Sep 15, 2022 - Technology

Tech media charges back to the future

Illustration of a typewriter typing binary code on a sheet of paper.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

As the era of giant social networks begins to fade, media outlets that cover tech are looking to their past to navigate a complicated future, reviving formats and features that they'd long ceded to larger platforms.

Driving the news: This week Vox Media's The Verge redesigned its home page around a Twitter-like feed. Earlier this year, The Information began offering its subscribers a private social network.

The big picture: Since the web began, sites devoted to tech coverage have led the way in pushing innovations in the aggregation and distribution of news online — from Slashdot in the late '90s to the blog wars between Gizmodo and Engadget in the mid 2000s to the popular embrace of Reddit and Hacker News in the 2010s.

These sites and services all understood that tech news devotees wanted their information fast, with the newest stories highlighted. They wanted it linked, so they could compare different versions from different outlets. And they wanted to be able to connect with the journalists covering their favorite topic.

  • Blogs took off in the 2000s part because they allowed writers to connect with audiences directly whenever news broke.
  • The arrival of Big Tech platforms like Twitter and Facebook muddled those relationships right at the moment when they were becoming more commercially valuable.

Now, though, Facebook is de-emphasizing news and Twitter's future has grown cloudy, leading tech news outlets to try to reclaim their direct relationships with readers.

The Verge's new home page offers a Twitter-style feed of news tidbits curated by the site's editors and reporters, mixed in with the usual links to its own stories.

  • The idea, Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel explained to Axios, is that the feed will make The Verge's own scoops and reporting more relevant to its audiences by highlighting conversations happening around them. It will also help build readers' trust by elevating original reporting from other outlets or creators.
  • "I 100% think we can revolutionize the media with blog posts," Patel said. "We're kind of in a going back to basics moment" of building communities around writers.

The Information earlier this year launched a series of networking features on its site, including a Reddit-like news feed (with up- and down-ranking for articles), direct messaging and a directory.

  • Jessica Lessin, The Information's CEO and founder, told Axios that internet platforms meant for networking, like Facebook and LinkedIn, have become so big and focused on engagement that they've lost the ability to help users create meaningful connections.

Between the lines: The outlets that cover tech and the audience that follows them are at home with a decentralized culture of linkage and aggregation that goes back to the early days of blogging and RSS.

  • Other communities of interest that came online later — like beauty and fashion media — remain more reliant on intermediary platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

Yes, but: The innovators of tech journalism were always better at coming up with faster tools for surfacing and sharing links than at figuring out how to turn a profit.

  • In this latest wave, they're hoping to reclaim direct connections with readers in order to monetize them better.

What to watch: Aggregators operated by actual newsrooms offer professional audiences something they can’t get on Twitter — professional curation.

  • Techmeme now charges consumers extra to pay to unlock its curated list of top reporters and outlets covering very niche topics, like digital heath tech and smart speakers. 
  • Lessin told Axios that The Information is experimenting with offering newsletters that summarize the top posts from the Reddit-like feed called the Forum.
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