OLD Media Moves

The tension between tech companies and the tech press

October 2, 2020

Posted by Chris Roush

Left to right: Brian Merchant, Hannah Murphy, and Eric Newcomer

Technology reporter Alex Kantrowitz talked with Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer, the Financial Times’ Hannah Murphy, and OneZero’s Brian Merchant about the issues facing technology coverage.

Here is an excerpt:

The pushback on that would be that the tech press isn’t just being appropriately critical but overdoing it. Do you buy that argument?

Brian Merchant: I do not. I think the tech industry got acclimated to the sense that they should be treated a certain way. When the hard questions start coming, when people really start pushing these companies on issues like boardroom diversity or policies that are negative in terms of climate change or disinformation, it does feel like a personal attack all of a sudden.

I think because it’s a countervailing force, and the shift happened so quickly — whereas the political press would be asking tough questions that politicians are used to getting their names dragged through the mud proverbially by the press — the tech cohort was not used to it. So it feels like they have an ax to grind, but I don’t really think that’s the case. I think it’s harder, realer journalism happening. And it feels, all of a sudden, that they’re in the crosshairs and they don’t like it.

Hannah Murphy: Why do we have to carve out the tech press from the wider press? There’s no debate about political press, finance press, energy press. I’m doing the same thing in my role here in San Francisco as when I was back in London covering financial services — same approach. I think about crafting stories the same way, asking tough questions the same way. Nothing has changed me in terms of how I operate as a journalist.

What I’ve found here in Silicon Valley is that the tech industry thinks and acts like it’s special and it should be carved out and therefore covered in a different way. It casts itself as having this higher purpose, very sincere mission-focused. But unlike other industries, it’s profit-driven. Unlike most other industries, it’s very loosely regulated and pretty keen to stay that way. And also some of the livelihood of most tech, wrapped up in the stock price of the company, given there’s often a stock compensation element to many of the pay deals, probably more so than in other industries. So I think tech execs and staff are more inclined to be sensitive to stock price and, therefore, bad press than others.

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