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Tech Reporting Is More Negative Now Than in the Past (betanews.com) 156

Wayne Williams, writing for BetaNews: A new study finds that tech reporting is generally more pessimistic now than in the past, and for two very different reasons. The new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), and based on textual analysis of 250 articles from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post from 1986 to 2013, highlights how the tone of tech reporting has shifted in the past 20 years. In general, the ITIF found that in the 1980s and 1990s, coverage of technology was largely positive, but this changed from the mid-1990s to 2013, when more negative reports covering the downside of technology, its failure to live up to its promises, and potential ill effects, started to appear. The ITIF attributes this shift to two main causes, the first being that "there has been a significant increase in the number of civil-society organizations and attention-seeking scholars focused on painting a threatening picture of technology," and second, and perhaps most pertinent, "news organizations are under increased financial pressure, and as a result, reporters may have less time and fewer resources to dig deep into technology issues."
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Tech Reporting Is More Negative Now Than in the Past

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Controversy and conflict draws attention.

    • by WarJolt ( 990309 )

      Agreed. Media in general us more negative.

      Also I've observed in my own life that the number of people I know who are willing to belligerently express their negative opinions has increased, but might be my fault.

    • If it bleeds it leads. If it doesn't bleed poke it a few times.
  • I feel like almost all reporting is negative nowadays. Tech and science are the two categories that still have good news being reported.
    • I feel like almost all reporting is negative nowadays.

      Maybe because all the news is negative nowadays.

      • I thought tech news was where all the good news is, with commodity parts and standards everywhere.

        I guess it depends which technologies you use.

      • It has been for a long time. The phrase:

        If it bleeds it leads.

        has been around for a long time.

      • Re:Only Tech? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @04:18PM (#53919769)

        Maybe because all the news is negative nowadays.

        Except that, by any objective measure, the news is NOT negative. The world is most peaceful. The worst war is in Syria, which is a minor conflict by historical standards. There is almost no chance of major power conflict. Living standards are improving across the world. Hundreds of millions of people are rising to the middle class, and in the last ten years, more than a billion have risen out of extreme poverty. Populate growth is falling almost everyone outside Africa. Literacy rates are going up. We are finding cures for diseases, and beating back HIV and malaria. We are making steady progress on solutions to pollution and climate change.

        The major headlines in America today (Feb 23rd) are not about war, famine, or plague, but about whether school restroom usage policy should be decided by the federal government, or left up to locals. I don't mean to belittle the issue, but that is hardly an existential crisis for humanity.

        If you think that the reality of what is happening in the world is mostly negative, you should reconsider your news sources, and get a more balanced perspective.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

          The major headlines in America today (Feb 23rd) are not about war, famine, or plague, but about whether school restroom usage policy should be decided by the federal government, or left up to locals. I don't mean to belittle the issue, but that is hardly an existential crisis for humanity.

          Yet it appears to be a focus of the current government.

        • Except that, by any objective measure, the news is NOT negative. The world is most peaceful.

          No. You are confusing what is happening, the facts with the news. At the moment, the news may very well be the worst of all times, even if the facts aren't.

          If you think that the reality of what is happening in the world is mostly negative, you should reconsider your news sources, and get a more balanced perspective.

          The OP's personal source of news is irrelevant in this discussion. Bad news sells better than good news, even for the NYT and the WSJ. As TFA puts it "...they have an incentive to pursue alarmist stories that generate clicks."

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Did you miss The Guardian view on famine: sitting by as disaster unfolds [theguardian.com]? 20 millions may starve to dead within 6 months if we don't donate 4.4 billion dollar.

          There is also the news about Morocco beating down protest in the Rif with violence and the talks about letting those Rif people move to Europe as 'refugees'. This while Morocco is looking to replace its economical ties with the EU with economical ties with Russia and China. Another potential open border is in the making while the EU doesn't show any l

          • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

            No one claimed the world was perfect. The claim is that it is improving.
            When we make statistics about malnutrition, it includes the potential 20M you mentioned, and the average trend is down. Political unrest is not new either, it comes and goes, some countries get better and some get worse, but the big picture is that things are improving.
            The first argument is typical of NGOs looking for funding. It is marketing strategy : look at all the bad things that happen, you can do something by giving us money. If

          • Erdogan also wants non APK supporting Turks to be arrested and extradited to Erdogan's Turkey.

            Be careful bringing him up, all it takes is three times saying the name to summon the demon.

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      I feel like almost all reporting is negative nowadays.

      Hasn't that always been the case?
      People don't want to read good news. Humans interest stories are seen as fluff pieces. "If it bleeds, it leads"?

    • by skids ( 119237 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @05:37PM (#53920375) Homepage

      I feel like almost all reporting is negative nowadays.

      Yeah, it's totally negative. The worst. Really awful. How can people be so horribly negative. Sad!

  • by Rakarra ( 112805 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @03:29PM (#53919373)

    When you're looking ahead, you often think of a bright positive future. You think of ways in which technology can make lives better.

    It's when we're 'there,' when we're in the future, that we can look back and see the impact. It's a lot easier to analyze failure that has already happened than it is to anticipate the strange ways in which people work.

    • It's when we're 'there,' when we're in the future, that we can look back ...

      But we're no more "in the future" now than we were yesterday, or the year before.

      We've always lived in yesterday's tomorrow.

    • The focus with news tends to be on "current events", not so much "future events". Even then, things like nuclear science have gotten tons of bad press, although much of that was before the period they are looking at (mid-80s to mid-2010s). Or, if you look at more speculative media (sci-fi) you will see negative portrayals abound. Going way back to the 1800s. Frankenstein, H.G. Wells.
  • The magic is dead. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thegreatbob ( 693104 )
    Back then, things probably seemed novel and exciting to a broader array of people. These days, I get the feeling that the people who were once excited about those things (myself included) now, often, see them as little more than faster and more complicated versions of the things they replaced. Another issue is people's preconceived notions about how the latest and greatest tech ought to be; I suspect that they feel let down by the slow progress towards the things they believe to be the way of the future. If
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @03:45PM (#53919509) Journal

      Computing is pretty much ubiquitous nowadays. When I first got into computing back in grade school around 1981-82, computers were just this incredibly awesome thing. There was a pioneering spirit to the home computing world. I remember taking my crappy little Radio Shack computer to local meetups, and you'd have everyone from ten year olds like myself to grizzled old guys (who could actually afford cool peripherals like disk drives and the like). That persisted to some extent until the early 1990s, with the earliest versions of Linux like the original Slackware release being the swan song of an age of computing that had persisted since the mid-70s. Once the Internet really overtook the old BBS culture, that was the final nail. I blame it all on AOL!

      I can remember pouring through Byte magazine back in the mid-80s and just salivating over the idea of having a modem or a double-sided floppy drive. It was just a very optimistic age. I found an old box of computer magazines from the era, and still smiled at the three page BASIC program listing for some sort of text adventure game, remembering how I built my first one based on a how-to book I'd ordered from an advertisement in the back. Good times.

      • I blame it all on AOL!

        YES! [wikipedia.org] Although it didn't get as bad as it is today until digg changed their format causing people to look elsewhere.

      • by BaronM ( 122102 )

        I can sort-of agree with this, but I'd like to add something more specific: since the Internet has become ubiquitous, it seems like we spend almost as much time and effort patching and securing our computers as we do using them. When a personal computer was an island unto itself, and a LAN was truly local, security was mostly a matter of basic policies, procedures, and permissions applying to a known and reachable population.

        Now, companies and even individuals are subjected to an asymmetrical threat envir

        • Rose colored glasses. Before the internet virus were transferred by floppys. All the people with kids would need their 'at home' computers constantly cleaned.

          We made a rule that anybody with a company computer was not to let their kids use it, buy them their own, then deal with it yourself.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @04:59PM (#53920093) Homepage

        Computing is pretty much ubiquitous nowadays. When I first got into computing back in grade school around 1981-82, computers were just this incredibly awesome thing.

        And no matter how fast technology goes there's a diminishing return, like the difference between CGA, EGA and VGA is never coming back no matter how much people talk about 4K, 10 bit, HDR, Rec. 2020 and so on. Doubling from 1MB to 2MB meant more than 1GB to 2GB. The last time I was genuinely floored by new hardware was in 2002 with Morrowind when I installed a new GPU with hardware T&L. Suddenly the grass looked like grass, the sea looked like sea, things started to have realistic textures and shadows and whatnot. Sure in sum we've come far since then, but never in huge leaps like that. That and modem -> DSL was also huge, but of course not as huge as getting Internet in the first place.

        • Not to mention computers went from block graphics, to being able to show a photo quality image, to full video. The jump from full video to VR just doesn't seem to be as special by comparison.
    • Only now that Steve Jobs is gone that the tech media now has the "courage" to criticize Apple and their products.

  • 1. civil-society organizations and attention-seeking scholars
    2. news organizations without sufficient resources to "dig deep"

    Combine those two, and you get "attention-seeking news organizations".

    "If it bleeds, it leads." The news organizations are always attention-seeking, and simplified, salacious news gets the most attention, even if it is incorrect.
  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @03:33PM (#53919405)
    This can be easily explained by a corporate shift from offering innovative products that fulfill consumer needs to offering products that exploit consumers in innovative ways. 20 years ago what we consider mundane "information sharing" would cause congressional hearings and indictments of CEOs.

    80 and 90s we get a great deal of consumer electronics and computing products that were sold on merits. Late 2000s and into 2010s we have dominance of software that spies and manipulates user behavior for profit. Mid 2010s and we started to see "spies and manipulates" getting pushed into hardware under ruse of IoT.

    Negative tone is a result of "You can't fool everyone all the time" playing out.
    • by CAOgdin ( 984672 )

      Absolute agreement. Every since the Neanderthals on Wall Street started dictating policy to Fortune 500's (and small firms let it trickle down to them), we've been at a growing war with the 1%. Latest news says there are SIX people who have more wealth than the bottom 50% of population of the WORLD! Their interests are served first. And, yes, Marx predicted that. Now, it's our job to get vocal, get active, and take our Democracy back, including the fundamental Constitutional right to privacy that has b

      • Now, it's our job to get vocal, get active, and take our Democracy back,

        It has never been a Democracy. It was always an Oligarchy. The rich white men (mostly slaveowners) who were running the country wanted to keep running the country, and wanted to get the Monarchy out of it. But they didn't want every plebe to have a voice, that would be madness!

        It's our job to get vocal, get active, and get Democracy. Abolish the electoral college, as well as the practice of denying felons the vote. That only creates more incentive to find those who are politically inconvenient guilty of a f

        • It has never been a Democracy. It was always an Oligarchy. The rich white men (mostly slaveowners) who were running the country wanted to keep running the country, and wanted to get the Monarchy out of it. But they didn't want every plebe to have a voice, that would be madness!

          You can trash the founding fathers of this country all you want, but they instituted a form of government that gave every plebe far more autonomy than ever existed in the past, even giving the plebes the ability to change it or abolish it if necessary.

          It's our job to get vocal, get active, and get Democracy. Abolish the electoral college, as well as the practice of denying felons the vote. That only creates more incentive to find those who are politically inconvenient guilty of a felony.

          Here's a thought experiment for you: Do you suppose Democracy would lead to more laws being passed or fewer laws? If the former, would that lead to more felons, or fewer?

          I agree that former felons ought to have voting rights restored. But I really think they s

          • You can trash the founding fathers of this country all you want, but they instituted a form of government that gave every plebe far more autonomy than ever existed in the past, even giving the plebes the ability to change it or abolish it if necessary.

            No. The plebes were not allowed to vote under the Founders' system, only land-owners. And in order to be a land-owner you had to meet quite a few non-monetary requirements as well. They also set up an Electoral College due to logistical considerations (the fastest way to relay information was a courier on horseback) and also to insulate against the possibility of the masses voting in someone totally unqualified. Supposedly, the educated folk in the College would recognize, say, a proto-dictatorial populist

            • I see zero reason to keep the Electoral College.

              Because removing it turns the country into an empire ruled from the cities. The EC balances out different cultures. Without it absolutely no concerns of rural Americans would be addressed. As an American living in a rural area, this is not in my interest.

  • ...companies pushing their "revolutionary" products when, in fact, they are pretty boring and run of the mill ( when not flat out crap, which is the norm ). That kind of bombastic nonsense works for a while, but eventually folks see through the bullshit so when any truly impressive product does get released, it's viewed through somewhat jaded lenses.

    "Fool me once" and all that jazz.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the 80s and 90s every new piece of tech wasn't a commercialized POS that was designed first and foremost to collect your personal information. The idea of the thing was to do something FOR you, not TO you.

  • The tech industry has gone from scrappy underdog to juggernaut with 4 of the 5 biggest companies by market cap being tech companies. Unsurprisingly people's attitudes have changed, so the coverage has changed.
  • Or more likely the media has found that producing click bait article gets more readers and therefore more advertising revenue. The other notable thing is that technology is now more likely to be covered by a reporter who write about technology rather than an engineer who also wrote. One can produce in-depth analysis, test suites and a comparison between products, the other can rewrite the manufacturers information sheet and claim it as their own. Technology writers have become the McDonalds of reporting,
  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @03:42PM (#53919479)

    Right now the lead article on Ars Technica is a highly positive review of the current state of VASIMR rocket engine technology: https://arstechnica.com/scienc... [arstechnica.com]

    But the author seems to be a frustrated SJW who couldn't resist a totally irrelevant slam at current US immigration policy, even though nobody has ever accused VASIMR developer Franklin Chang-Díaz of having sneaked across the border on foot.

  • Too much if it bleeds it leads, not enough actual comprehension of what they are writing about.

    If you don't understand what's going on someone saying "It breaks matter down at a basic level and coverts it to energy" Is scary. If someone tells you "Invisible rays are passing through you and they can cause cellular mutations and cancers" it's scary. Then there is the basic competition between the people that do things and the people that tell you how to think about them.

  • by Artem Tashkinov ( 764309 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @03:59PM (#53919619)

    We've almost reached the limits of physics and there's basically no viable competition because modern technologies require capex in an order of billions of dollars. What's there to marvel at or be happy about when, for instance, we've had a stagnation in the x86 CPU market since the introduction of Sandy Bridge (don't remind me of Ryzen: AMD has just reached IPC parity with two years old Intel CPUs)? Also GPUs don't grow as fast as they used to in the past, and even then in the past GPUs required passive cooling while certain modern GPUs have three slots cooling solutions with over 200 watts of power dissipation and have billions of transistors (NVIDIA Pascal Titan X has 12 billion transistors working at roughly 1500MHz).

    However in my opinion it's astonishing what we've reached so far: certain modern computer games are just breathtakingly beautiful while not being too far off from being photo realistic: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Battlefield 1, The Division, Quantum Break and others. Recently, I just gave up on playing in The Division for two hours and just roamed NYC and enjoyed the scenery.

    Just look at this [neogaf.com] and compare to this [gamerevolution.com].

    • We've almost reached the limits of physics

      So you mean I can have a computer that is approaching the limits ofLandauer's principle [wikipedia.org]. Where does one find these mythical machines as I would love one that has the computational power of my desktop yet runs for years off of a single AA battery.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      I might agree that we reached diminishing return within existing computing silicon transistor technology. However, we have not reached limits of physics. Limits will be along Computronium [wikipedia.org] lines, and clearly, we are nowhere near that.
      Work on 3D layouts, 10nm die, quantum computing are all very promising. Don't confuse with lack of competition allowing Intel to stop (or likely hoard) innovation with actual stagnation. Once AMD gets back into the game, we will see return of 90s-era progress.
    • I think you win. Sadly.
      It was a great lot of fun while it lasted.
    • PS, while a cool shot, I don't think that's an accurate depiction of a planetary ring.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In general, the ITIF found that in the 1980s and 1990s, coverage of technology was largely positive, but this changed from the mid-1990s to 2013, when more negative reports covering the downside of technology, its failure to live up to its promises, and potential ill effects, started to appear. The ITIF attributes this shift to two main causes, the first being that "there has been a significant increase in the number of civil-society organizations and attention-seeking scholars focused on painting a threatening picture of technology," and second, and perhaps most pertinent, "news organizations are under increased financial pressure, and as a result, reporters may have less time and fewer resources to dig deep into technology issues."

    (emphasis added) TFA doesn't bother to ask whether the negative coverage is actually accurate.

    Probably too much to ask from a vapid hit-piece on journalism, scholars and people who dare to care about civil society.

  • A third reason is that as time has progressed, more content has been pushed only on the internet, not through print media. For web pages to earn their keep they have to attract attention - clicks. We know that fear is a great motivator and with the more "stuff" that people have, the greater their fear of losing it. It also seems likely that since 2001, the western world has been on a fear-driven agenda, which drives out good news.

    So simply to compete, websites will promote FUD, warnings, threats. And the

  • Negative reviews are more fun to read than the positive ones.....
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @04:47PM (#53919967)

    was largely positive, but this changed from the mid-1990s to 2013,

    The thing to understand is, this is not limited to tech. There has been an assault for a decade or two now on the public being happy in any way. You are meant to be riled up and agitated.... to what end I cannot say. But the end effect is not good, you can tell this is bleeding into everyone's real lives, affecting relationships and general behavior.

  • There is an overload with information - to stand out you have to attract consumer. What better way than by using headlines and copy that causes emotions. One of the most powerful ones are negative emotions like anger, fear. That is why we no longer have conversations on merit. Mention Trump or abortion and people's head explode. Now everything is at emotional level - we grow apart every single year!
  • I remember that in the past, PC magazine articles etc were nearly always gushing with ridiculously unrealistic positivity about anything new or novel. If every new thing they wrote about actually changed the entire world even half as much as they all claimed it would, we'd all be living like the Jetsons by now.
    I think its acutally a good thing that a little bit of skepticism has crept in since those days.
    That said I'm still amazed by how many tech product reviews apparently feel the need to totally avoid d

  • I agree with the assessment. I also think the advent of social media and smart phones/tablets have added to negative views of technology. Most of us now have a small portable computer (which also makes phone calls) that we can pull out, at a stop light, and check Facebook, etc, etc. So there are real physical dangers in the current era of computing. I'm guessing nobody in the 1980's imagined anything like that while they were on their Commodore 64 and watching Computer Chronicles on PBS.
  • This newsgroup has been around for decades, reporting on the downsides of technology, so it's nothing new.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Between something 'negative', as in bias, and reporting facts that are not pleasant. Let's be honest: a lot if tech companies these days are engaged in ridiculous amounts of hyperbole, if not flat out lies about their endeavors and their potential, and engage in practices that are so unethical they make the head spin. Something millennials really need to absorb: just because the truth of a situation is uncomfortable does not mean you bury it. You can't change a situation by running away from it or trying to

  • Just take a look at any of the places where we've historically gone for tech journalism. There's very little difference between a publication like Endgadget and the Huffington Post. My complaint is this: for the last two years, tech publications have completely lost their focus on tech in favor of divisive political content. The writers they're hiring are not tech writers. So when you have an article that would normally be a fairly good tech article, by the older standard, it falls on its face because the w

  • Who apparently lack the upper body strength to lift a sheet of paper, we'd have more positive things to say about them other than pointing out that their machines have sacrificed every performance characteristic for weight. And that their tower, while it may be the best Mac Mini ever made, is not a substitute for an actual tower.

    Don't blame the messenger.

  • Perhaps it is just that reporters are ageing? Remember that tech available when you were born is boring, new tech while you are under 30 is exciting, and new tech when you are older than 30 is scaring.
    • available when you were born is boring

      Not really. I'm having quite a bit of fun with my 35 year old atari computer. It can't do crap, but the nerd in me is like - wow I never fully understood how most of this worked when I was a kid, but now I do and it is very clever what those people did with what they had.

  • by gweilo8888 ( 921799 ) on Thursday February 23, 2017 @11:41PM (#53921961)
    I mean come on, really? They're trying to draw a conclusion from a 27-year period and only sampled a pitiful 250 articles, or just nine articles per year -- and from only three publications at that? What we have here is an analysis of the methodology used to select the incredibly tiny pool of articles surveyed, not anything meaningful relating to the press' coverage of technology as a whole.
  • Tech has become infested by sociopaths and managing nerds is now a second career for people who fail out of Wall Street. So, there are a lot of shitty tech companies and the ethics of the industry have collapsed. It shouldn't surprise anyone that tech reporting is becoming more negative when tech reality has also become a lot more negative

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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