This Post Is Not About Steve Jobs

from the no,-really,-it's-not dept

Yesterday morning, I was on a panel discussion at an event, where at one point I was asked about how I choose what to write about. I explained a little bit about the kinds of topics we cover, and then finally said, as I’ve said for years: “In the end, it comes down to whether or not I find something interesting and if I have something to say about it.” I then said: “If there’s a story everyone is covering, but I don’t have anything to say about it, I don’t feel the need to cover it.” Hopefully this isn’t surprising. We’re not a “news” site, but an opinion site. But there’s really more to it than that. There’s something a little strange in seeing a ton of publications all rushing to cover the same news. There is this focus, these days, on the so-called “SEOing” of the news, where various sites act as “content farms,” focusing on writing about whatever’s “hot” to try to get the pageviews. As an example of this, earlier this week, right after the East Coast earthquake, I saw someone Twitter joke about an infamous tech news site (who shall remain nameless), saying that its staff were probably rushing out dozens of stories about how the earthquake news spread on Twitter. Anything to get the “pageviews” on searches about the earthquake.

But, as I’ve said over the years, this strategy makes no sense to me. Why would you ever focus on a strategy of trying to downgrade your content to commodity level, rather than working on content that is unique and actually stands out? Writing the same story that everyone else writes about, without adding anything of value to it just seems like a fool’s game. I can recognize that “news” sites feel the need to cover such stories on a completist level, but does the online news reader really need so many stories about a single event? Isn’t part of the point of the internet that we can link without having to recreate the wheel thousands of times every time some big news breaks?

Which brings us to the title of this post. When the news broke that a certain famous and visionary tech CEO was retiring, I honestly couldn’t think of anything to say about it that wasn’t being said everywhere else. But, of course, everyone else felt the need to write something. Just a quick look at Google News on the topic shows nearly 5,000 stories on just that:

And that doesn’t count the sections below that main one, where tons of folks tried to come up with other takes on the story. There are, as I write this, 157 stories on how various stock markets reacted to the news. There are another 50 or so stories on his health history. Obviously, this is big news and it’s important, but should everyone cover it?

I asked, via various social networking platforms, if anyone minded if we just didn’t cover the story at all. And I was a bit surprised at how the near unanimous reaction was to thank us for deciding not to cover the news. There were a few people who disagreed. Only one person seemed really surprised that we wouldn’t, saying, “he is significant, why wouldn’t you” cover the story. One person offered to give us money if we could go three weeks without covering the story (I’m guessing this post may disqualify us). A few people did say they would like our take on “the impact” of the story. In this case, the answer is I have no idea.

So this post isn’t about his resignation. It’s about this question of how people cover the news online today, and the desire for everyone to “have the story” just because everyone else does. I’m wondering if that really makes sense. I am, of course, quite comfortable with not covering the story at all. There are lots of stories we don’t cover. But I’m wondering about the value of so many publications all writing the same basic story. Yes, some (perhaps many) do add value or different perspectives. But the basic facts are pretty much the same.

So, if we don’t cover a story, it’s not because we didn’t see it or don’t know about it. Sometimes, it’s just because we think it’s pretty well covered by everyone else already — perhaps too well covered — and our time may be better spent doing something else where we can actually add some value.

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Comments on “This Post Is Not About Steve Jobs”

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Robert Durkin (user link) says:

Re: Dark Helmets

Very funny (“You only chose that title to get page views…”). I can’t say I didn’t have the same thought, but then I started thinking that it was more the foundation of the point. The title instead reminds me of the scene in “Dead Poet’s Society” when Charlie Dalton chooses to not participate when Mr. Keating instructs the class to walk about the courtyard, thus illustrating the point.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.” -Robert Frost

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Marked your comment funny although it took me a day to find out too (!!) along with the earthquake thing (when I saw it trending in Twitter I thought “Jesus, Japan again?”). I’d mark the article funny and insightful if I could.

The title is as simple as it’s genial. And as I went on reading it I found it funnier and funnier (epic win for the disqualification Mike!).

But I have to give techdirt one huge thumbs up for the way you do your ‘blogging’. If every1 only wrote about it when there was value to be added news and opinions would… well, be more valued.

Reminds me of one time I had to go looking for the source of some news and I got through 6 sites, one citing the other without really adding anything to the news.

Good article, I certainly see Jobs resignation with other eyes now 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Quantity over quality, it’s the internet way.

Out of those 5000+ stories, you can bet than most of them were varations or direct reprints of the AP or other wire story, internal networked stories, etc.

Remember also: while 5000 seems like a big number available online, it might have been also the only print newspaper, or the only local tv news channel, or the only radio station in an area to cover the story. The count online alone is meaningless, because we can see many markets at the same time.

However, the citizen journalist thing also plays into it, with every Apple fanboi and h8tr coming along to praise or bury Jobs. That is all passes as “news” is a big part of the problem. Without the filters, the noise level will get you every time.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:


While I applaud your ability not to speak when you have nothing to say, I can’t fault sites for covering a story that ‘everyone’ else is covering. I’m continually reminded that the net is a big place and people interact with it in a lot of ways. I guarantee that almost all those sites were the first to report it to *someone* (or many someones.)

That’s not even taking into account the myriad ways this news may potentially impact various groups, although that is mostly speculation (excluding the financial sector) at this point.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Meh.

“… could be enough pointing your ‘captive’ readers to the proper source if you have nothing better to say about it.”

So? You still covered it, and there’s still a headline (which is what Mike was counting with his Google search).

Besides, how do you know that many simply didn’t repost the resignation notice and/or press release? Why do a one sentence blurb that links them to another site, when all THEY did is post the notice?

Why make your readers do extra work? That’s not how you keep readers.

FInally, as the parent said, there are a LOT of Apple sites and a LOT of tech sites, each followed by their own audiences. Just because TUAW posted an article doesn’t mean that the audience following MacUser or Ars Technica saw it.

John Doe says:

You have finally hit on what is wrong with newspapers today

The news industry is saturated. It is beyond saturated. Instead of competing for readers in towns, cities or counties, all news outlets now compete worldwide. Because of that, we have way, way to many news outlets. They all blather on about the same things and in the same way. Like you point out, all for SEO. They don’t add any substance or real research, they just have to get something out and anything will do.

Hopefully the news industry will see massive shrinking as profits wane and then we might see a few sites pop up and do real, old fashioned, in-depth reporting. Until then, we will have to put up with the stuff that passes for news these days.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: You have finally hit on what is wrong with newspapers today

Too many news outfits writing about the same things. You can usually get better info, approaches and opinions from independent journalists and regular bloggers (if you add those as “outfits” then the “saturation” goes mind boggling.

The issue here is that if you consider ‘news outfits’ to be the terrain and ‘news’ to be vegetation we are currently living in a barren/desert land with a few oasis every now and then. Quantity is not an issue. Lack of quality is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: CmdrTaco

Yea, that’s a bigger story to me than Jobs…..IMHO….no real reasoning or discussion….wtb dirt!

BTW, the media is clamoring to be the first. I was in WoW when my guildie got notice on his android phone and mentioned it in mumble. I don’t have the exact same news apps he does, but 2 min later all my iPhone apps lit up, spam texting me the news.

It’s pretty much the media trying “FIRST POST”ing…heh.

duplicatecontentduplicity says:

I still don’t know what the story is, except the headline that he stepped down…I suppose if I really wanted to know, there is no shortage if information on it. But I’m a busy person, you see. That’s why I’m writing this comment to this blog that I did choose to actually read.

There’s just no real explanation for some human behavior. That’s the beauty of it. Still, it does seem that a lot of very important stories get buried by gluts of SEO’d news stories…on purpose? Reverse SEO’d? It’s not a new concept and since mainstream media is moving online, clearly that is a major consideration in powering what news people hear about and what they don’t.

I’m sure it’s a big deal for Steve Jobs to make this move. I remember when Bill Gates did. And then there was Disney…

Loki says:

I agree, there is a point where too much is just overkill.

On the other hand, I don’t find just linking to one or two stories about some topics is always very advantageous either. I’ve lost track of the number of times (this is most especially true of political stories) where story X will have details story Y left out, while leaving out details that story Y had. And then I’ll find story Z that has details added of missing from X or Y or both.

The services I find most useful are those that give me the X,Y, and Z stories without the hundreds of identical repostings of each.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why it's good that several places wrote about it

I’m sure you (and many others who post and read here) have thought about this, but I didn’t see anything about it so I figured I’d chime in.
If the news wasn’t covered by a particular news outlet, how would people who only get their news from that source know about it? Some people aren’t like most of us here, reading a very large cross-section of news sources. Some people only get news from local TV stations. Some only read a site or two. Some only read the local newspaper.
So while I wholeheartedly agree that it’s silly and a bit annoying that everyone and their metaphorical dog has a story on it, and despise half-news that’s created just for pageviews, maybe it’s a good thing news is covered in multiple places. But yes, if any news entity is going to run an article, for the love of the gods please have a unique take on it.

Yogi says:

Blue ocean

“Why would you ever focus on a strategy of trying to downgrade your content to commodity level, rather than working on content that is unique and actually stands out? Writing the same story that everyone else writes about, without adding anything of value to it just seems like a fool’s game.”

That’s the difference between a red ocean and a blue ocean approach. Obviously, you’re blue ocean. i’m sure you know what i’m talking about but for those who don’t, here’s a link to this theory of innovation:

out_of_the_blue says:

So you do the old "different" schtick.

There’s NOTHING NEW here, either! This is practically boilerplate.

In the past, you’ve mentioned that the most certain way to success is to find what’s hot and do it better. This isn’t better, it’s just the common revulsion against more of what you see nearly everywhere, and a standard attempt to direct that common revulsion to your specific benefit.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

My Own Comments

The article above hits home for part of my own comments lately on TechDirt. I used to post a lot more. Lately I tend to post less comments. The reasons are either I don’t feel I have anything to add to a story, or I see plenty of other commenters already making the same statement. And I also don’t really feel like posting a “me too” reply just to say I agree. I will vote some insightful but as far as I know there is no way for others to tell I did so (and I am fine with that).

So, I still log in daily (aside from weekends, and rarely during evenings) and still peruse the articles (read probably 80% of articles, and go through comments of about 75% of those) but I leave much fewer comments these days.

slick8086 says:

“Why would you ever focus on a strategy of trying to downgrade your content to commodity level, rather than working on content that is unique and actually stands out?”

Oh come on, you know the answer to this. The readers are not the customer the are the product being sold. Site like that treat readers like factory farms treat cattle.

Janell Jonn (profile) says:

everyone writing the same thing OR writers are sheep

I really think that in the instance of Steve Jobs stepping down, that most of us, writers or not, feel sad regarding the reason he is stepping down. Not necessarily that he IS stepping down. He is a technical icon and will be for eons. I am so very sorry he is ill and surely wish he wasn’t. It’s sort of like people sharing their sorrow for someone that they look up to. It helps to read about it and also to share how you feel about it.

Just my opinion.


Michael (profile) says:

I was sick of all the headlines that started or ended with “shocked the tech world.” Who was shocked at Jobs’ exit? Did they really think it would never happen? How can the tech industry be shocked before they even know it’s happened?

When you choose not to rush into the bleeding edge of developments, you also give up that early advantage in defining what has happened.

darryl says:

wag the dog

I asked, via various social networking platforms, if anyone minded if we just didn’t cover the story at all. And I was a bit surprised at how the near unanimous reaction was to thank us for deciding not to cover the news.

Tail wagging the dog !!!!

Mike so you only post what you think the people want to hear from you, what you think will get you the most views.

Facts and news are secondary to you !!!

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