgeon’s Law not withstanding, some sizable set of people read what ZDNet and PC World publish. Likely many many more than read the great geeky coverage from Ars or the “good for managers” overview that The Economist managed. Is it any wonder that our thinking about technology policy is so badly muddled in this country?

    Regards

  8. Posted September 3, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    CNET was the last straw for me. Ever since that ridiculous article (which shall not be named) that one of their writers wrote, I stopped reading CNET altogether.

  9. Posted September 4, 2008 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Ok, so I’m the only person who thinks ‘kock out punch’ is a damn funny Freudian slip. I can accept that.

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