This is not another blog post defending Boston’s position as a technology mecca against the likes of Silicon Valley, San Francisco or gulp…. New York.
We’ve all seen that movie before, dating back for some of us to that pre-historic, pre-blog era when professor, author and now Dean of Cal-Berkeley’s School of Information, AnnaLee Saxenian first dissected the competitive history of Silicon Valley vs. Rt. 128 in her 1994 book, Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128.
It’s more a commentary on a fundamental question raised repeatedly in our industry: does location matter when it comes to the national tech media?
To provide some more current context for this post: two of the national tech media’s most prominent and respected names – FORTUNE’s Dan Primack and Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy – recently traded barbs on the topic via their respective blogs. Primack started the volley in a terrific and broad-ranging post. He tackled the issue of what ails the tech industry here in the land of fried clams, baked beans and, in the eyes of most folks living west of the Berkshires, far too many major sports world championships in the past decade.
Primack’s piece noted the challenges faced by Boston-area tech firms in garnering attention from national media (and I would wager the extended ecosystem of investors and influencers). At the end of his piece, he asked a few rhetorical questions: what has become of the increasingly endangered species: the Boston-based tech reporter/writer/blogger? Why are there so few Boston-based tech correspondents for national media outlets?
Primack noted there’s one other FORTUNE writer based here who, like him, is not focused exclusively on tech. The national/international “traditional” media outlets including Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, Forbes, USA Today, Financial Times and the Economist have no local tech reporters either. The same goes for the younger, hipper, web-only outlets like Business Insider, Re/Code, TechCrunch,The Verge, VentureBeat and Lacy’s Pando Daily. They have nobody here and never have.
Will this change? Consider Lacy’s response to Primack’s last point (it interestingly did not link to his initial post – hmmm). She admitted she’s tried to hire Primack at every media outlet she’s ever collected a paycheck from, but curtly ended her post with this point: Boston-based reporters aren’t getting gigs at publications like hers because they just aren’t good enough at what they do.
As a tech PR “greybeard,” I fondly remember the days when big time Boston-based journalists like Bill Bulkeley of Wall Street Journal, Paul Judge and Audrey Choi of BusinessWeek and Dan Lyons of Forbes and others ruled the business media roost here. They were considered every bit as talented and influential as their counterparts in other major cities. And of course, they covered (or uncovered) our local tech icons and upstarts with regularity.
Their disappearance, driven in large part by economics, undoubtedly works against the rising stars of our region – the HubSpots, Care.coms, iRobots, TripAdvisors, etc. – but also the established brands like EMC, Raytheon and Analog Devices, which have been fighting this battle for two decades or more.
This dearth of Boston-area tech reporters can’t be purely financially driven. As Primack notes in a comment accompanying his piece, NYC, SF and the Valley are all more expensive places to do business than Boston. And, I presume that Primack and folks like ReadWrite’s Dan Rowinski work out of their home offices and there’s no reason why other outlets can’t follow this model. That is if the talent is here, per Lacy’s point.
Assuming nothing changes relative to new local media hires, what will it take for the national tech media to change its perpective and be more receptive/interested in/responsive to tech brands outside the SF/Valley epicenter? And I’m not just talking about Boston firms either. The same issues persist for our brethren in Seattle, Austin, Portland, Boulder and other tech-focused markets. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Business Insider has done regional focused pieces on Boulder and Boston among others. Forbes profiled Clifton Park, NY-based Apprenda recently in a December print issue but the piece is driven by the company’s distinct anti-Silicon Valley approach. I think there ought to be a lot more balance and more Apprendas out there.
Back to the location question. For the media, and for marketing and PR professionals who are working with them day in and day out, is it really an issue? Matter (like many others) currently works with clients based in the UK, Israel, India and in countless remote U.S. locations outside the 408 or 415 area codes. We’re also communicating (very effectively I might add) with media across the country and the globe. Likewise, the aforementioned NextWeb has writers and/or offices in far-flung locales ranging from Thailand to Nashville to Dubai and they too do a terrific job at taking a global view.
The last time I checked, media and public relations don’t appear on anyone’s list of “location-based services.” Phones, Skype, email, text and all other forms of communication transcend time zones, cultures, languages and biases. Why can’t the national tech media lens broaden accordingly?
What do you think? Is the national media focused too much on Silicon Valley? Should location determine a company’s importance, relevance or media “sex appeal?” Does it matter where a reporter, PR person or company is located anymore? Or is it all about talent, timing and the story?