Technology journalism is often harder to read than to write.
Readers mostly want to know what technology to pay attention to. That, at least in my opinion, should be the writer's mandate.
But the majority of tech writing is just wretched. To avoid it, look for these three easy-to-spot clichés:
1) Lots of marketing buzz words like "leveraging" or "optimizing," indicating that a press release was copied
2) The misuse of tech jargon like "iterating," indicating that the writer is likely out of his or her element;
3) Any use of the phrase "There's an app for that," indicating a mix of the aforementioned incompetencies.
Once those three filters are applied, there's little left to read.
But technology doesn't stop because journalists can't write about it.
Tech reporting is now its own industry with its own problems. Old-guard sites (circa 2005) like TechCrunch, CNet, Mashable, ValleyWag and others have a spotty history with the businesses they cover. They're either too comfortable or too harsh with emerging tech companies.
Meanwhile, start-ups are launching at breakneck speed, and there's never been more interest in them. As a result, there's a new wave of tech writing - appearing everywhere from Bloomberg BusinessWeek to niche blogs.
But as a few recent examples demonstrate, the old tech-reporting pitfalls persist.
First, consider PandoDaily. An opinionated, lucid take on the issues in and around Silicon Valley, PandoDaily has some high-profile names writing for it. Critics like TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and Slate's Farhad Manjoo contribute some interesting editorials to the site, which was founded by ex-TechCruncher Sarah Lacy.
But most of the attention PandoDaily has received is not for its writers, but for its investors. Most major venture capitalists in California, including Facebook, PayPal, eBay, Twitter and LinkedIn, contributed to its $2.5 million start-up investment.
PandoDaily often comes out swinging on all kinds of issues related to start-ups. But the businesses the site criticizes are often funded by the same people who fund it. "It's certainly messy," Lacy says of the lack of separation between church and state.
BetaKit's approach couldn't be more different. "Emerging technology news without the snark," reads its tag line. The locally made site, by Toronto's Sprouter (and, following an acquisition, PostMedia's), makes a concerted effort not to be critical. Its write-ups are about launches, acquisitions, trends and topics more business-minded tech readers would care about.
It also tries not to focus exclusively on the goings-on in Silicon Valley, which is extremely refreshing.
The result is a very stylish, informative site that's, true to its word, completely free of snark - so much so that it could be accused of being start-up over-friendly. While trying to distance itself from the often bitter rantings of writers like myself, it may have overstretched its welcome mat to companies looking for uncritical write-ups.
So if this is in fact a third wave of tech journalism, it still hasn't sorted out what kind of relationship it wants with the industry it covers.
And speaking of tech reporting, I'm headed to SXSW's annual tech conference later this week. Criticize my writing at nowtoronto.com/sxsw, or keep in touch on Twitter.