The Revolt Against Journalism
European Straits | Monday Note
A controversy seems to have engulfed the whole tech community on Twitter. You’ll find more comprehensive sources at the end of this section, but let me sum up the chain of events as I understand it:
Steph Korey, the co-founder & CEO of Away, a startup designing and selling suitcases for travellers, resigned from her position at the end of last year following accusations that she had fostered a toxic work environment at her company. Later it was announced that she had reversed her decision and was back at the helm, this time as co-CEO.
Then a few days ago, while on maternity leave, Korey made disparaging comments toward media organizations on her Instagram account. This led Away’s board to announce that she would step down again after all, and journalist Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times had some harsh words for Korey. (Are you still following?)
The whole matter was then discussed in equally harsh terms as part of a private conversation over Clubhouse between Silicon Valley personalities, including Balaji S. Srinivasan: cofounder of Counsyl, a former General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, until recently the CTO at Coinbase, and a vocal proponent of cryptocurrencies and charter cities.
The recording of that conversation was then leaked, prompting Lorenz to express outrage and defend her work as a journalist. In reaction, Srinivasan has launched a campaign to challenge the idea that journalists are the only ones able to report on the tech industry and to demand more accountability toward the public and media subjects like Steph Korey.
There’s a lot to unfold here. Many see the whole story as Silicon Valley once again ruffling the media’s feathers, ignorant as they are of how the game is played at this level:
There is indeed a gap between the ways of the old and the new elites. In some cases there’s a clear need for Silicon Valley to grow up, as I once wrote in my article Silicon Valley Fits Its Market Now: Time For A New Playbook (in Forbes).
In other cases, however, my view is that journalists act out of arrogance, enthused as they are by their degrees, the prestige of their employer, and the number of people who follow them on Twitter. But at no point in their training, journalists are prepared to interact directly with the public, and it shows!
What’s more, the confrontation with that public happens in no small part because of how the Internet has changed the way information is produced and distributed. As I wrote in March 2019, discussing Martin Gurri’s masterful The Revolt of the Public:
Across the world, information coming from either individuals without any affiliations or emerging organizations [is taking] over information coming from more traditional, institutionalized sources…[As a result,] Individuals don’t have much respect left for experts and authorities. More and more, they prefer to get their information from those whose proposals and ideas resonate with their anger...We need to learn how to renew a trusting relationship with the multitude in a world where information is, quite literally, unchained.
And one year before that, in Internet Killed the Media Star:
What we’re witnessing is a Copernican revolution in professional journalism. To put it simply, I think that the future of the media industry in the Entrepreneurial Age is all about subjective coverage and ideological polarization—just like it used to be into the 19th century, right before the advent of mass media. Radical pamphleteers are now having their revenge. Meanwhile old-style, moderate journalists are stuck at the White House Correspondent Dinner listening to [comedian] Michelle Wolf, frightened that her burning jokes on Trump will endanger their relationship with the White House press office. Guess who’s going to win in the end?
Two things in conclusion:
I fully agree with Balaji that most full-time, professional, and supposedly “objective” journalists are bound to be marginalized by emerging amateurs or former professionals-turned-amateurs who share information and ideas for the sake of it and with more passion than their counterparts in the old media world. This is what Hamish McKenzie, the co-founder or Substack, described in his recent (excellent) What's next for journalists?
I see the same thing happening in Europe—indeed, I’m participating in the trend myself, both through this newsletter and the French-speaking Nouveau Départ with my wife Laetitia Vitaud. It’s possible that the shift will go more smoothly here because journalists are not engaged in a similar clash of the titans with giant tech companies. Not only is the European media world in a more dire situation, we don’t even have tech people like Balaji to participate in the clash.
That’s a bad thing, however, as it reveals how far behind Europe is in the race to build successful tech companies. But this weakness might be turned into a strength: maybe we can complete the shift from top-down institutions to decentralized journalism without going through the destructive clash?
Have a look at these recent sources if you want to learn more about the clash between Balaji and Taylor Lorenz and the implications when it comes to expertise in the Entrepreneurial Age:
Taylor Lorenz attacks a female CEO out of the blue (chronological feed—Balaji S. Srinivasan, Twitter)
Ari Paul about Lorenz quoting Srinivasan (Twitter)
Silicon Valley Elite Discuss Journalists Having Too Much Power in Private App (Jason Koebler, Anna Merlan, Joseph Cox, Vice)
And for additional context:
The Age of Amateurs (my wife Laetitia Vitaud, Switch Collective, August 2016)
Women and the future of media (also Laetitia, Laetitia@Work, April 2020)
What does Covid-19 mean for expertise? The case of Tomas Pueyo. (Warren Pearce, iHuman, June 2020)
Hiring Based on Side Projects: Unfair, But Good For the World (Byrne Hobart, The Diff, July 2020)
Nathan Tankus's Newsletter Subscribers Don't Care About Diplomas (Peter Coy, Bloomberg, July 2020)
😀 Nassim Nicholas Taleb just wrote a sharp (and geeky) explainer on why we should all wear masks (and why technocrats are unable to figure it out). It’s classic Taleb: complex at first, illuminating when you read it a second time, and topped with that thin layer of arrogance that’s become his trademark.
🙂 Deliveroo just launched a new product: Table Service. It wants to become the operating system of restaurants in a world haunted by COVID-19 and where physical contacts need to be kept to a minimum. I think it’s a brilliant move, but The Spoon has a more nuanced view.
😏 After seeing Grubhub snatched from under its nose (by Europe’s Just Eat Takeaway—see my note on the matter), Uber is apparently considering acquiring Postmates. Fortune’s Lance Lambert explains Why Uber is so hungry to double down on the unprofitable business of food delivery.
😐 India has banned more than 50 apps operated by Chinese tech companies (article from Azeem Azhar). It’s the direct consequence of the clash at the border in the Himalayas. It’s also a great opportunity for India’s Jio Platforms to accelerate its domestic growth. Here’s some more context (by me).
😒 Dominic Cummings is at it again. Back in January, I shared my doubts about his ability to reshape the British state. Since then he has survived a major scandal during the lockdown period and is moving forward with his ideas of a British DARPA and upgrading the civil service. I’m still not impressed.
😖 One of the pandemic’s legacies will be more zombie firms than we can handle. As a reminder, a ‘zombie firm’ is one that should be long dead but has been kept alive thanks to the quantitative easing that’s been ongoing since 2008 and then the more recent COVID-related stimulus plans. There have been lots of articles on the topic: here, here, here, and here.
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From Normandy, France 🇫🇷