Plugging the gaps in tech media

By Elliott Richardson in Media News on
As Seamus Byrne wrote last month, the tech sections in mainstream media have been shrinking. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age no longer feature tech on the home pages of their websites.
Most mainstream publications cover the headline stories when technology often needs expertise and in-depth understanding.
While those headline stories are still important, there is little specialty coverage of stories outside the mainstream.
However, the tech industry does have a depth of specialty coverage in independent media, with former mainstream journalists setting up their own projects, or those who have worked in the tech industry deciding to venture into journalism.
With independence comes an ability to specialise in a tech niche, and that’s something to be embraced says veteran journalist Alex Kidman.
Back when I started, web publishing was absolutely nascent. I came on board at APC to run its web site at a point in time when a magazine having a website was a genuinely unusual idea!
“The advent of web publishing opened up a lot of opportunities in the independent space, but the size of budgets and the Australian media landscape meant that the ones that have tended to last the distance are those that have filled rather specific niches in a quality way rather than specifically just replicate what mainstream media might do around a topic.”
Trevor Long started his career in mainstream media on 2GB radio before heading up EFTM and says while he’s never been busier as a tech commentator, it’s a shame the mainstream publications seem to only be hunting for clicks.
I don't think mainstream are reducing tech coverage, I'm doing as much or more TV and Radio as I ever have in my career.  Online though, the bigger publications now seem less likely to cover tech news and products, and more eager to hunt for headlines and clicks - I guess that's the nature of their KPIs or metrics, but that's a real shame,” Long says.
As independent outlets have continued to pop up, Long says those publications do need more support if they are to eventually break through at a larger level.
“Independent media provides additional voices, we need as many voices as possible, so there is a risk that the noise at a niche and small scale level is loud but not breaking through, we need more support for the independent sector from the very companies that benefit from it - that's where this whole industry has a real problem.
Kidman agrees, saying while there are a number of big, local players, it can still be tough going for independent content creators.
“It's not just a question of words on paper (or indeed screens); while I freelance for many major publications, I also do a lot of independent media work across podcasts, video and radio, and there are some very big and locally grown players in that space, and room for more. It's encouraging to see new players in this space as well, although it is tough going for Australian media competing in the entirely global marketplace.”
Adding to this is the shift in revenue models as Google has dominated the ad market, leaving publishers to look for affiliate deals and direct sponsorships which can cause issues around disclosure says Kidman.
“The other aspect that's changed - although this isn't unique to independent media - is that the financial models have shifted from a straight ad-run market (because let's face it, Google pays pennies if you're lucky) to a plethora of supported models, although not all are equal. 
“There's a big reliance on affiliate deals in the independent media space, and not everyone is great when it comes to disclosure there. Likewise for sponsored posts; while the allure of a quick payday is pretty easy to see, you've got to consider if selling out your audience is worth it depending on the message being sold,” Kidman says.
Tech Guide’s Stephen Fenech started his career in the tech pages of The Daily Telegraph before launching his own site a decade ago. He says that for independent media, their relationship with their readers and a more personal touch is the most important part when it comes to establishing a loyal following.
“I came from covering tech for a big company (News Limited) before starting Tech Guide and there have been a number of changes with independent tech media and the increased cut through they are seeing.
“Over the years, readers, listeners and viewers have built a high level of trust with me and the Tech Guide brand as I help them steer through these times when we rely more than ever on technology because they see me as a person and not a company. That endears them to me and they rely on my opinions and reviews.” 
Fenech adds that he believes those direct relationships with readers and responding to reader questions fills a spot left untouched by most mainstream outlets.
Adding the personal touch of communicating with readers and followers on email, through social media and on the radio has also helped grow not only our social media followings but also the visits to our Tech Guide site. That’s not something you’d expect from a large media company. It means independent media has to work a bit harder to get to these numbers but it’s well worth it. And the bonus result is also a lot of satisfied readers,” Fenech says.
Kidman’s stance is that the specialist skills of independent tech journalists are what set them apart from traditional media.
I think it (independent media) does its best when it works within specific niches that often get overlooked by the mainstream sites and papers -- consider what Leigh Stark does so well at Pickr, what Matt Sainsbury does at Digitally Downloaded, Pat Gray at Risky Biz or what Alex Boz does at ausretrogamer for example. 
“There's a wealth of specialist knowledge that goes into what they do, and that attracts audiences that I suspect often get overlooked in favour of "getting into the papers" in terms of coverage considerations.”

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