Because I’ve been a contributor to TechCrunch for so long and been consistent about contributing over the past two-and-a-half years, people sometimes think I’m a full-time reporter. That’s definitely far from the truth. Usually when this happens, I respond with the following: “Oh, no, I’m not a full-time reporter, nor could I be one.” My feeling is that, while the crowd likes to pick on full-time tech writers because they’re an easy target, the truth is more subtle. I know this because I’ve seen this live and up-front through my relationship with TechCrunch. The folks there have an extremely hard job, and I’d imagine everyone who does this professionally does. Here are some aspects of being a full-time tech writer that others may not know:
- Number of posts per day: Many writers are required to write many posts per day. There are some obvious reasons for this, of course, since most people don’t want to pay for information online, but some non-obvious ones which I’ll explain below. Writing at this pace increases the likelihood for all sorts of errors and mistakes, not to mention the competitive pressure to write better posts (faster) than their competitors.
- Competition: Writers build up their reputation partly by competing with other writers, so they’re racing against their peers to find and publish scoops before others, or to put the best analysis around the news. They can’t let perfection be the enemy of good given their time constraints.
- Few Incentives To Share Brutal Truths: In the startup world, there are lots of incestuous funding and work-related relationships, and sharing opinions based on hard truths (many of which would be negative) don’t serve the writers well because they may not be contacted by companies in the future or be able to work in the industry later in their careers. Some way not care about this, but other writers may not want to close these doors.
- Startup Explosion, and PR Explosion: Writers are literally bombarded by startups and their PR reps. I don’t think people truly realize how many people just start things and call themselves “startups,” so the market does need validation like investment notes, as crass as that may seem. Additionally, the amount of money spent on PR would shock people, and it’s hard to escape it — many VCs have reps, too. In many cases, even though investors wouldn’t admit it, they and many others sometimes rely on the analytical work of these writers to help inform their investment decisions.
Finally — and I think this is important — tech writers actually help startups a lot out of a pure desire to be helpful and see them succeed. I’ve seen writers ruin their nights or weekends to cover a launch or new product because the team didn’t get in touch with them far enough in advance. This is not to say that the writers pen glowing reviews, but others often don’t respect the writer’s time, and I’ve seen many of them change their schedule to accommodate the rest of us, the founders and investors, because generally this kind of work is viewed as not-as-important in the Valley. This is something I’ve been thinking about because I hear complaints often, and I always say that, having seen how this is done, this is a job that I wouldn’t be able to do — it is very hard and requires a different level of dedication and risks. All of this isn’t to say that full-time writers should be immune to criticism (just like any other job), but I’d like people to consider these facts before bashing the folks who do this hard work.