I freely confess that my mandatory weekend reading is The Financial Times. Why it is this, rather than the latest issue of EDN or EE Times, is a subject for another day. But I mention the FT now because this weekend one of their regular columnists, Simon Kuper, chose to celebrate his 25th anniversary as a journalist with a fine piece titled What I’ve Learned as a Journalist. Except this was the FT, so he chose to say “learnt.” As it happens, I’m near the same anniversary, though in a very different branch of the fourth estate. So I thought it appropriate to cite his three major points with my own technology-gleaned annotations.
Point one: have a memory. “Any journalist with a memory [is] a treasure,” Kuper paraphrases from a UK politician, going on to explain that much introduced as new in British politics is in fact old—often old and abandoned. But many journalists take the bait every time, lacking the memory—or, I might add, the time for a little research—to recognize the past recirculated.
To this I must assent. Especially in technology, today’s news is often nothing but the breakthroughs of the mid-twentieth century applied to a slight restatement of the original problem. Nowhere is this more true than in chip design, where it sometimes seems the industry is condemned perpetually to reimplement the IBM 360 model 91 mainframe computer at successively greater levels of integration. And lest the analog designers among us be too smug, we might ask how many of their fundamental circuits and tools helped put man on the moon.
Point two: avoid press conferences. Kuper warns “In journalism, you are usually writing about people who are lying to you … at least we can waste less time listening to them.” Sadly, I have to agree with the conclusion, if not entirely with the accusation. Official events, whether press conferences, keynote addresses, or panel appearances, exist to deliver official messages. The speakers, especially if they are corporate officers, have little real freedom of speech. Far better to spend your time with the actual product engineers—who can horrify PR folk by their candor—or better yet with the engineers actually designing ICs. An example? Ask different people about the status of 28nm processes.
Point three: only one idea per article. This might sound arrogantly dismissive of readers, but it is not. It is another way of stating a miracle—the blessing that can make a quarter century in the press an interval of joy. Simply, if a journalist writes one good idea, you the readers will actually think about it. You needn’t. You already have plenty to do, and are entirely capable of producing your own good ideas. But time and again you grant us this honor. In response, the least we can do is to say one thing clearly and correctly. Oh … there is one more thing we can do. We can take a few words to say thank you.