Tech journalists have illuminated the puzzles. Should they help solve them? | Adobe Stock

New York, NY: Columbia University CJR Anthony Nadler, Hamsini Sridharan, and Doron Taussig reports 10.10.2019

IN MARCH, WHEN MARK ZUCKERBERG CALLED for new regulations on internet companies, journalists rightly covered the move with skepticism. Many pointed out that Zuckerberg might be angling for regulations favorable to Facebook or trying to offload Facebook’s own responsibilities onto regulators. A reader skimming this coverage, however, would not necessarily come away with a clear notion of what more vigorous regulation of social media might look like, or how such policies might reshape Facebook’s role in democratic life.

Tech journalism has made impressive strides in recent years. Journalists covering Silicon Valley have increasingly embraced the role of “watchdog” rather than “mascot”—a development, BuzzFeed News’s Craig Silverman told us in an interview, that marked the rise of “adversarial” tech reporting. This critical turn in tech journalism has ushered in reporting on the broken promises, negligence, and other shortcomings of Big Tech companies and their most prominent executives, he explained. But this may not be enough to spur the public engagement necessary to affect real change. For that, we need a public not only skeptical of Big Tech, but capable of navigating policy debates and ready to conceive of a technological world different from the one we live in.

Journalists are in a position to provide a helpful nudge here. To do so, they will need to help readers understand not only Big Tech’s problems, but also potential solutions to those problems. There are, thankfully, some signs of a recent uptick in such reporting. If the past few years of tech reporting showcase mounting rage directed at Big Tech, the past few months may indicate an incipient momentum toward a vision for change. Journalists are starting to take seriously the prospect of transforming the tech industry—aided in part, no doubt, by high-profile federal investigations, calls to “break up Big Tech” from presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and the growing stridency of tech workers at GoogleKickstarterAmazon, and elsewhere who are organizing and making demands for more ethical business practices and working conditions. 

This search for solutions should be a major story arc of its own. To make the most of this moment, we think tech journalists can find inspiration in the “solutions journalism” movement.

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