Seven Myths About Tech Writers and Journalists
It's a job and it ain't all flowers
It is a profession like any other. And like others, it too has its own mythology. The problem with tech journalism or just writing on technology (whether on a blog, on a website or in a publication) is that far too many of the myths about it are as far off the truth as Earth is from the nearest planet with life on it. Here are just seven of the most popular ones: (Note: alas, they are not myths when applied to some folk. Fortunately, they are relatively few in number. And are as close to being proper tech journalists and writers as Bruce Wayne is to being Superman!)
Myth 1: We spend all our time ‘playing’ with gadgets
Of course, we do! And all the articles, blog posts, unboxing, previews, hands on videos, interviews, reviews, et al, about the product get done by some invisible Djinn. Pardon my sarcasm, but it is pretty mind numbing as to why people don’t think bankers spend all their rolling in cash, or that chefs spend their time playing with carrots and lettuce, but always assume that someone covering technology just sits around juggling gadgetry and having a good time – maybe the tendency of some people to refer to their review units as ‘toys’ or even use the term ‘playing with’ has propagated this impression. The truth, however, is rather different – a fair amount of hard work needs to be put in to write about a device, and unless you get into cut-and-paste mode from another source (which, alas, some do), it is never an easy task. Yes, many of us have a genuine interest – bordering on passion – in technology, but hey, it is still a job. It’s fun, but it also needs to be done.
Myth 2: We get to keep all the gadgets we review
I really think that this one owes its origin to the fact that certain product reviewers – most notably in the case of books and music – get to keep the products they review. In technology, that generally – almost 99 percent of the time – is not the case. Sometimes we do get a product for long-term use but that generally is because it has multiple aspects that need to be written about or keeps getting new software and applications that need to be reviewed. But as a rule, we don’t get to keep a device just because we reviewed it.
Myth 3: We get gadgets for free/with massive discounts
If I had a penny for every acquaintance and relative who has assumed I could get them an iPhone for about Rs 20,000 because “tum toh inke baare mein likhte ho,” I could put away my writing tools and buy a villa in Monte Carlo. The truth is that while certain companies have a ‘media discount’ policy, most do not or offer a discount that is often marginal – you get better offers on Flipkart and Amazon. We more often than not end up purchasing our own devices – not good for the wallet, but hey, it comes with the job.
Myth 4: We travel all over the world having a good time
“We keep seeing the pictures you post from Hong Kong/Singapore/Timbuctoo. What an awesome job you have, traveling all the time, na?” Yes, companies do take a number of tech writers on what are known as ‘junkets,’ but notwithstanding the number of pictures you see of people singing and dancing, these trips generally are for the purpose of introducing a product or service. There are those who tag along just to “go abroad” but the majority actually end up spending more time interviewing, researching and writing – just count the number of reports filed during and after these trips to get an idea of what going on a trip can mean.
Myth 5: We all have ‘tech backgrounds’
Righto, we are writing about technology, so it is only logical we must all be engineering graduates, which enables us to understand gadgetry and churn out our immaculate prose? Not at all. The fact is that writing on technology requires writing skills more than in-depth technical knowledge. Many gadget reviewers have actually stumbled into the field after coming from distinctly non-techy backgrounds. Yours Truly. for instance, is a B.Com with a postgraduate diploma in corporate communications, and had actually reported on current affairs and cricket online before I moved to tech. It just shows how far technology has come that one need not be an engineer to write about it – the majority of us write from a consumer’s perspective, and in many cases, don’t actually know much more in pure tech terms than the consumer. We just have more experience, as we have been reviewing devices for a while. And no, most of us cannot fix your phone when something goes wrong with it.
Myth 6: We carry out intense tests of gadgets in fortified labs
This is the polar opposite of the “playing with gadgets all the time, la la la” approach. The thought that most of us do super sophisticated tests whenever we review a device, generally clothed in asbestos in laboratories that are unmarked and have enough radiation to fry the human brain, is a charming one. The truth, however, is that most of us use devices and products just as a general consumer would – quite simply because the general consumer IS our target audience. We just make it a point to try out everything that a product offers (and lacks) in a short period of time and also have the benefit of an extensive briefing by the manufacturer to know what to look out for. Yes, there are test labs in some publications and tech organizations, but by and large, most tech journalists I know prefer trying out devices in normal, day to day conditions, simply because NO consumer uses a product in lab conditions.
Myth 7: We are all ‘geeks’ and think of nothing but tech
Au contraire. You should see some of the arguments that break out over cricket and football during tech events. Or the number of times executives sit and chat about books, music, and films once the “briefing” part is done – my favorite memory is of a CEO of a tech company discussing how pasta was prepared with a journalist, minutes after talking about a very sophisticated camera. Yes, we do write about technology and it does play a greater role in our lives as compared to the general person, but hey, most of us are pretty much normal human beings. No wires pop out when you cut us. We bleed blood.