Nobody on their deathbed says they wish they’d spent more time reading tech blogs.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s great that consumers and entrepreneurs have so many places today to get news about the world of Internet startups, mobile devices, software, and venture investing. Back in 1998-2001, the last time things were this crazy in the tech world, there were only a handful of publications following these important areas. If you were part of the scene then, you probably subscribed to magazines like Business 2.0, Fast Company, The Industry Standard, Red Herring, Technology Review, and Wired; some of them didn’t really even have websites, and several failed to survive the collapse of the dot-com bubble.
Today, by contrast, there’s a robust galaxy of tech news sites, like Boy Genius Report, BusinessInsider, CNET, Cult Of Mac, Engadget, GigaOm, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Mashable, Pando Daily, Quartz, ReadWrite, Re/code, TechCrunch, TheNextWeb, Valleywag, VentureBeat, The Verge, and, of course, Xconomy. There are also quite a few general Web publications or link blogs that devote space to tech, like BuzzFeed, Gawker, the Huffington Post, Medium, Upworthy, Salon, Slate, and Svbtle.
I try to keep an eye on all of these outlets, because they help shape the global conversation about technology for consumers and businesses. I manage that task day to day by browsing through a section of Flipboard that I’ve set up to grab the RSS feeds of most of the above publications. But to be honest, I’m not all that happy about it.
What you get from these publications, all too often, is a motley mix of startup launch notices, product feature announcements, IPO and funding news, CEO gossip, earnings reports, sales forecasts, and gadget reviews. Plus, of course, Apple rumors, and a lot of people wondering what’s coming next.
What you do not get, most of the time, is much coverage of the questions that really matter for humanity, on an existential, world-historical level. Like how we’re going to gather enough food and fresh water to support the 9.6 billion people expected to walk the earth by 2050. Or what we should do to slow climate change and blunt its worst effects, or reduce poverty, or eliminate deadly yet preventable diseases like diarrhea, malaria, and diabetes, or overcome persistent and pernicious biases against women and various ethnic and religious minorities, or make sure every child gets a decent education and an equal shot at a job with upward mobility, or balance national security with privacy rights, or get rid of the 17,000 nuclear warheads we’re still pointing at each other.
For many of these problems, technology is both a cause and a cure, in complex measure. But you won’t see a lot of stories in the tech blogs about what engineers and entrepreneurs are doing to own up to their roles and find positive solutions. For that, you have to look elsewhere, to a group of more thoughtful, literate, and humane publications.
This week, I’m going to list 15 of my favorites. Only a few of these outlets take technology as their main focus. But all of them are awake to its power; they understand it as one of the deep currents that journalists should be measuring, if only they can manage to look beneath the froth of daily commerce. (Which is what we at Xconomy strive to do on a regular basis.)
When I speak to journalism students, I’m usually asked where I get my own news. The answer is that I skim the headlines of the tech blogs mentioned above, I go for longer dips with the big business publications like the New York Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Economist, Fortune, and Forbes, and I try to save time for deeper dives with the smaller or more specialized publications and blogs below.
By the way, as a first step I save almost everything I want to read to Pocket, an elegant and powerful reading app for tablets and smartphones. (I assembled this list partly by looking back at what I’ve saved in Pocket over the last couple of years.) From Pocket, it’s easy to send the real keepers to my Evernote account for archiving. I’d love to hear which publications you follow, so send me a note at email@example.com or leave a comment.
A provocative online-only magazine of ideas and culture, with sections on “world views,” “nature & cosmos,” “being human,” “living together,” and “altered states.” They have some amazing contributors, but there are no ads, so I don’t know how they pay for it all.
2. Ars Technica
Wired’s even geekier cousin at Conde Nast. Sheds a coldly rational light on everything from the Snowden leaks to fracking’s contribution to climate change.
3. The Atlantic
The oldest publication on my list—founded four years before the outbreak of the Civil War—but one of the most curious and wide-ranging. I have a digital subscription, but I always stumble across The Atlantic’s stuff via social media links before I get to it on my Kindle.
4. The Awl
If you have to indulge your secret taste for viral, BuzzFeed-style headlines, The Awl is the place to do it. The “curios and oddities” the site serves up are almost always interesting, bearing out its motto: “Be Less Stupid.”
I don’t know how Maria Popova does it. (Others have asked the same thing.) She’s the sole curator of an ad-free site that presents two or three reviews of new books every day, on subjects ranging from neuroscience to poetry to design, and of a corresponding Twitter feed that’s updated 20 to 40 times a day.
If you care about how the education establishment is evolving, the Chronicle is the most authoritative source. Amazingly, it’s got six whole people assigned to covering technology in education. (But in this area, it also has a newer rival: see Edsurge, next.) A goodly amount of the Chronicle’s content is outside the inevitable paywall.
Edsurge, a free weekly e-mail newsletter about technology in education, is led by Betsy Corcoran, a veteran of Scientific American, the Washington Post, and Forbes. It offers lively stories highlighting new edtech products, but it also asks tough questions, like whether learning to code is really better than learning a new language.
Kottke.org, begun by former Web designer Jason Kottke in 1998, isn’t a publication, but rather a classic link blog—maybe the classic link blog, alongside Boing Boing. It’s full of pointers to fun, unusual, trending, or eye-catching stuff around the Web. This week it led me to a great Washington Post chat with Elizabeth Kolbert about her book on the mass extinction event currently underway due to technology-induced climate change. (If you like link blogs and you like mobile tech, another must-follow is Jon Gruber’s Daring Fireball.)
9. Mother Jones
Mother Jones killed whatever chance Mitt Romney had at the presidency by breaking the story of the “47 percent” video. The irreverent, 38-year old publication is one of the last still doing real investigative journalism. It’s joined forces with The Atlantic, Slate, Wired, the Guardian, Grist, and the Center for Investigative Reporting to do big climate change stories at Climate Desk.
10. The New Republic
For a lefty magazine about politics written largely by outside contributors, The New Republic has surprisingly good technology coverage. Sean Wilentz’s recent piece about Edward Snowden and Julian Assange is a must-read for anyone upset about the revelations over the NSA’s spying programs. You can read eight free articles per month.
New York is mostly about New York: fashion, nightlife, restaurants, shopping. But its coverage of technology, especially the media world, is first-rate—I’d point to recent essays about Twitter, BuzzFeed, Zynga, and Facebook.
12. The New Yorker
No need to explain why this one is on my list. It’s long been the seat of good writing in English. But with people like Ken Auletta, Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Gopnik, Elizabeth Kolbert, and George Packer, Richard Preston, and John Seabrook on the staff, the New Yorker always offers stimulating coverage of science, technology, the environment, health, and the politics and business that surround them.
A daily e-mail newsletter (and mobile app) from San Francisco-based essayist and news junkie Dave Pell. NextDraft unfailingly identifies 10 interesting stories or clusters of stories from around the Web, usually including at least a few about the tech world. Every day three or four of Pell’s items go straight into my Pocket queue.
My alma mater. (And also Bob’s and Rebecca’s and Greg’s.) In addition to providing deep and early coverage of emerging technologies, TR takes stands on tough issues, like the need for genetically modified foods.
To be honest, I haven’t bought a paper copy of Wired in years. But fortunately, most of its articles are online—like Steven Levy’s exclusive look inside the NSA post-Snowden—and there’s a great selection of Web-only content, including one of the Web’s best technology op-ed sections. You can also buy a digital subscription (as you can for all of the magazines on this list).
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