OLD Media Moves

Soft coverage of tech from the Geek Fest

January 13, 2006

I have never been a big fan of the Consumer Electronics Show, and saw it first-hand when it was in Atlanta in the 1990s and I was a business reporter for the Journal-Constitution. It seemed to be a way for the computer and technology companies to get free publicity.

That has apparently continued, says William Powers of the National Journal, despite the fact that business journalists should be more attuned to their tendency to provide boosterish coverage in the wake of the Internet bubble that burst in 2000 and 2001. “The news business was all over the story, hyping — I mean covering — this sales event like it was something the public urgently needed to follow,” says Powers in this excellent analysis of the fawning coverage.

But wait, there’s more from Powers: “This year’s coverage may have set a record for unmitigated cheerleading and free PR for the tech giants and their latest goods, courtesy of America’s leading news outlets.”

Later, he notes: “Being extremely modern, we journalists like to think our craft has moved beyond the bad old days when business got a soft ride from the press, and the business pages read a bit like the old quotation from former General Motors President Charles E. Wilson: ‘What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa.’ The whole culture has learned to be tough and skeptical about business, with journalists leading the way.

“Except that Microsoft, Apple, and Google are pretty much the General Motorses of today, and an awful lot of the coverage they get is right out of the Charles E. Wilson school. This is especially true of the general establishment outlets, while, in a small irony, the technology trade press has a lot of serious, critical fare. To read the pop coverage of these trade shows — news flash! amazing iMacs shipping soon! — it’s as if these aren’t companies at all. We cheer them as if they were disinterested do-gooders or beloved folk heroes, not profit-driven powerhouses with legions of lobbyists in D.C.”

That should sting if you’re a technology reporter who recently spent some time in Las Vegas, where the convention is now being held.

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