Above: Graphic by DepositPhotos
Developments and additions
The year 2019 is the fifth of continuous publication for TechNewsTT and continued to be one spent on consolidation and clarification of the purpose of this news website.
This year – specifically in September – the technology column BitDepth will mark its own anniversary, the 25th of its continuous publication (it’s also my 44th anniversary as a working journalist).
The column began at The Trinidad Express in 1995 before making a tour of all the daily newspapers, appearing in the T&T Guardian, The Wire, returning to the Guardian and today making its home at NewsdayTT.
Financially, we remained at a near-zero income position, though we accepted two paid posts pitched from international sources that aligned with the sort of general purpose information that we normally publish in press releases.
At the end of the year, the process of preparing the website to accept donations and to post advertising from the WordPress advertising network began.
Both are now live on the site.
There are no illusions in play that either will result in any type of significant cash flow, but if someone really wanted to support our work here, I felt that it shouldn’t be hard for them to consider doing that, either through advertising or through a small gesture of support.
TechNewsTT has avoided Google Ads since the start because it offers poor returns and provides a window for geotargeted advertising that’s often wildly misaligned with the content of the destination website.
While the web presence of the column has, over the years, largely been hosted online as a byproduct of my core business website for professional photography, TechNewsTT was my first effort to provide more focused and expansive reporting and curation than I could offer the subject in a few hundred words in a weekly column.
The porous bottom line
The column has remained the financial backbone of the project, and the earnings from its first-run publication in print media have made it possible to explore, at a measured pace, how to make this project work sustainably as an exclusively digital product.
I do confess to some skittishness about approaching local technology companies to advertise or otherwise support the project.
The simple fact is that any reporter doing their work properly should be handled like a live hand grenade by corporations.
Any journalist who is universally beloved by business interests is probably doing something very right for them and very wrong for journalism.
At this point at least one phone manufacturer is likely to be displeased with my evaluation of their flagship product and I have been advised that my reporting on TSTT’s backoffice problems has ensured that I won’t be getting any more exclusives from them.
That might worry me if they had offered me any exclusives over the two-and-a-half decades that I’ve been writing about technology, but I’ve outlasted pouty executives in the past, and I’m ready to continue doing so.
The landscape from my view
Technology reporting, even 25 years later, is remains a fringe beat in newsrooms that are busy reporting on murders and floods, and perhaps, I’m coming to understand, that’s just how it should be.
For Newsday, my first-run reporting has tended to focus on business transactions and an increasing number of technology projects.
The column has, regrettably, shed some of its earlier whimsy and willingness to range far and wide because it must also serve as the weekly anchor of the reporting and commentary published on TechNewsTT.
I am, of course, grateful for the opportunities that providing journalism for Newsday has afforded and their increasingly prompt payment of my claims list is also deeply appreciated.
Within those parameters, TechNewsTT has also delivered some exclusives – normally spot reporting of technology developments that I’ll often file before the event has come to an end.
One day soon, far more reporting will be done like that, but having an opportunity to field-test how digital journalism can reach readers with the real-time pace and immediacy that they increasingly expect while tempering such efforts with the fact-checking and clarification that should distinguish journalism from a casual post is a challenge that I’ve been enjoying exploring.
All this is happening while personal commitments increasingly demand more of my time, and it’s become necessary to establish news gathering and analysis outposts in dusty panyards and outside dance studios, which I happen to be doing as I write these particular words.
That axis of financial and personal demands, sharply abbreviated time and a news maw that doesn’t tolerate hunger for long means that sometimes, I simply cannot attend events that might provide rich resource material for reporting.
Honing and refocusing
The site’s emphasis will increasingly be on projects, opportunities and stories that offer the potential to bring deeper understanding of underreported events and to break news that is being missed by misdirected story angles or disinterested mainstream media.
One of the things that went away between late 2018 and early 2019 were my efforts at providing more video material for the site.
The work was okay, but it wasn’t stellar nor was it anywhere near the standards or style of successful tech reporting done online.
A sober assessment led me to quickly realise that, as we say in T&T, “the candle was costing more than the funeral,” and it was time to bury video reporting, at least until it could be produced in a way that added real value to the site’s journalism mix.
Managing resources becomes supremely critical when you actually have no resources, but that doesn’t dim a determination to understand reader needs and to service those interests in a way that adds value to their experience with the website.
The numbers behind the stories
I cannot, now, imagine managing a news website or indeed any modern publication with an online presence without consulting analytics of story and category performance.
On straight numbers, TechNewsTT has maintained its performance profile over the last three years.
Our biggest year on page views was 2016, clocking in at 59,494 views, anchored by a story that cut across interests and social strata, the Government’s decision to restore taxation on the import of books and computers.
That story alone accounted for 9,446 views in 2016.
Reader numbers hold steady at roughly 30,000 on average. The site gets spikes when a general interest story pulls in readers who are more interested in contemporary news analysis of a hot issue than technology specifically, but we do win some readers who return.
Big stories on TechNewsTT are valuable for more than their page views, they are a first taste for some readers of the site’s singular and specific approach to an important and continuously evolving topic.
Some stay, some leave but some hopefully keep the site in mind and perhaps in their bookmarks bar.
The temptation is always to try to follow up that kind of story and to chase the numbers, but often, the technology angle doesn’t support story exploitation in the way that bacchanal and scandal tend to.
Much of my current emphasis is on trying to open the website’s content to new readers and to make the focus of the reporting and the commentary as clear and coherent as possible for them.
It would be no use producing a story that pulls in readers with a crowd pleasing style that isn’t supported by similar content anywhere else on the site.
Search engines account for the lion’s share of our incoming readers, with 24,368 arriving from in the main from Google. Facebook accounted for the next highest total of incoming readers at 5,564.
To increase independent reader outreach, a newsletter was reintroduced during 2019 and promptly experienced significant hiccups before achieving its current form, which is acceptable, but nowhere near where I’d like it to be.
At one point at mid-year, I needed to disable the plug-in that enabled the newsletter sign-up pop-up window because it proved incompatible with an upgrade to WordPress 5.
The function was restored a few weeks ago.
Since then, there have been a few newsletter sign-ups and that’s offered some encouragement to pursue a more robust automated newsletter delivery solution.
Making the journalism work
All this happens in a landscape of almost constantly evolving journalism.
This isn’t unique to this country. Nor are the problems with clarifying the evolving shape and distinct boundaries of proper journalism and the difficulty with finding support for pursuing it.
To improve that understanding and to seek out the experiences of peers, TechNewsTT undertook the process of registering with Civil, an effort at rethinking journalism in the 21st century and forging new models for its financing and support.
Civil itself is in a state of evolution, beginning with its own shaky beginnings and a failed effort at launching through the sale of tokens.
The group rallied and tackled the challenge with a greater focus on the reality of journalist experience and there are now dozens of small newsrooms registered with Civil, of which we are one.
The state of modern journalism is very much like a stone skipping across water. It only works by moving fast and touching multiple points with just enough force to keep moving forward.
Being a stone in the venture now means being a bit bruised from all the skips, somewhat giddy at the pace of things, but increasingly clear that moving forward is the only option, because otherwise, you sink.