Technology journalism and moral force

One of the things I love about ProPublica, the relatively young investigative journalism nonprofit, is that it states as its focus “stories with ‘moral force.'” But what kind of journalism fits this category? Upton Sinclair? Nick Kristof? My fear is that if we drafted a list of what and who comes to mind, it would contain far too little technology journalism.

I was in a meeting last week with a Massachusetts state senator who was explaining how a major portion of his constituents lack broadband access. They’re dealing with – not kidding – phone service failing when it rains. This is in Massachusetts. I think when most of us think about pockets of the country without broadband we think West Virginia, Mississippi, etc. But even here in Massachusetts the digital divide is all too real.

We have a great wealth of journalism on the consumer and business aspects of technology. If you want reviews of the latest gadget or the inside scoop on Facebook’s latest round there’s no shortage of information. But what about technology from a justice perspective? Certainly these topics get touched on (and there is lots of great academic work on the subject). But my sense is that they are under-served.

It is, of course, quite possible that far more writers and outlets on this subject are out there, and that I just haven’t found them. Is there someone out there today who can claim the mantle of Tech Upton Sinclair?

Yochai Benkler had a line at some point (failing to find the video at present) where, in speaking about his book’s thesis that commons-based peer production had positive moral implications, he said roughly The problem is it takes 500 pages to explain why. Tech journalists should take that as a direct challenge. Technology journalism with moral force is not only possible; it’s socially necessary.