Introducing Turkish tech journalists: Aytun Çelebi

Actually Aytun Çelebi was a software developer but he got the Medusa call and started writing for a magazine. Now it has been 21 years and he keeps journalism

As a tech journalist, Aytun Çelebi told me journalism kind of chose him, not the other way around. Having explained his realistic views on the current Turkish tech media scene, Aytun Çelebi said because now the companies’ revenues are much higher, now these products are sold to millions not thousands and they are able to deliver more samples if they want to, but they send less compared to 2000s and here comes the reason: they prefer to get more views per product. Here’s what Çelebi told me.

How did you start journalism? What prompted you to choose journalism?

First of all, I think journalism kind of chose me, I was just having fun. I got the Medusa call when I was a kid actually. The formula is simple, and most people had it in a similar way I suppose. I had a computer when I was a kid. I loved games. And there was a gaming magazine nearby called 64’ler. So, I started hanging out there, more like an office-boy. I was around when they were preparing the magazine.It was early 90’s, it was much more different than today and even from when I started of course, but I got the virus alright.

Later on in the end of 99, I was working as a web programmer, and I was invited to join a team for building a website (unrelated to tech actually) to Vogel Turkey, which had major tech publications like CHIP, Level, Herkes için Bilgisayar (HİB- Computer for Everyone) and IT Business (ITB) at the time. While I was installing a Linux server, editor-in-chief of ITB asked me if I could write Linux news for the weekly magazine, I said (or I like to remember myself as) “Hell yeah”. It followed with a weekly Java page. It followed with product reviews for CHIP and HİB (and later for Windows&.NET), and I guess my unplanned career started this way. It was one of my childhood dream jobs too, but I mean, I had couple of them, in case one of them fails I suppose.  

As a veteran tech journalist, what was your first contact with technology?

My cousin’s Amiga 500 when I was 4 years old and my Commodore 64 when I was 7. I was a fan of Commodore Magazine’s (which was prepared by Teleteknik, the C64 distributor back then) programming supplements. So, I started coding, I was writing machine code at school whenever I got bored from the class. That turned me into a C64 scene member, where I formed a group, cracked games, and distributed around at middle school. Afterwards, my family bought me a PC and the Internet came in my life which was a huge thing. It saved me from going to university labs (though I was younger to be a university student) where you could use PCs with net access. Eventually I turned into a web programmer, software and hardware geek in the following years. 

As you know, most journalists have a role model in their career. Who was yours?

Well, all role models inevitably fail one day for these reasons: all humans change, all things rot slowly, and our perspectives also adapt to changes around us. So, I always try to look at the strong sides or the good things whatever this role model is doing and try to take them as an example. As for who it was, it was never one person, it was usually the most people around.

I know you also worked at PR and TV. Why did you switch to those industries?

The TV wouldn’t count as a switch, I was managing a magazine and writing for a daily at the same time, benefiting from the advantages of working for a media holding. I don’t see it as a switch for PR though, as many technologies converge today and create new ones, just like what’s happening in AI or telecoms industries, the need to communicate is the main focus of everyone, including companies today. So, PR and journalism are in the same body now, that wasn’t on people’s mind 20 years ago, but the world has changed and evolved a lot since the tech really boomed. Now we are talking about when we are really getting Back to the Future things in our daily life, self-driving cars, AI predicting fatal illnesses from your birth, which also shows the colossal change in the society as well.

Back to your question; as a journalist you focus on how you communicate the message, which is news, and as a company you focus on the same thing, with the question “How will I relay this message to others” in mind. So, it seems like the next best job for a journalist to do and gives you great perspective after you work in it. And you get it every time when you look at a press release or interview someone or just go to a press launch.

You are a journalist with 20 years of experience. Can you talk about the technological changes in the Turkish media?

Turkish media rejected tech developments for a long while, longer than they should, I think. I know one editor-in-chief rejecting to use smartphones when iPhone 4 was around, some newspapers were still using Quark to design pages as if it was 80s, and this is not far away, just 5-6 years ago. The adoption to the Internet and understanding that it could be a channel, a separate, unique channel to deliver news is still not really complete, I guess. Using not adequate tools or services both hardware and software, pushed the media back, but even if you get the latest tools, there is still a problem in the mentality. A journalist of 2020s should be able to make the news as a whole, do your interview, prepare it to publish, shoot your own video, do the post production and these are not new, this seems like the journalist definition of 2000s in the developed countries, but now, now you also need to be the medium as well. You should directly communicate with people and do this in line with the media you work for. So, the media companies who fell behind in the race need to adopt to many things at once, which is very hard, and that’s why the ones who didn’t transform until now will fail if not humiliated.

How was tech journalism in the first days of your career? Can you compare it with today?

I think I caught the final years of the glorious times, where the magazines were selling tens of thousands, a product launch would have been a country wide event (like Windows launches), everyone got his/her hands on a sample and a company would go down if they’d make a mistake. Now, news turned into a box opening ceremony, a product launch is or samples are kept only for a number of brand-friendly journalists and a company might go after you, sue you for millions if they don’t like you. But hey, I don’t think that’s just tech media, huh?

What do you think about the current Turkish tech media scene?

As for the journalists, I never understood how a person who can’t back up his/her files or install an operating system or you know, change some setting on your devices, or at least read a real sci-fi story (sorry, watching its lousy Hollywood remakes don’t count) could be a tech journalist, and compared to past, the situation didn’t change, the numbers are growing.

Tech media is dependent on revenues, as there are more and more news coming out, so a publication needs more people to run, which makes the costs go up. On the other hand, the competition is high, since it’s a hot topic for everybody now, and this doesn’t make it easy for publications either.

Unfortunately, the revenues are pretty tight and the support from the companies is getting weaker day by day. Let’s say there is a new product, the manufacturers used to have tens of samples for each magazine, website etc. for press reviews, so that each publication would be able to experience the product and write about it.

There is a great conundrum here, because now the companies’ revenues are much higher, now these products are sold to millions not thousands and they are able to deliver more samples if they want to, but they send less compared to 2000s and here comes the reason: they prefer to get more views per product. So, a smaller publication not only lose viewership because they can’t review the product and publish more information about it, they also lose revenue, because in turn, the company thinks this publication is not writing about them and their products, so they don’t advertise on this medium.

This is a vicious cycle, and the companies are killing small media. As I told in previous question, this is a cycle and every player in the ecosystem be it a publication or manufacturer, feed each other. Also, this topic is not affecting the tech ecosystem, this is the same with automotive, or all other industrial publications, everybody is affected from this mentality.

Now, Turkish tech media scene is in a survival mode. It sounds fun but it is no PUBG, I tell you. I guess that is why the scene has become more brutal and makes people question why they are still doing this sometimes, or at least this is beginning to become all I hear nowadays.

That’s all I want to know. If you have anything extra, please add.

What people still mostly think is products (and services if you work in corporate) when they think of technology, but I think products and services are just a cheap facade now, one must look what’s behind it. Lots of ethical problems are waiting to be solved in many areas, people’s privacy and fundamental rights must be thought of and sustainability is another big question. If you want to bury your head in the sand and still pump the latest products, this is not 2000s, we have a world to take care of and every passing day, a tech journalist should think about “is consumerism good”, “how many times this company is going to act reckless about privacy” etc. when writing a story or shooting a video.

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