The smell of tech start-up innovation is intoxicating at the Google Campus in London. The ideas being generated there are helping drive Britain’s economy. Which is why the Financial Times is now focusing so much editorial attention on tech companies. The classic tech lined along the walls, the Googleboxes (once phone boxes), TVs presenting social feeds all prove one thing – geek is chic.
I was at the Campus thanks to The Media Society, which arranged an event entitled ‘Media and Tech: What’s the story?’. Chaired by BBC Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, he was joined by a panel of speakers including the European Technology Correspondent for the Financial Times, Murad Ahmed; the Technology Editor for Mirror Online, Olivia Solon; the Head of UK & Ireland Communications at Google UK, Tom Price and the Vice-President & Global Communications at SwiftKey, Ruth Barnett.
With a complimentary beer in hand, here’s what I learnt about technology and the media.
A day in the life of tech reporting
Rory began by asking each member of the panel what a typical day involved for them. Inevitably, Facebook’s role following the results of the inquiry into Lee Rigby’s murder featured prominently (Interestingly, The Mirror’s line was that Facebook was not to blame). The FT kept Google’s PR team busy over the “right to be forgotten”, no doubt complemented by tax and privacy questions. SwiftKey are in campaign planning mode and the BBC technology desk had a day of writing, TV presenting and attempting to persuade Facebook to do an interview. On both sides of the media fence, clearly their days are hectic.
The intimate relationship between hacks and flacks
We all suspected it, but now its been confirmed; top tech journalists can receive up to 500 emails a day from PRs! The majority are, according to the speakers “untargeted buzz-world filled c**p”. The Mirror estimated that of this daily deluge, only about ten each day represented anything of news value.
Given the above, its not surprising that both sides of the panel agreed that more could be done to improve the hack/flack relationship, largely by making more of an effort to better understand each other’s roles. PRs believe most journalists underestimate the stress of their role, often assuming that they are lying!
However, the main cause for concern around the top table was when hack/flack relationships get too close. At this point, journalistic integrity can be lost through inducements such as free trips and products.
For instance, it was made clear that some game companies get journalists to sign a contract to withhold poorly reviewed games until two weeks after launch. Shocking.
Facebook’s PR mess
Facebook had been at the top of the public’s mind this week since they were revealed to be the tech company at the center of Lee Rigby’s murder. It is (and was) a typical case of poorly planned PR. On the day of the inquiry’s findings, Facebook’s identity was originally hidden in the report. Its identity was revealed at approximately 4pm. At this point the story had legs, privacy concerns at the center of the inquiry could be led by Facebook’s supposed failure to act. And at that point Facebook’s PR team should have contacted specialist correspondents to share their side of the story. Uncomfortably Facebook is now being held to push the government’s Draft Communications Data Bill (AKA. Snoopers’ Charter). The more libertarian geeks in the room found this uncomfortable.
Tech is hard news, not just Christmas gift guides
The two biggest sources of stories for the FT at the moment are banking and technology, as the newspaper judges that these will be two of the key drivers for Britain’s growth. However, the typical newspaper reader still struggles to see technology beyond Christmas gift guides. Technology reporting has yet to have its seminal story about the rise of computers or growth of mobiles. The focus tends to still surround political correspondents, but increasingly some mainstream stories rely on having a good understanding of technology.
Google’s view is that our news structure is dated and still arranged around silos that may result in readers missing critical details about modern technology. Their premises shows that the future lies in a different direction.