S1:E6 – Technology Journalism (Kara Swisher)

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Technology has a big impact in our society. Some examples from the last decades are, the internet, personal computers, smart phones, and social media. Kara Swisher, a Technology Journalist, has been covering tech since the 1990s. We talked about what the panorama was like when she was first starting out as a reporter back then in Silicon Valley. We also talked about the impact of technology in journalism. Kara also talked about the lack of underrepresented folks in tech, and observations she’s made throughout her career.

kara-swisher
Kara Swisher

Transcript

[00:00:00] ES: I’m Edaena Salinas, Software Engineer and host of The Women in Tech Show a podcast about what we work on, not what it feels like to be a woman in tech. For more information about the show go to wit.fm.

Technology has a big impact in our society. Some examples from the last decades are, the internet, personal computers, smart phones, and social media. Kara Swisher, a Technology Journalist, has been covering tech since the 1990s. We talked about what the panorama was like when she was first starting out as a reporter back then in Silicon Valley. We also talked about the impact of technology in journalism. Kara also talked about the lack of underrepresented folks in tech, and observations she’s made throughout her career.

Before we move on with the interview. I’m really excited to announce that season 1 of the 5 minute mentor podcast is available. This is a podcast where you’ll get advice from prominent people in tech, authors, journalists, artists and more. Go to mentors.fm for more information about the show. Thank you.

Kara, welcome to the women in tech show.

[00:01:140] KS: Thank you.

[00:01:14] ES: You’re a technology journalist. You’ve been covering tech since the mid 90s. throughout your career, you’ve interviewed top technology executives, how do you prepare for these interviews?

[00:01:26] KS: Well, you know, I’ve been covering them for a long time. So I know a lot. I don’t spend hours and hours preparing because I’ve been covering them for 20 years. And so you know, I keep up on the news, I do a lot of reporting, I tend to know a lot of them pretty well. And I’m pretty up to speed on the stuff they say publicly and what I know to be true privately. And so, you know, it’s been an ongoing education for me for that many years. And so it’s a little probably easier for me than others because I sort of anticipate what they’re going to say and I try to sort of get them to tell the truth about what’s really going on.

[00:01:57] ES: What motivates you to do the kind of work that you do? I know you’ve been doing it for over 20 years.

[00:02:03] KS: You know, I just really think technology is when the most important force in the world. The top, the wealthiest, most powerful people in this world are now technology people, for the most part it used to be oil or other businesses that we’re sort of at the forefront right now, technology is one of the most critical parts of, of our world. I mean, right now, most of the tech companies are worth more than almost all the countries of the world, at least four fifths of the country, the world GDP is smaller than the value of some of these companies. And so, and they’re also accountable and elected for the most part. I just think it’s really interesting to write about the impact that technology has on the world right now, because it’s the most important force in the world right now.

[00:02:42] ES: And you went through that shift of seeing it become powerful force and a lot of wealthy people are in this area, from the people that you’ve interviewed or previous investigations, was there something that you’ve considered particularly revealing?

[00:02:57] KS: It depends on the person really depends on the time depends on the time period that I was covering. I mean, Microsoft, for example, has changed rather drastically from a very malevolent force in tech. And so a company that many people felt was dangerous to one that is quite doing a lot of good for the tech world and has a much better image than other companies. So it just changes over time.

[00:03:20] ES: Looking back, do you have any, regrets or something that you wish you had us different in any of the interviews that you’ve done?

[00:03:29] KS: I guess. It’s kind of a massive amount of people I’ve interviewed just even on my podcast, I’ve interviewed 600 people and before that, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more. So you know, I think I’ve pretty much one of the hallmarks that I have is I do ask people the questions I want to know and I don’t feel regretful from doing that.

[00:03:47] ES: Since you were covering tech very early on, and you got to talk to a lot of people that were running companies that were pretty small at the time that now became pretty big like Amazon and Yahoo. And at that time some people were skeptical about what they were building? Do you remember what it was like or what you were thinking at the time when you’re covering this emerging game changing technologies?

[00:04:13] KS: Well, you know, I always thought they were going to be big. I think the reason I started covering them was because I really felt like they were going to be massive the whole time. And so I always thought that this technique was sort of like the beginning of radio or the beginning of television or the advent of electricity. I always thought this was going to be big. And so even though they were small companies at the time, I really did. I think I understood probably more than others, how big these companies were going to be. So I think I really did always have a sense of what was going to happen.

[00:04:43] ES: One of the things, characteristic of the tech industry is the lack of underrepresented people, is this something that stood out to you since the beginning when you were covering this?

[00:04:54] KS: Well, I’ve been writing about that issue for a long time. Its lack of diversity, lack of women, people of color, Different people, it’s sort of a monolithic, tech is largely white male controlled and operated for a long time. And while there are other people in it, the leaders, the owners, the the money is all, it’s all the same group of people. And so I’ve always said, this is a problem, because any homogeneous society has, you know, problems of bad teeth or whatever, you know, genetically, you don’t want to have a homogeneous society. And so I’ve always felt like the lack of diversity has been a real lot of the problems of tech are relate directly to the fact that it’s homogeneous. And so I’ve talked a lot about that is a lack of representation on the board’s lack of representation. It’s in the top parts of the company, and things like that. And so I think it’s critically important, you know, especially as we move forward, that we have much more representation of different people. And I’m not just talking about women or people of color, I’m talking about age, economic background, political background, and I think it’s very important to have diversity because it leads to better products at the Two products that are more considered in. So I think that’s really important.

[00:06:03] ES: In 2018, you said that you hadn’t seen much change in this area. And in your opinion, it wasn’t really a priority for the industry. Do you think that has changed in the last two years?

[00:06:16] KS: I do not. I think it still remains the same homogeneous society. I think it’s absolutely the same. And I think there’s still not enough women in power that some people color and power, there’s still not enough women, people of color on the cap table. It’s just it continues to be the same old, same old.

[00:06:31] ES: Do you have any particular recommendations on how this could be like something that you wish they would do?

[00:06:40] KS: Well, no, they should hire more women, they should hire more people of color. I mean, they seem resistant to the idea of doing it and they don’t seem to want to do it. I think the way I do it is I do it from my perch where I say have you noticed that 70% of the management is men, white men, very few Asian few Asian men, there’s fewer Indian. I try really hard to point out the what is the obvious for most people’s point of view, which is that it’s just simply not diverse enough that leads to problems. I really do believe the issues are around any of the social networks is because the people in power have never experienced what others experience. And I think they’re not as aware as they can be. And they can’t be as empathetic as they can be.

[00:07:22] ES: Are you optimistic about this?

[00:07:20] KS: No, I don’t know. They can only change it if they change it. And there’s no reason for them to change it right now. They don’t have any impetus. But if you look at the top echelons of all these tech companies, it’s virtually the same person, or very similar people.

[00:07:37] ES: Technology, in particular, the internet, which is something that you started covering early on, has changed journalism significantly. One of the big shifts was going from print to digital, but there have been other changes in this area. Can you talk about some of the ways in which technology has impacted journalism, from your experience?

[00:07:58] KS: Well, I mean, everything’s going Digital and you know, from everything from the business plan, the advertising business has sort of fallen out the bottom of it and they make less money. The distribution platforms have changed how people get their news, they get them from Facebook. And Facebook is an enormous distributor of news. They don’t take any responsibility for that news that they distribute, you know, every aspect. You know, the way people report how quickly the report the use of Twitter, every single aspect of journalism has changed dramatically in the good parts, that it’s more accessible than ever at the bad parts. It’s more accessible than ever, which means any liar can get on there and put out false information.

[00:08:36] ES: Yes, and this is something I’ve been talking to recently with a lot of local journalists here in San Francisco, where they’re saying the ads model that has sustained journalism for over 200 years is dying.

[00:08:47] KS: The model for journalism has changed over a lot of time. I mean, the big advertising plays were like that before. They’re very different, how they used to get money by subscription, and then it was by advertising and then back to subscription, but there’s always been, you know, journalism has been a difficult profession no matter what song but right now, what’s happening are these massive structural changes around the business model of the distribution model that are very hard to combat at once. And journalists don’t have the technological background to compete in that regard.

[00:09:14] ES: What do you think can be done to help this though?

[00:09:17] KS: Well, I don’t know. Much can be it’s like small businesses right now. But in the pandemic, it’s really hard. I mean, how do you compete with these massive platforms, you can’t create your own platform, you’re all in different places, look at local news, they can’t compete by themselves. You can’t mount a technological challenge to bigger sites, you know, I think you have to get smaller, it’s going to contract and then you have the issue of not not enough journalists covering some very serious issues now that now To be honest, a lot of previous journalism had a lot of sloppiness to it. And a lot of like, not all of it was good. But the fact matter is, there could be a lot of more people thriving in the old system than the new one.

[00:09:54] ES: So you’re mentioning some of the journalism wasn’t very good?

[00:09:57] KS: Well, I just saying there’s sort of a romantic idea that every was so good, there was a lot of sort of mediocre journalism done for a long time, you know, that just wasn’t challenging. And there’s a lot more really great investigative stuff going on now, but it’s still the challenge that the business model and the distribution model faces makes it very hard for even the very best to compete.

[00:10:19] ES: One thing I saw in your ethics statement is that you say the following, and I’m just gonna start quoting: “Honoring a long term commitment to high standards of journalism is key to the success of my work”. In your opinion, what are some of the characteristics to high standards of journalism?

[00:10:360] KS: Well, I’d say fairness, accuracy, I think point of view is all right to have come to a conclusion. I don’t a lot of people just don’t think this but I do. I think as a journalist, you can say, you know, just like President Trump last night saying he was taking hydroxychloroquine you can say this is bad. And here’s the reporting on it. Like before, you’d say here’s the reporting on it, and you wouldn’t make a conclusion. today. I think it’s very fair and important. To listeners or readers or whatever audience you have to say, This is nuts what he’s doing right. So it’s okay to base analysis on good reporting, and come to a conclusion. I think that’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. So I think it’s really important to shoot to the basic tenets, which is Fairness and Accuracy but not shy away from having a point of view. I’m not calling it opinion because opinions not necessarily based on fact, but having a point of view based on factual reporting.

[00:11:26] ES: One last thing that I like asking us on the show at the end is, if they have any advice for young professionals, their advice can be you know about anything you see for your career, or just general life advice that you would like to say,

[00:11:40] KS: Oh, well, I have a lot of advice. I have a lot of children. So I always tell them my life advice. I think it’s really important to not be frightened, so easy right now in the pandemic to be frightened about your future and things aren’t going to turn out isn’t that there’s always a chance to single person can make a great deal of change and you yourself as a younger person in an early in a career can make Take a lot more risks than you do I find too many young people are risk averse, or they’re worried about what comes next. They’ve spent their whole life on the wheeled dribble wheel of achievement, and they don’t realize they can step off at any time and find new things that might risk failure. And I think that’s all right. And I don’t think we teach our kids enough about that the idea of risking things and trying new ideas and trusting your instincts. I think we keep them often too much on the same pathway. And I think there’s a quote, he says, paths are made by walking, which means just walk in the direction you want to walk, and you will find your path. And I think that’s the most important thing is giving people permission to say no to things and I don’t think enough people say no, I say no all the time. So I’m used to ‘No’, but I think it’s really important to be able to not be quite as inflexible in your career, especially at the earliest part.

[00:12:48] ES: Well, Kara, thank you for coming on the show. It’s been great having you.

[00:12:52] KS: Thank you.

 

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