Towards Better Technology Journalism » Nieman Journalism Lab

I see even better tech journalism rising in 2021 as Nieman Labs continues its tradition of turning beliefs into predictions.

Reporting on how technology shapes and reflects social, political, economic and cultural life has greatly improved in recent years. Coverage has moved beyond business, innovation, gadget and trade beats, and fewer stories, thankfully, celebrate lonely inventors, warn about robot workers, ignore histories of racism and sexism, or look only at the freedom of love in telecommuting, „smart” homes. and digital assistants.

Relatively quickly, it became almost normal to see mainstream stories criticizing machine learning, surveillance technologies, social media platforms, labor exploitation, and more. These stories seem to have a real impact. From antitrust lawsuits and facial recognition bans to content moderation improvements and the beginnings of better algorithmic oversight, a powerful mix of scholars, activists, policymakers, funders, and journalists have taught us how to see and resist technological power.

But tech journalism is great. Specifically, my hope for 2021 is that tech reporters ask themselves three questions:

  • Who are my regular sources and where do they come from?
  • How well do I understand academic research on technology?
  • What is the vision of my reporting public life?

First: Who are your usual sources for tech stories and where do they come from? Citation circuits certainly exist, and savvy journalists on tight deadlines use them to get quick, predictable and digestible information from people they trust. The acronyms and shared worldviews of strong reporter-source relationships make conversations faster and stories tighter. I was that source and I knew some of those journalists.

But when tech journalists use social media to build source relationships, they run the risk of relying on networks that are too small, too predictable, and too reflective of technological power. The study says that journalists rely heavily on On Twitter, such hope Creates dependenciesAnd journalists are very quick to get what they see wrong Social media for public comment.

These biases, biases, and false equivalencies not only marginalize many women, people with disabilities, and BIPOC people, but also feed skewed images of social media fame among academics.

My experience suggests that most professors are bona fide scholars as interested in arguing the facts as good journalists. But we are increasingly implicitly (and sometimes implicitly) expected to demonstrate the public „relevance” and „impact” of our work. Appearing in news and journalists’ Twitter feeds can be powerful ways to get our work seen and cited, to speak and get advice, get grants, and get promotions.

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Journalists may take solace in a professor’s social media popularity as a kind of proxy for scholarly credibility, but audiences end up with little sources of interest in stories, defining technologies, and creating stakes.

You don’t have to live on Twitter to be the authoritative academic source for a story about technology. I worry about what the social media citation circuit is saying to graduate students and tenured academics struggling to meet increasingly unrealistic expectations of productivity and impact. I worry about the richness of the technical report.

Pushing it further: How are your regular resources funded? What tricks did they use on your radar? What interests do they pursue, what audiences do they want quotes to reach, and what stories do they want left untold? What definitions of technology, types of research and social roles do they propose?

Do audiences really see different definitions of technology, intellectual traditions, and theories of change? If you jump Social dilemma or the Facebook Supervisory Board, your source network may have a specific format. But if your Twitter networks bend that documentary or celebrate the „real” supervisory board, you may be swayed by images of technology and theories of change with different, but still more strategic objectives.

To be clear, I’m not asking for technical arguments or false equivalencies; Some perspectives don’t deserve any coverage. Instead, I look forward to technology journalism that looks critically at its source networks, challenges academic reputation-seeking, and rejects that assumption.Twitter is real life.”

This brings me to the second question: How well do you understand academic research on technology?

Often, technical reporting centers on data and cited research in data science. Where is the data and who has it, is it „big”, is it new or old, is it anonymised, cross-platform, who paid for it, does it really say what people say?

These critical questions can inspire powerful scholarship and journalism, but they characterize a field of academia—a field that reverently uses words like „reason,” „evidence,” and „science” and that often derides other sources as „weird” or banal. „Storytelling.”

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Other areas of academia offer much more to journalists trying to understand technology. We examine how technological organizations design systems, create policies, categorize people, create exceptions, define success, and express failure. How ideas and people dominate technological cultures and histories, what people and parts of society technologists see and ignore, what visions of the future have historically failed, and which always seem new. It does not require server data.

We need people to talk to us, to trust us, to be vulnerable, to tell stories and share folktales. We need them to access archives, introduce us to their colleagues, decode marketing materials, tell us who they trust and fear, tell us what parts of their education are valuable or irrelevant, and teach us how they understand the powers that be. Build powerful technologies.

It’s hard to get, and these are hard relationships to build. Sometimes we are hit with a double act of exclusion. Tech companies sometimes mistake us for journalists with an ax to grind for stories or activists; We are sent to happy but strategically unhelpful corporate communications staff. And then, if we’re lucky enough to talk to journalists about our technical research, as evidence in their stories, we’re sometimes asked: „Okay, but do you have data on that?”

I and other descriptive, qualitative researchers have been asked some version of this question by well-meaning journalists. Sometimes our words become the background context for framing a discussion of data science research or we are asked to explain the findings of a „scientific study.” Or asked what technology companies we put in place for big solutions want Do – to which I sometimes reply, „Give me access to answer that question as strongly as I want.”

My appeal to tech journalists is this: help us help you. See our data as real data, take our accessibility reasons, and help us create cultures where people working in tech companies can talk to us without fear. Together, we can better understand the technologies we do now, and in ways that are different from our data scientist colleagues.

Finally: Technology journalists, what image of public life drives your reporting and the technologies you cover?

This question asks journalists to question the informational visions of public life that drive both journalism and technology. Do your stories suggest that more speech is better, and that we need to figure out how to filter out bad speech quickly and efficiently? Are they saying that algorithms can be broken, but more and better training data will solve the problem? They don’t know about filter knobs and echo chambers, but are they sure that opening and changing the black box recommendation settings will fix it? Do they think big companies should be broken up into smaller pieces, but hope that competition will naturally follow and create a marketplace of diverse ideas?

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These information-heavy frames dominate both technology companies and technology reporting, making technology journalism one of the most powerful and potentially fractured areas of journalism. Tech journalists need to ask themselves if their reporting is trying to create better information systems, creating changes at the fringes of imagined public life, and calling for more accountable systems that they never question.

Could tech journalists be better served by more speech, improved content regulation, unbiased mechanisms and consensus surveillance capitalism?

Different journalists will answer these questions differently. No one has a perfect view of public life. But all journalists must be aware of how their responses depend on their networks of sources, their relationships with academics, their understandings of technology, and their assumptions about public life.

Of course, technical journalism is a huge field. It is unrealistic and unfair to think that no reporter ever thinks and answers these questions. Tech journalism has improved tremendously in a short time, and I think we’re in a golden age of accountability that’s finally starting to question technologists’ unchecked pride.

In the dumpster fire of 2020 — pandemic viruses, racial pain, economic inequalities, climate collapses, democratic crises, and journalistic layoffs — we can create a new kind of public life through better tech reporting. In her book How to Save and Sustain Life in the Face of Destruction and Collapse, Anna Singh He says „It’s through layered and disparate practices of knowing and being that we create powerful stories. When the elements collide, it magnifies what stories like this can do.

I look forward to 2021 with clashing parts and powerful stories.

Mike Anani He is an adjunct professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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