Getting back to basics

Covering the Design Automation Conference without limitation.

The Design Automation Conference kicks off tonight with the EDAC reception.  I'm going to the conference this year for the first time as a registered member of the press.  How this happened has been well documented and discussed over the past few weeks and will continue to be, but I've said enough about that.  What I haven't talked about is the why.

When I began my career as a professional communicator, it was in the form of a print journalists for weekly and daily newspapers.  The biggest difference I've seen between then and now, is the reliance on news releases as the beginning of news stories.  30 years ago, news releases were only for filler.  When you were laying out the paper, and you had three inches of space, you through in a rewritten news release.  You NEVER EVER printed a news release verbatim in any form.  EVER!

What made up the core of coverage was finding issues, taking them apart, and writing about them in the most objective way possible.  Sometimes it required rewriting what staff reporters wrote about until it made sense.  For a couple of years early in my career, I worked the copy desk for a significant daily newspaper on the SF peninsula and my primary job was rewriting articles by one particular reporter who was really bad at writing.  I had to take his copy, figure out what he was trying to say, look up stuff, call people, and then redo the story in a comprehensible report.  I didn't get the reporter's job because I was still in journalism school and the reporter had 10 years experience with the Associated Press, so he had better "qualifications," but that didn't stop the city editor from making me redo everything he did.

Today, however, news releases, especially in the tech trades, make up a significant portion of the content, either through direct feeds from places like Business Wire or PR Newswire, rewritten by staff editors with all the hyperbole edited out, and in some publications, reprinted verbatim.

I've never had a real problem with the wire feeds, and I really don't have a problem with editing news releases and publishing them.  What I have a problem with is relying on them as a source of content... especially at no charge to the companies sending them.  I have a similar problem with the free advertisements that masquerade as opinion pieces and technical articles, which really make up the lion's share of content in many publications.  The reason I have a problem is that the content doesn't make the publication any better, and it lowers the value of the publication to the point that no one thinks it should be financially supported.

And that's why I'm going to DAC as a journalist this year.  I have several meetings to do podcasts for EDA Cafe, SoC Central and some for New Tech Press.  I'm not getting paid for any of this effort.  This is gratis. But there is a price to be paid.  I've told all the subjects that I am not going to cover their "news."  I'm not going to talk about their technology or products.  I'm not going to listen to pitches.  I have questions.  Questions I've heard many people ask about the industry on important issues, but have never seen adequately covered in any publication.  At least, what was covered didn't answer the questions.  I've asked the interview subjects to send me an issue they think is important, and I would devise questions, based on research I've been doing the past few weeks, about those issues.  And that is what the podcasts will be about.  In other words, I'm going back my roots.  I'm going to figure out real stories from the mess generally presented to the press.

And because I have absolutely even less financial stake than traditional journalists covering DAC, I have absolutely no hindrance on what I can report.  Let the games begin.