Tech Journalism Doesn’t Know What to Do With Mastodon

What happens when innovation doesn’t fit the usual narratives?

George Dillard


Photo by Battenhall on Unsplash

Tech and business journalists know what to do with Twitter.

Twitter is a for-profit company with headquarters in California. It has a CEO. It has investors and revenues and a valuation. The purpose of the company is to make money for its investors by growing the user base as large as possible and extracting as much cash as possible from that user base, either through advertising or subscriptions. Though the product it delivers is different, Twitter is pretty much the same thing as Snapchat and Facebook and Netflix, and Google.

Twitter fits easily into the standard tech journalism templates, which include:

  • “New, exciting tech company will revolutionize everything!”
  • “Older, established tech company releases new product!”
  • “Look how rich or weird this tech CEO is!”
  • “Tech company acquires another tech company!”
  • “Tech company is on the rise!”
  • “Tech company is in decline!”
  • And, when things go awry: “Tech founder faces criminal charges!”

Tech journalism isn’t special in this regard. Every genre of journalism has narrative grooves — ruts may be a better word — into which it easily slides.

A lot of what we see in tech journalism is either consumerist content or standard business journalism dressed up in a Steve Jobs turtleneck. The consumerist stuff shows up as weirdly breathless reviews of new products that are mostly the same as the old products or descriptions of updates to existing tech (“three exciting new features in iOS 16.2!”). The business-journalism stuff is all about stock prices and mergers and acquisitions. For some reason, people who would never read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Procter and Gamble acquiring a new shampoo company will devour content about Microsoft acquiring a tech startup they’ve never heard of.

Tech journalism serves these purposes pretty well. I have certainly read my share of reviews of tech products and I am far more familiar with the business activities of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos than I…