After everyone going crazy about a named-after-a-fruit company’s watch (that has a battery life of about 5 hours when it is used a lot), there was another widely-discussed piece of tech news last night: Gigaom is in trouble. While Om Malik as the founder has not been very involved in it anymore already for a while, founded in 2006, Gigaom is one of the oldest major tech media companies that is (or was) still around. Whether you interpret this as the normal replacement of old media outlets with new ones in a similar category – like, for example Pando Daily, started in 2012, by former TechCrunch writer Sarah Lacy, or Re/Code started in 2014 by former reporters of All Things Digital – or as another sign of the (tech) media apocalypse, or both or something in between, is up to you.
I see some questions popping up in the discussions on whether “news is still a business model”. I do not think that there can be any question that it still very much is. What people actually want to get to with this is probably rather whether it is still viable as a stand-alone business model, because it is very clear that in association with other business, it can be very profitable: Opinions, analysis and (somewhat) educational content might work even better, but news can also get people to (your) conferences or events, sell (your) products, get you or your company attention and recognition and so on.
Ultimately it comes down to independent journalists at independent news outlets then, with their raison-d’être being that outsiders should keep a watchful, critical, objective eye on what is happening, on the inside, meaning, in this case, the tech industry. For politics, I think there will always be a necessity and a market for this, although the market might become small, when parts of the population become indifferent or fatalistic about politics. For the tech industry, I think it has failed so far. In other words, the (so-called) “independent” tech media is not doing a good job, even compared to many industry insiders.
I do not want to call out Gigaom, as I did not read them very often – they might even be a good counter-example, I do not know – but many tech outlets seem to follow a “strategy” that is very likely not to be viable over a longer term: rewritten PR from tech companies as articles, some of it “exclusive”, plus the hottest topics of the moment… and that’s about it. Probably gets you invitations to (fancy) events and free samples from the tech companies (as you are useful to them), might even get you quite a few readers, if you do the hottest topics-part well, but it does not add a lot of value and basically anybody can (try to) do it. Therefore, it can end up in a race to the bottom (unless the bottom is already reached?!), and it will get even more difficult once tech stops booming (and then we will see new bottoms, for sure).
If I read more critical analysis and objective evaluations from industry insiders, i.e. non-journalists, something is going wrong. Sure, some of that is better placed in opinion and commentary pieces, if the outlet wants to explicitly seperate those, and does in fact appear there, every now and then, but if most of your content is fluff PR and hype, that is what your outlet becomes known for – and if one of those outlets disappears, I will not be all that sad about it. (By the way, simply re-publishing the controversial or critical opinion of someone “famous-in-tech”, does not “count” towards your critical reporting score either.) This regretably might also drag down some of the good tech media outlets, but, as I wrote before, I think the industry insiders are doing a better job at the moment anyways. Some of them will publish whether there is any “business” in it or not. Part of the job of the good tech media outlets would also be to call out the bad ones for bad practices and every now and then, you see some attempts at this in the US. That should be regular practice though, until these bad practices stop (if ever), and that does not seem to be happening.