The Future of Tech Reporting: Thoughts from Jon Swartz of USA Today Tech

Tech journalism involves much more than reviewing the Apple Watch — although we admit we’ve been following those stories closely. The best tech stories uncover angles that haven’t yet been told and explore the broader implications of technology, says Jon Swartz, USA Today’s SF Bureau Chief and veteran technology columnist. We invited Swartz into our San Francisco office to hear about secrets to a good story, the shift in tech journalism and the importance of video in storytelling today.

The elements of a great story

A good story has tension, provides a new or controversial perspective, and gives context around an issue. An analysis that speaks to why is much more compelling than a list of features. Many tech stories read the same these days, and Swartz would like to see more contrarian points of view or stories that explore the potential implications of technology one or two steps beyond what other people are already talking about.

The key to events-based reporting

Simply making an announcement at an event isn’t enough to catch Swartz’s eye. He advises reaching out to him with details before the event — the earlier the better, say two to three weeks in advance — since that’s when he’s prewriting to set the stage with stats and context. Sending commentary the day after an event is useless and irrelevant, so don’t expect an email back. In general, Swartz says he prefers to focus on long-term feature pieces or opinion pieces based around events.

New storytelling formats

Video is the future, Swartz says, and he’s excited to incorporate multiple short videos into every story posted on USA Today Tech. He’s imagining 90-second video Q&As accompanying feature stories and 60-second interviews profiling the companies at a trade show. He also has a podcast in the works, and we look forward to seeing how Swartz and his team experiment with this form of storytelling.

In Swartz’s eyes, journalism faces an opportunity to embrace the new and unexpected. Tech companies and the PR industry need to embrace this, too. Don’t just tag along for the ride — think about ways to tell different stories that combine interesting ideas, challenge the status quo or ask thought-provoking questions.

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