Technology is big. It seems like such a pointlessly redundant thing to say, but it’s absolutely true.
The word ‘tech’ encompasses so much stuff, from consumer gadgets, like phones and tablets, to sophisticated systems that power large companies. It includes things like software development, algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, and more.
Suffice to say, technology journalists have their work cut out for them. It’s 100-percent true they have a solemn duty to report the news accurately and fairly. But at the same time, a lot of these things are profoundly complicated, and it’s unrealistic for them to be experts on literally everything that lands on the newsdesk.
One potential solution to this comes from entrepreneur and TechCrunch Editor-at-Large, John Biggs. His new site, Tech For Reporters, promises to offer journalists a free and discreet avenue to industry experts, who can offer much-needed informed opinion and insight.
I spoke to Biggs on the phone earlier. He explained that the inspiration for the site came from his own personal experiences covering complicated and nuanced technology topics as a reporter. “I used to write about Bitcoin, and I’d get yelled at by Bitcoin folks,” he said.
Given the role technology has in the national debate, he also believes that it’s more important than ever that reporters get it right, citing the example of Hillary Clinton’s email server, which dominated last year’s news cycle.
Tech For Reporters operates in a question-and-answer format. This should be familiar to anyone who has used Quora before. The main difference is that questions can be asked anonymously.
Another key difference is that journalists can only view the questions they’ve asked — perhaps to prevent them from stealing someone else’s scoop.
Technologists can see everything, however, and they can choose to answer the questions that are most relevant to their field of expertise.
Another interesting quirk of Tech For Reporters is that it is open to those working in public relations, and has dedicated PR accounts. This transparency is helpful. While PR folks might often be able to answer a question, it’s likely to come with an agenda attached — namely scoring coverage for their clients.
“The mission is so that journalists can vet their sources for credibility,” Biggs said.
In a ProductHunt post, Biggs explained his motivation for launching the site. “I’ve written for the New York Times, Gizmodo, and TechCrunch and I always got frustrated because reporters never had the chance to truly understand tech,” he said.
“Now, if they have a specific question, they can simply go over to TechForReporters and ask anonymously and privately. This isn’t Quora or Stackoverflow. This is the site you use if you have a question about the Dark Web and want a candid answer or if you have a trove of emails and need help parsing them.”
Tech For Reporters isn’t the only player in this arena. There’s Help A Reporter Out, where journalist can find sources on anything ranging from astronomy to medicine. Biggs hopes that Tech For Reporters differentiates itself by focusing entirely on technology.
It’s early days for the site. And while Biggs thinks attracting technologists to the platform will be easy, he acknowledges that bringing reporters on-board will be a lot more difficult.
If you’re a reporter looking for insight and explanation, or an expert that just wants to make technology reporting better, you can check out Tech For Reporters here.