Taking Pride In My Own Reporting

12 January 2021

My new website srcbeat is my way of doing a journalism degree on the cheap. Like any journalism degree, it involves doing a lot of unpaid work. Cursory research reveals lots of people saying it is difficult to make money as a journalist.

Fundamentally Fucked

Yet the state of news and reporting cannot be so popular and so fundamentally fucked that there’s not some money in it somewhere. It’s just like software. There is so much software around. Our lives depend on it. And most of it is totally, totally fucked.

What I’m looking for is a way to get my naturally inquisitive nature out of software development/system administration and into journalistic reporting; something that I’ve wanted to do for a decade and a half. Here were the false starts:

I’m now 28.5 years old.

What My Reporting Could Look Like

I’m proud of srcbeat’s most recent article: Preliminary OpenBSD Support Added to OBS Studio. The article practically wrote itself after some primary investigation by me. If I play my cards right, my continued work on this stuff will get noticed and I’ll look back and laugh at this blog post. If I don’t play my cards right, I’ll definitely look back and laugh at this blog post.

As I said, the state of news is completely fucked. So much of it resembles the reddit post that prompted me to write my article: a screenshot with some orange highlighting around the relevant bit.

Almost 5 fucking megabytes to communicate… wait… let’s see how many bytes are required to communicate this message:

echo 'Added OpenBSD support [grayed]' | wc -c
30

Thirty bytes. There’s approximately 4 999 970 bytes, or 99.994%, of useless shit in the original post.

My article is different. A discussion of some things that are so often missing in other reports follows.

Actually informative

It describes what the added support really is. A sndio(7) driver and some OS-specific filesystem path helpers were added to the OBS Studio software.

Let’s compare to the most popular technology article today from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). The article:“‘What they did was justified’: Amazon’s local customers back move to boot Parler”.

So what does “back” even mean here? From the article:

Lachlan Donald, co-founder of construction software startup BuildKite, said the move by Amazon was “unprecedented” but he backed the action.

“They went through a process, had multiple reports that Parler violated terms and conditions and tried to establish a dialogue and Parler didn’t come to the table so what they did was justified,” he said.

The “back” from the headline is actually the co-founder of a company which pays for Amazon Web Services throwing in some opinion. The fact someone has an opinion is not informative. If someone was actually backing this move, I would take that to mean someone who was in some way involved in the making or enforcement of the decision.

Original sources

It refers to original sources using the magic of hypertext links! I linked to commits in the OBS Studio source code repository.

Later in the SMH article:

A group of activist hackers claim to have salvaged much of what happened on Parler before it went offline and plan to put it in a public archive which has angered Parler users who are worried it may contain private information.

Do they? What’s the claim? Who are these activist hackers? Just provide a link. We’re publishing on the world wide web which was built on hypertext links. References, in the convenient form of links, help readers and (aspiring) journalists perform further investigation. Providing sources makes the article more credible. As a bonus, someone may click the link, read a bit, and suggest an update to the article. The article gets better.

Context

Helpful context was provided by a genuine authority. An OpenBSD developer commented in another post and revealed that changes to the OBS studio are part of an ongoing effort and that they are not ready for primetime yet.

The SMH article provides some helpful context:

The move came as both Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores.

But on the actual topic of the article, Australian AWS customers, it fails to provide helpful context of whose opinions we are apparently interested in. Lachlan Donald is a co-founder of a software start-up. Ok. What is going on? Why should we listen to this person? Do they have special connections with Amazon? Are they a particularly big customer? Small customer? Are they usually this vocal? Hint: BuildKite’s logo was rainbow for some time this year, presumably in support of the LGBT community.

Understanding, research, and learning

I can actually read and write source code. I understood the topic well enough to report on it. When I didn’t understand, I did more research, and learned on the spot.

Without references in the right places in the SMH article, I don’t really know if this publication really understands what has happened. If I don’t do any real research, I barely understand anything!

Icing on the cake

I couldn’t believe it when I read it. I didn’t notice it at first.

Lachlan Donald, co-founder of construction software startup BuildKite

Construction software? Fuck me fucking dead. Go to buildkite.com. Read the big, bold, letters.

Lightning fast testing and delivery for all your software projects

Construction? I don’t think the SMH understands what they are reporting on. Just like that the whole article falls down like a house of cards.

I am not criticising the reporter or even the editor of that SMH article. I am critical of the state of the industry which has gotten to the point that putting out an article like this is OK. I can’t help but see a great opportunity for myself somewhere in this mess.

Going Forward

Teaching myself programming went a bit like this:

  1. Write my own software that performs some relevant task only for me
  2. Read the source code of high quality software
  3. Learn how and why it was written like that
  4. Replicate the code and the practices
  5. Repeat until it was high enough quailty that others started noticing

You can’t teach a 28-year-old dog new tricks, so I’m planning to do this again but in journalism. I’d love to produce genuinely researched, informative pieces relevant for me. The production should be a high enough quality that it reaches some kind of standard. Eventually you do it enough where you stop replicating and get a feel for the craft. It happened for me with computers, and it will probably happen again. The trick is going to be in moving out of my little niche.

And of course, quite a bit of confidence and self-marketing. Wish me luck.

Copyright 2010-2020 Oliver Lowe. All rights reserved.