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Can part-timers freelancers & blogs properly inform a $23Bln ICT Industry?

AT Alastair Thompson Public Seen by 21

After a career of writing and editing UK, NZ and Australian technology publications veteran NZ technology journalist Bill Bennett is now - like most technology reporters - a freelancer & blogger working in Auckland. In his reflection for this "The State of NZ News Media" public conversation series he provides an overview of the current state of NZ Technology reporting and concludes the current state of technology journalism is serving neither readers nor NZ's $23 billion industry at all well.

Read Bill's reflection here >> New Zealand Technology journalism: The Twilight Years

The concluding paragraphs in Bill Bennett's article beg an interesting question.
...

"Oxygen

Let’s put aside the worthy goal of keeping the public informed and get to a different commercial reality. New Zealand’s home grown technology sector doesn’t get the media oxygen it needs to breath.

Because overseas news feeds dominate the agenda in New Zealand, people buying here are more likely to hear about an overseas supplier than a local one. Investors will put their money overseas, skilled workers will look for jobs overseas. This is already causing problems.

The lack of balanced, impartial and thoughtful New Zealand technology journalism creates the impression there’s not much going on here.

Blogs take up some of the slack. So does Mauricio Freitas’ Geekzone website and projects like the New Zealand Tech Podcast. I’m involved in all three. But we need something else. I’ll tell you more about that later.

Technology needs a local voice. It has to be an honest voice. That means turning over rocks some people would prefer stayed untouched."

Read Bill's reflection here >> New Zealand Technology journalism: The Twilight Years

BR

Bill Rosenberg Sun 25 Jan 2015 4:24AM

I worked in Information Technology for 30 years before moving to my present job so have followed the rise and fall of the ICT media for a while. For example Computerworld NZ began as a subsidiary of the US company I think and at some point got franchised out to IDG (and perhaps other owners in between). They started by trying to sell subscriptions to their (then print) weekly. For some reason I was sent a free subscription which never stopped coming. So whether, even at that early stage, they found they couldn't live by subscriptions or whether their sub department was incompetent I'm not sure. If we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the former, then getting readers to pay seems to be a chronic problem for this branch of industry media.

I suspect most people in the ICT industry read the industry media for the tech developments - latest version of this product, the bugs in that product, what's new, what's going obsolete. Most of that is international because the products are international and so it is available on the internet from free internet sources. That's bad for a magazine (I use the term in its most general sense!) which is trying to write about what's happening in New Zealand because most of its readership can get most of what they want free. I remember Stephen Bell (and probably others) did a very good job reporting on the New Zealand industry. I also remember Stephen being eternally grumpy about not getting recognition for his work.

One way to go might be through professional associations like the Institute of IT Professionals (used to be NZ Computer Society which I was a member of for a long time) paying for local reporting on behalf of their membership. They used to have a magazine I think but it got contracted out. This arrangement might have its own problems if it offends some members or one of their 108 corporate sponsors. Perhaps they could be persuaded to guarantee journalistic independence in the common interest.

I must say I'm more interested in "turning over rocks" - analytical, critical reporting - than giving the industry oxygen, which the mainstream media does quite a lot of (being a sexy subject for now) - but it has to be both.

AT

Alastair Thompson Sun 25 Jan 2015 5:17AM

The computing press was previously supported by advertising I think as most business pubs continue to be. In NZ publications with "high value" niche audiences tend to be funded more by advertising than subs as circulations tend to be so low here (e.g. Management, CIO, Idealog etc) often their subscription base comes by virtue of the fact that getting the magazine is a benefit of membership (e.g. AA) . Similarly giveaway cafe mags like Capital carry a cover price in many ways more to create an aura of value than because they collect any revenue from sales.

And yes you are right - these days the ICT is reading its media online - however I think the point Bill Bennett is making is that this is not providing the "industry" with the ability to get their own activties reported to their collegues - which is part of the Oxygen that a business community needs - and which used to be provided by reporters (there were probably 15-20 reporters reporting tech in NZ at the height of the industry) working for the local tech publications.

As for IITP there is some irony in that.

Sarah Putt the final legit editor of Computerworld moved to IITP when Computerworld effectively closed down and did exactly that - tried to continue reporting on tech issues..

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1307/S00024/ex-computerworld-editor-sarah-putt-joins-iitp-team.htm ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1307/S00024/ex-computerworld-editor-sarah-putt-joins-iitp-team.htm )

She has since moved on to do PR for MYOB.

JB

Jason Brown Sun 25 Jan 2015 8:42AM

PR ... there's the ticket. Where do I sign up?

BB

Bill Bennett Mon 26 Jan 2015 12:00AM

Computerworld was started here by Reg Birchfield under licence from IDG. IDG regained control in the mid-1980s and stayed in charge until almost a decade ago when it sold the rights for Computerworld, Reseller News, CIO and PC World to Fairfax Business Media (run out of Australia). FBM moved control to Fairfax NZ, then a year or so ago bailed and IDG regained control.

When I started working for IDG NZ in 2004 there were 80 plus employees, getting on for half were journalists or in related editorial jobs. Today the IDG business has three employees.

Like all trade publications in New Zealand (and in most of the world) the bulk of revenue always came from advertising. Even at the peak of PC World's success only 10 percent of group revenue would have been from copy sales and subscriptions.

Things were a little different in PC World, but for the other IDG titles, the main editorial thrust was local news, not product announcements but stories about what was going on in the industry. We also ran a lot of analysis.

That kind of news is important to know if you work in the industry. It's like having a paid analyst on the team. There was also some putting overseas information into local context. And lots of information to help people with careers in IT.

'Turning over rocks' and 'giving the industry oxygen' are two facets of the same coin. No-one wants an unremitting diet of bad news, negative stories. Nor does anyone sane (or at least outside of marketing) want to see nothing but happy-clappy stories. And there were neutral stories too.

Running both, light and dark, is important. Without the positive material you'd find doors closing. You'd also not be giving fair representation. It isn't all bad. In fact the reverse.

The whole point about journalism is to research, ask questions then write what you find, good or bad, not what someone would like you to write. Do away with the bad news and the positives lose credibility.

Rosenberg says the mainstream media gives the industry plenty of oxygen. That may have been true in the past, it isn't now. It does process press release material, but that's a branch of marketing not journalism.

IA

Ian Apperley Tue 27 Jan 2015 7:58PM

Bill is right. My opinion, oh ho ho, is that there are very few IT journalists, or journalists that get IT.

Freelance and blogging are more rife, which you would expect, because the industry has some huge debates it engages in that are more opinion related.

Some of the more journalistic work I have done, at NBR, is around trying to find an interesting start up or story then researching it properly with editorial control and the like. But those stories I have found are far and few between... I don't think there would be enough for one a day...

The other aspect of IT writing is that companies and agencies actively hide what they are doing, usually, for competitive or sensitivity reasons. WCC being a good case in point at the moment. That means some stories have a lead time of six or more weeks, because you need to OIA them first.

I was talking to Randal Jackson the other day and he said another issue is that every government agency and company has some kind of PR person these days who all questions get referred too, rather than the good old days when you just rang the CE or CIO for comment.

Now sure where I was going with this comment, I'm just rambling now.

People are most interested in content that shows someone has failed or someone has thought of something new and interesting... I try and balance the two when writing, I'm a blogger, not a journalist, and it's not easy.

BP

Ben Parsons Mon 2 Feb 2015 9:28AM

Two points. Try to see the retrospective tense used as being as a hint. What is being intimated is notsomuch that we've lost the need for technology journalism, but that the medium has disappared. Not an original notion, I know, but recognize that we are on this side of it now.
Secondly, technology is a global subject. The local slant is not 'technological' per se (unless you're analyzing traditional Maori technologies), but simply sociological. So write about the affections of Kiwis and you'll have more chance of relevancy to the local press.

P

pilotfever Wed 4 Feb 2015 7:02PM

Q: Can part-timers freelancers & blogs properly inform a $23Bln ICT Industry?

A: Yes and no.

I'm a fulltime freelancer on Twitter, @AbbottMaverick, and would happily like to learn how to monetize my expertise besides the (I hope by now) obvious rewards of building an AR ecosystem based around smartphone and game streaming technology.
Founder RealWorld - "Reality Virtualised for the Real You" Limited
#etnui #bci #ar #eyetracking #cardboard #efa #fove #eyetribe #nviso #vmx #iot #sptn #vrtitties #realworld #vuw

BB

Bill Bennett Wed 4 Feb 2015 7:11PM

Ben Parsons says "Technology is global".

Only up to a point.

You might as well say "Finance is global" or "Business is global" or "Sport is global".

All of these things still need to be seen through a local lens and we face different issues.

One big story in the tech media on the other side of the Tasman, a story that barely gets touched in New Zealand is how Australians pay considerably more than Americans for the same products and services. It's something that simply won't be dealt with by a journalist sitting in New York.

BR

Bill Rosenberg Wed 4 Feb 2015 8:10PM

I agree with Bill B. There are important local stories that aren't being properly covered, and the problem may be that because a large part of what readers want to read is "global" and free, there is not enough of a local income stream to fund the important local content in conventional ways.

AT

Alastair Thompson Wed 4 Feb 2015 8:12PM

And I agree with both Bills. That is precisely the problem..

BB

Bill Bennett Wed 4 Feb 2015 8:59PM

Also, the international part of technology journalism, which mainly involves writing about big brand names, is the part which makes the most money from advertising.