Many of you have likely read the latest in a series of profiles of Kara Swisher, the grizzled WSJ reporter who struck out with Walt Mossberg to found Recode. If you haven’t, you should, because it’s pretty good. Swisher is an amazing reporter, and someone who I personally respect a great deal.
Featured in the story is a panel from the South By Southwest Interactive conference this past March, in which Swisher, Martin Bryant from The Next Web, and Jemima Kiss from the Guardian discuss why a tech blog did not break the Snowden leak. In fact, the panel’s title was “Why Didn’t A Tech Journalist Break PRISM?”
For my part, I participated in this panel because I retain the hope that the publication I help run will, indeed, break the next PRISM story. It would be great if we could nurture our young reporters to be as hard-hitting as a Glenn Greenwald or a Michael Arrington or a Kara Swisher even.
I hoped that dialogue with my fellow reporters at this panel would help us all confront some of the problems in tech media, including the fact that it is sometimes very PR-driven, and sometimes very conflicted. I’ve written about this before, and have been very clear and outspoken about my views.
At one point during the panel, The Guardian’s tech director Jemima Kiss recounted a story where GCHQ (the British equivalent of the NSA) showed up at her offices and demanded that they destroy the Snowden hard drives, which they did knowing there were copies. I was impressed, and mentioned that since Aol — our parent company — was a participant in PRISM, I was not sure if we would have had the ability to fend off the same attack. “I wish we could,” I said.
This context led into the next quote, which has been frequently cited since it was highlighted by New York Magazine: “[I] would have succumbed to the pressure of the Obama administration now.” There is an “I’m not sure if I …” left out there.
From what I recall, during the conversation at SXSW, Kara and I both held that, compared to our esteemed peers at the Guardian, we in the Silicon Valley tech media ecosystem are embedded deeply in what we cover. Here is the quote attributed to me, published by New York Magazine:
“Techcrunch “is just a cheerleader,” she said, and “a lot of tech media is sort of in the pockets of the people we cover … We’re inviting them to our parties. We might be dating some of them. We are right in the middle, in the thick, of the tech industry.”
I do not remember my exact words above, but then again, I did not know that my inside baseball panel dissecting problems in tech journalism would be used to make me look like I’m happy about the above situation. If I had known, I would have tried to be more concise. Or seem less complacent.
So if I may, I’d like to set the record straight here. I’m not happy or cheerful about tech media’s flaws. I think they are an obstacle to the truth. And yes, I worry about my sources getting fired. I don’t think that it makes Kara Swisher better that she “doesn’t” (If she, in fact, doesn’t. I personally believe that she cares about the fates of her sources as much as I do). My “That’s why you’re better than us” response quoted in the article was tongue-in-cheek.
Self-awareness is a gift and TechCrunch is better off understanding, and willing to be transparent about, the current state of tech media. Even if it means risking being taken out of context to fit someone else’s competitive agenda.
We are not afraid to piss people off here, but if we do, we do it with purpose. I could link to specimens of our more critical coverage to prove my point, but that would be cheap.
Instead, I’ll just ask that you please keep reading.