I’ve noticed that a few grumbles that started back in December about the Verge have started to get louder and louder. Even those like Gruber not dropping the Verge have become quite critical about certain omissions in reviews. It would be easy to multiply comments about the Verge, Engadget or other similar venues. Gabe makes one of the more key critiques of why so many are disappointed. “It’s sad to see: Good writers doing bad work. What a waste.”
On the one hand I’m not quite sure what to say. My problem with that genre of site prior to the Verge was simply that most posts read like PR releases. Secondarily there was simply too much news. Every cell phone or camera variant got a post regardless of their relevance. There was no distilling of information. Rather it was a spigot overwhelming people.
While the Verge was in many ways a very heavy site with too many graphics and a ridiculous load size1 it also seemed to have more in depth reviews and more filtering of news. That is the Verge’s biggest strength was more in what it left out rather than what it included.
The problem is that the Verge, Engadget and other such blogs are caught up in the silly Android vs. iOS battle that seems to be mimicking the old Mac vs. PC battles of the 90′s. That’s unfortunate because I think that the type of reviews that the Verge gives really were much more in depth than most sites gave.
I think a problem is one akin to film news. There was the old tradition of true film criticism that analyzed a film not merely in terms of “do you want to watch this” but also in terms of larger cultural ties. Yet if you go to your typical news web site there’s very little film criticism. Instead we get rumors, brief reviews, gossip about actors, and so forth. Quickly we got a lot of news that was superficial and often unengaging. Even sites that were once high quality became anything but.
The same thing is true of tech news. We have a lot of fluff talk (especially in podcasts where we get shows becoming more like “morning zoo radio stations”), gossip, rumors, and superficial mention of what’s going on in the industry. The real deep analysis becomes rarer and rarer. Even sites that start out with great aims have to deal with the bottom line of paying rent and payroll.
Those criticizing this style of journalism are avoiding the central problem of profitability. Look at the Verge. It’s very slick. Their headquarters are in one of the most expensive areas in the US: New York City. They have a lot of multimedia which costs a lot in bandwidth alone. (Not to mention the cost of the auditorium where they do their David Letterman like talk show) If you are trying to pay for all this with ad revenue in a market where ad revenue is severely depressed it’s a big problem. Whether that’s because one is pissing off advertisers with reviews or a certain class of readers who are uncritical fanboys doesn’t matter. The point is you’re in a precarious position.
None of this is to deny the criticisms. Just that it’s like complaining about contemporary newspapers. There’s a reason things are the way they are. In newspapers, while few are willing to say it, the real issue is too many media outlets for the audience. There has to be consolidation. I suspect right now there are too many big websites trying to do the same thing. Eventually many of these have to die that the entire segment can be strong. Instead right now we have all the incentives towards a poor product. And that’s just not going to change any time soon.
1. The front page of the Verge was often 2 megabytes to open ignoring all the video and graphics one could click on.