Sectioned — On tech coverage in local media

Our mayor ran on a platform including tech.

Our premier seems to have shifted her economic policy to tech.

Our downtown is physically changing thanks to tech.

Dozens of new tech companies start here each year. Dozens die, too.

We are told it is a $1 billion industry. (Tourism is $840M by comparison.)

There is a lot of activity, a lot of money, and a lot of influence involved.

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We have 321 tech companies here.

The above points indicate that local media in Kelowna should consider adding a dedicated tech section to their coverage. Currently, only KelownaNow has a tech section under Lifestyle, and a few months ago Kelowna Capital News ran a “Tech Talk” package.

Kelowna is starting to be considered a “tech” hub and the public deserves well-rounded, informative pieces which examine how technology impacts the local community. I am not talking about a “gadget review” section — that is better left to larger publications. What is more important to locals is investigating and explaining the social, political, and economic impacts of the local technology sector. Here are some examples of what I would like to see:

Explainers, lots of explainers: Who are these people, companies, and products? How do they get funded? Who and where are their customers? Why do they have such weird offices? Where does all the government money go? Where does technology commercialization from UBCO fit in?

Policy pieces: Should Kelowna allow ridesharing apps like Uber? (Answer: No!) Should SD23 teach coding? What incentives does the city give local tech companies and why? How can we positively influence the labour market? And of course tech ethics in all its myriad forms.

Obviously the public cannot get this from the companies themselves, nor should we rely solely on government-funded economic impact reports. Copy/pasting press releases merely papers over our ignorance. We need independent investigative pieces, informed columns, data journalism, etc. Digging.

Is a special section really necessary?

Newspaper sections are a reflection of their time and community. “Technology” is a term often used to describe this era. Many if not most national papers have a tech section, and many large city papers do too. It wasn’t always that way. The New York Times only started their technology section in 2008. Times change, and as “software eats the world” more and more of our society can be looked at through the lens of technology. However there are practical and philosophical against raising an popular area of interest to the top of the masthead.

Firstly: resources. This is particularly true of local media, which cannot obviously sustain a “tech” beat, or even have a single staff member dedicated to tech exclusively. As one local reporter told me “We don’t really have defined beats anymore like ‘All the President’s men’ days”. I reached out to a number of local outlets asking how and who covers technology stories and it seems most have a settled on a common methodology: it depends. Another local reporter said, “Our editor sends stuff to different reporters.”

Secondly: technology is not the be-all and end-all of society. Tech is a symptom. The underlying socio-political realm should not be overlooked or obscured by technovelty. This has been the argument of the anti-solutionists. Thus, covering tech in the business section or metro section or health section — as the case fits — actually makes more sense. The lack of resources to dedicate to a specific “tech beat” might work in favour more well-rounded coverage and against starry-eyed tech evangelism.

Rather than raising tech to the top of the masthead, maybe all we actually require from our local media is a better understanding of the role of modern technology and related businesses in our society. Give them the license to dig so they may produce more nuanced, critical pieces that educate and inform our citizenry on this new locus of power in our community.

Of course, giving local reporters the time and tools to gain this understanding would require the already constrained resources mentioned above, which is another debate entirely. Once again, in closely examining “tech”, we uncover deeper problems in our society.

Call to action

Being in the tech industry myself, I am biased towards the coverage of my sector. So, how about you? Do you think Kelowna should have more tech coverage? Or despite what I have argued above, do you think it is tertiary to the main concerns of our community? Voice your opinion in the comments below. I am sure the local media will appreciate any and all feedback (especially if they don’t have to moderate the comments.)

Author: Chad Kohalyk

Bellatrist, communitarian, tech contrarian. Generous with Likes. http://chadkohalyk.com