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:
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.