Tech journalists should speak out against industry giants

By Zach Landau | A&E Editor


Courtesy of CNet
The Google Pixel 2 can be pre-ordered today, starting at $649 for the 64GB model, but will be officially released on Oct. 19th.

Google has announced its successor to its critically-acclaimed Pixel, the Pixel 2. As well as boasting improved performance, this new phone will showcase a host of new hardware features, including an upgraded camera and … the removal of the headphone jack.

This decision follows suit from Apple’s announcement last year when they dropped the classic 3.5 mm headphone jack from the iPhone 7, a decision that was widely ridiculed at the time and is still generally panned today.

Well, sort of.

See, the reason I write this column is not because another pointless upgrade to a smartphone was announced, but because I need to address a sort of pet concern of mine that resurfaced in the aftermath of this announcement. Specifically, I wish to talk about the way announcements like the Pixel 2’s are covered.

My message to the tech bloggers, journalists, enthusiasts and all forms of those who have dedicated their professional lives to covering such developments in this field, is thus: Grow a spine, you lily-livered shrimp.

I cannot express the rage that coursed through me when I read one reaction to the Pixel 2’s removal of the headphone jack. Writing for The Verge, Vlad Savov wrote that, while he still was not convinced that removing such a standard feature from the phone was the right move, he claims that the jack is something “we can learn to live without.”

Sorry, Savov, but no. We all can’t just “learn to live without” something that’s been a staple to headphone tech since before you and I were born. Savov’s opinion piece is so riddled with corporate apologies, entitled proclamations and pathetic sniveling that I honestly don’t know if there’s enough paper in the world that could encapsulate my disdain for such shameful and unprofessional behavior.

And I don’t mean to single Savov out as the worst tech journalism has to offer, because that’s not fair, and this is just one column. I also don’t know the guy, and I’m sure if I were to ever meet him, I would find him to be a genuinely nice person. But if by some miracle we were to meet, I would also feel obligated to say, “You have a job to do, sir.”

A tech journalist is not just some passive observer of the industries that he or she specializes in. No journalist is. Rather, the paramount role for every journalist is to be a check on power, a watchdog of sorts, to protect those who cannot defend themselves for whatever reason.

So when a bunch of tech giants come out with another anti-consumer move to remove a valuable feature because they want to justify all of their wasted time on useless junk no one ever asked for, you need to call them out on it, not make excuses for them.

I see this happen all the time with tech journalists, this inability or refusal to actually take companies to task for doing legitimately harmful tactics for longer than the hot takes get clicks. After the reviews for the iPhone 7 came out, there was virtually radio silence on the removal of the jack. Similarly, journalists are poised to make the same mistake (and it is a mistake) with the Pixel 2. The quiet is almost deafening.

And this is to say nothing about the shameless, almost immoral, marketing ploys that these companies execute constantly without nary a whisper of dissent. Apple in particular is flagrantly disgusting in how it will blatantly contradict itself for the sake of a catchy phrase. I rewatched the iPhone 7 announcement in preparation for this piece, and within it, Marketing Chief Phil Schiller states within three minutes that pairing AirPods with your phone is easy, and you also don’t need to pair your AirPods. Wrap your brains around that one, kids.

This is also the same gentleman who said it took “courage” to drop the 3.5 mm jack, and the fact he wasn’t laughed off that stage the moment he said such a ridiculous statement should speak wonders to how much these companies are allowed to get away with.

What is truly infuriating is that tech journalists know that they’re being complicit. They know by now that if there’s enough sustained discussion on an issue, then companies do affect change. Remember all of the outrage about the Galaxy S6 removing its expandable storage? Guess what feature was put back into the S7.

Similarly, games journalists have proven time and time again that speaking up does persuade the public and corporations. Having followed games journalism for the past decade (time well-spent, by the way), I have seen the rise and fall of such unethical business practices such as DRM, pay-to-play mobile games, online passes, always-online single-player games and many other ridiculous practices that have gone the way of the dodo bird. Sure, there is still other unethical business practices that exist in the industry, but I would argue that if it was not for the hard work of journalists following announcements and tagging these practices for the anti-consumer guff that they were, we would be in a far-worse industry than we are in now.

So, Savov, if you miraculously read this, and every other tech journalist out there that cares about protecting consumers, I implore you to not give up. Don’t resign yourselves to complicity when action is needed. I see a dangerous future for the tech industry if the journalists that are meant to curb the anti-consumerist greed of these companies do not stand up for what they believe in. The removal of the 3.5 mm jack from the iPhone 7 was not OK last year, it is still not OK, and no amount of companies towing the Apple line will make it OK.

Because this is definitely not OK.