A few weeks ago someone asked me what websites I used to keep up-to-date on topics like aviation and outer space. Here was my response:
None you would know.
I then went on the list several sites I visit regularly. While my response was accurate (and sarcastic) it wasn’t out of some attempt to be an elitist or a renegade. The simple fact is that most websites out there just aren’t very good at reporting the type of news I, or any engineer, need to stay current.
Education: Most pro or semi-pro bloggers have zero technical background. Their degrees are usual centered on communications or some other “arts” degree. While this makes them better writers than the technical folks (myself included) they lack the requisite BS meter, and the ability to see issues larger than the headline they are working on.
Research: When an announcement is made on a new technological breakthrough, or a novel application of a technology every website is pushing to get the info up first. For that reason the news is rarely more than a Google search and/or a paragraph taken from Wikipedia. Go on, try it; I dare you. This means that all you are reading is effectively a free promotion for whoever issued the announcement since all that is being reported is what this party is pushing.
They want your clicks: Like or not any for profit website lives and dies by web traffic. The faster they can drive you to a post and the longer they keep you there, the more money they will make. To do this they often disguise the meat of an article or hide it lower in on the page. They also use splashy headlines to grab your attention even though they are less than accurate.
Trend-following: What’s hot on Engadet, Wired, Gawker, etc? The same exact thing. Once one website has something new or slightly unique the others are quick to follow. The entire system is set to duplicate information as quickly as possible; this often comes in the form of “republishing” or reporting on a report. This means only the big headline information gets broadcasted, often times it is the small often innocuous that are the most important in my area of expertise. Scientists moving a coefficient of anything a hundred thousandths in either direction is big news for me, but won’t get people posting in the comments.
This is not a rant on how mainstream media operates. It operates the way it does for a reason: consumer demand and profits. I don’t begrudge these people from making money. They are also entertaining. Let’s face it: scholarly articles, while informative, are often dull and the websites they appear on are unimaginative.
For current and engineers in training: Please PLEASE do not rely on these types of sites for your technical updates. They are flashy and fun, but lack the technical meat we need. Just because an author calls him/herself a nerd or geek doesn’t make them a engineer or specialist. Usually they are just someone with skinny jeans and chunky glasses.