Is The Verge 'Old Media'?

While this is a little critical, it's more just a collection of thoughts - a little exploration, rather than a fully-formed position. I'd be interested in opening conversation about these thoughts.

Last week, Joshua Topolsky retweeted this comment, which was a reply to his mild criticism of an NYT article:

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via i.imgur.com

It piqued my interest. It's true, of course. But the retweet makes it clear that Topolsky is positioning himself, and thus The Verge, as a knowing part of what makes up the New Media - the break from the old ways and the emergence of whole new ways of creating, presenting, and promoting content.

That kind of positioning opens oneself to criticism, and it's lingered in my mind. How much does The Verge truly represent a part of the vanguard of New Media? It finds its interest in exploring the leading edge of tech reporting, and its properties are definitely some of the nicer digital creations in the media world. The ambitions of The Verge are also to be lauded - the attempt to break away from 'just tech', and explore how tech changes us and our society, is a good one.

But ('Don't pay attention to anything said until 'but'...), I'm currently wondering how much of The Verge's approach is a genuine break from 'the old ways', and how much it's a simple changing of the guard. There are elements of the reporting here that, it seems to me, present the perspective of The Establishment - that ingrained perspective of age, power, and so on, that makes up a big part of what's not-great about Old Media.

The verge represents positive effort to create a source for professional, reliable content, in a way that understands and harnesses the modern tech available to it. I like its ambition to present a broader perspective than simply 'Here's new shiny stuff!' Some of the articles that break into the larger social, political, and philosophical elements are really refreshing. That human, living face of tech is one of The Verge's greatest strengths.

I like what The Verge is, and I like its ambition and aims. I also think that it tries to make an appropriate balance between professional reporting to an audience of 'norms', while also crediting the freaks and geeks of the digital world. But, there are times I'm struck with writing that suggests an element of Old to The Verge, whether that's a failure to acknowledge their own perspective, or whether it's unwitting support for the Old Values.

Two things that come to mind right now on this matter are the Nexus 4 review, and the recent article on r/gonewild.

I was very excited about the N4 when it was released, and I think the review here is, for the large part, great. But it did raise for me the awareness that the reporting here carries a specific bias, that doesn't seem credited by the staff. The review, and many comments since the review have frequently bashed the N4 as a failed opportunity due to its lack of LTE.

This perspective is understandable for New-York-based reporters who spent their lives soaked in leading-edge technology, and who, we presume aren't badly-paid. But, for a review to be worthwhile, it needs to be acknowledged that there are broad usage cases, and these cases need to be accounted for.

In this case, the vast majority of potential consumers for the N4 simply have no access to, let alone demand for LTE. Further, the price of the unit was a staggering matter for anyone other than those who (I assume) get to use these devices for free. I've no desire to defend a product I don't own, but there was, I believe, a clear example of the reporter's perspective and needs overriding a more effective appreciation of the device in an 'objective' sense.

Simply, the review focussed almost exclusively on the technology, without considering the culture side of things. There was a failure to examine the broader aims for the device, and the impact and value it could have for people who aren't NY tech reporters.

Regarding the article on r/gonewild, much of the valid criticism of the article itself has been made in the comments section of the post. I, for one, think there's a great amount to be examined, culturally speaking, in reddit as a whole, and in the rise of r/gonewild and other 'selfie havens' on the internet. They represent a significant cultural shift, or at least the potential for that shift.

But that rarely gets put across in any in-depth way, here, or in other Established Media (New, or Old) that write about these phenomena.

While The Verge's article was little more than a repost of another site's reporting, it took the moral perspective of old power and regurgitated the views of an established position rather than trying to offer real insight or understanding on the matter.

The 'let's show moral concern over the scary anything-goes sites on the internet, without examining how they interrelate with broader society, or what implications that interrelation may have' approach is common, but clearly represents a perspective of 'Old Media'. It's an old trick of reporting to present 'both sides' in order to appear fair, while making implicit moral assumptions on the matter. And I think The Verge could do better.

As WayAway said in the comments there:

Yep. I have never seen an article about the many positive sides of Reddit. They’re always about ‘the dark side’, always very sensationalist.

There seems to be an 'angle' on The Verge taken, where the these hubs of internet culture are mentioned, sometimes explored, but generally presented as flawed in some broadly moral sense. While 'sensationalist' might not be accurate, there's frequently a voice of concern over the less policed areas of the internet, which voice is, inevitably, that of the middle class Old Media, threatened by the emergence of cultural centres over which they have little control or ability to predict.

My point being:

'New' isn't so much a quality as a process. New Media, in that sense, must always be a part of, or observer of, that innovative and creative element of 'news' in our society. The Old creeps in when we stop examining ourselves and our positions, and take them ever more for granted, slowly coming to defend those positions against the New, which comes to represent more a threat than a genuine interest.

The great sources of internet culture, and the places where new change will come, are increasingly young. This is a part of how society works. Since the emergence of the teenager in the 50s, we've seen a constant stream of overhauls of our society made largely by by people who live in pre-establishment age demographics, who embrace new technology with little of the preconceptions and modes of engagement that older people have learnt.

The fact that some of this culture, whether it's snapchat, /r/gonewild, or tumblr, seems to be reported as increasingly 'alien' to the stance of The Verge seems worth bringing up, as failure to recognise it could spell The Verge's future irrelevance.

Of course, life will always be viewed through one lens or another, but the whole 'New Media/Old Media' divide is, in part, a conversation about how we wield that lens. If the only thing 'New Media' about The Verge and other bastions of 'New Media' is that they use new technology and impressive web design, then they miss out on a large part of the equation.

If all 'New Media' is is a simple 'changing of the guard' - a change, yes, but in form rather than essence - then it's really just 'Old Media'. The real strength of 'New Media' is not only in understanding tech and leveraging it to position oneself above those who dont, but also in being at the vanguard of cultural change and insight.

I wonder if The Verge finds it hard to break out of its original Engadget mould - it finds the cultural change fascinating, but it's frequently taking place at a faster rate and in a *younger* place than many of the writers here can fully appreciate. The stereotypical background of the tech journalist can lead, it seems, to a slight myopia regarding one's own position, and an entrenched, privileged perspective on the things that are actually new and exciting about the continual nexus between tech and culture.

Of course, this site would be useless if it were just to reflect 'the new trends' - it'd, for one, be hilariously bad, as any reporting of youth culture often is, and it would fail the site's demographic, who are broader, and often *not* clued in. The Verge's role in these matters, I suggest, would be mercurial - one of communication, explanation and interpretation.

I'm not really sure what the solutions to this might be. I'm not even sure there's all that much of a problem, especially for anyone other than me. I don't know enough of the inner politics of the site. Perhaps there is pressure from advertisers to avoid getting too 'out there'. Perhaps it's simply an inevitable fact of having an established reporting site that's staffed by people who are, in internet terms, getting pretty old (and I say this as a 30-year-old).

But if The Verge is to be truly successful in its attempts to present the best of New Media - something that is changing faster and faster, and must always represent New Culture, I do think it needs to be more self-aware, and it needs to try to understand where, when and why it's falling back into just another Old Media presentation.

All reporting has an agenda. What I'm interested in questioning is the agenda of The Verge. While elements of the site present a broadly technologist, progressive, sometimes futurist stance, there are other sides to the reporting here that seem to present what could largely be called (and I fucking hate this term, but I can't think of another right now) bourgeois - that unwitting support of the entrenched and often stifling values of the moneyed classes and their self-supporting systems of media and thought: the primacy of age and position, and the support of those over the emerging values of different peoples.

And that's fine, if that's what they want to do. I often prefer a knowing bourgeoisie to a frothing leftie. But I suggest there is an alternative to both, where we can examine 'the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture, while trying to understand and appreciate the varying cultural perspectives on their own terms, and using those terms to provide a feedback on our own perspectives.