The Verge’s Silicon Valley editor discusses tech media, recent issues with Facebook, and more
OneZero is partnering with Big Technology, a newsletter and podcast by Alex Kantrowitz, to bring readers exclusive access to interviews with notable figures in and around the tech industry. This week, Kantrowitz sits down with Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at the _Verge, to discuss the state of tech journalism, recent developments at Facebook, and more. This writeup of their discussion has been edited for length and clarity._
To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on [iTunes_](https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/big-technology-podcast/id1522960417), [Spotify_](https://open.spotify.com/show/4ln6H9peIXhq19yv3CdOvE?si=FHBOrWuKQTSKvcskN9zYag)_, and [Overcast_](https://overcast.fm/+eW53PfCDQ).
Part of the tech world is fed up with tech journalists. Reporters, in their view, are out to get them, looking to score points by taking down companies and founders. Journalists talk about these accusations in private, and now you can read (or listen) to one of these conversations in public. As the Big Technology Podcast makes its debut, Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at the Verge, joins to discuss the recent backlash to tech reporting, along with his perspective on Facebook, and life as a newsletter writer.
Alex Kantrowitz: Let’s start with the question that’s on everyone’s mind — Is the tech press bad?
Casey Newton: No, the tech press is really good. The tech press, I think, has done probably the best work of its life collectively over the past four years. I feel like I have a much better understanding of the inner workings of the biggest technology platforms today than I’ve ever had, and it’s because of the incredible work that so many people are doing around the country and the world.
Why do so many people hate it then?
I think there’s a separate but related question, which is about the health of our information ecosystem more broadly. And there, I do see some trouble spots. I think there are three algorithms that have reshaped the American press in ways that we are just now starting to confront. You have Google and Facebook, which can serve up this incredible fire hose of traffic to publishers so long as they cater to the ever-shifting whims of that algorithm.
And that has just resulted in a lot of really cheap-to-produce content like “what time is the Super Bowl” and “John Oliver destroyed this industry last night. Here’s the clip.” And all of that stuff is mostly harmless, but it has robbed publications of their individual identities. So, every website is just a version of every other website, and I think that has kind of undermined trust in the press generally because there’s just kind of a sameness to it.
“One day you’re beating up on Facebook for leaving up too much hate speech, and the next day, you’re beating up on them for taking down too many legitimate ads.”
Then, the third algorithm is the Twitter algorithm, where in a world that is full of calamity, only the sort of noisiest, most scandalous, most outrageous stories break through. And because that’s where reporters are hanging out all day, and where they’re flogging their stories, I do think that that has led all of us to underline the elements of scandal and outrage in everything. And that has a wearying effect.
I think there’s scandal and outrage fatigue, but I also think it has undermined trust in the press, because most people’s experience of us on Twitter is a bunch of snarky bastards who are constantly pointing at outrage and scandal. And so, maybe people have less of an idea of who we are, what we stand for, what our principles are. I just think the collective force of those three algorithms has warped people’s experience of the press into something very different than what their experience would have been 20 years ago.
Typical tech journalist take. You just go ahead and blame the algorithms instead of the people. I agree with you. I tried to put myself in the shoes of some of the people in the tech industry — what they see is simply a group of people trying to take them down and then playing that Twitter outrage cycle. Do you see any truth to that, and do you think that perception needs to be corrected? How does this change?
I think that people who work at tech companies don’t know what our principles are and what we stand for. I think if you are reading the average story about Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon, unless you have a personal relationship with that reporter, you might not know what that reporter’s goals are. In my experience, most reporter’s goals are to speak truth to power, to hold power to account, to find wrongdoing. And so if there is a story that is negative, I feel like it is usually coming from that place.
But it’s also the case that these platforms are really complicated, and frankly, I think we don’t know how we feel about questions like which posts on the internet need to come down and which should stay up. That results in coverage where one day you’re beating up on Facebook for leaving up too much hate speech, and the next day, you’re beating up on them for taking down too many legitimate ads.
If you’re an employee at that company, you might look at those stories and think, “This publication has no idea what it thinks about anything. I’m just going to tune all of that out as noise.” That’s why one of the things that I did with The Interface last year was, I just wrote a page that was basically like, “Here’s how I see the world. Here are the things that I’m concerned about. Here are the questions I’m trying to answer.” And I just found it invaluable in kind of setting my own audience’s expectations and guiding me day to day as I’m writing about these issues.
You have your own statement of where you’re coming from on your site.
Yeah. I think it’s worth more reporters considering doing something like that. I think it forced me to confront issues like, what is my own ideal content policy? What are the things that I’m most concerned about? And then it allowed me to follow those questions down a path. So, my coverage can be somewhat incremental. I’m kind of hunting the same set of subjects every day, I think, to the extent that more reporters can do that. I think that will build trust.
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