About five months ago, New York magazine’s Benjamin Wallace called to ask for my opinion of Kara Swisher who at the time had just launched Re/Code.
Today his excellent profile of “Silicon Valley’s Most Feared and Well-Liked Journalist” was finally published. From our hour long conversation Wallace only used a couple a quotes which, it turns out, was plenty to sum up my view of Swisher. In short: She’s a fine journalist, and Re/Code is a great site, but the meme of her as someone who doesn’t care who she upsets, or who doesn’t kiss anyone’s ass, is just ridiculous.
Still, at least Swisher talks a good game. And at least she is a journalist.
Contrast that to the most incredible part of the profile: An episode from a panel at this year’s South by Southwest conference starring Swisher and TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis. (Full disclosure: In a previous life I was one of Tsotsis’ editors at TechCrunch.)
Swisher and fellow panelist Alexia Tsotsis, the co-editor of TechCrunch, spoke of the non-investigative nature of the bulk of their coverage—fundings, job changes, new product features.
Tsotsis was especially abject, suggesting that even if she’d received the Edward Snowden documents, she probably “would have succumbed to the pressure of the Obama administration now”; 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.” (Tsotsis dates a partner at General Catalyst, a venture-capital firm.)
She noted that TechCrunch was entrepreneur-friendly from its inception and said she stays up nights worrying about sources getting fired: “There’s a part of me that’s like: No, don’t leak this to us!”
“I never say that,” Swisher said.
“That’s why you’re better than us,” Tsotsis said sweetly.
Jesus fucking Christ.
she probably “would have succumbed to the pressure of the Obama administration now”; TechCrunch “is just a cheerleader,”
I get it. It’s engaging and all, to say you’re “a cheerleader” who “might be dating” the people you’re covering. I’m sure it played great to the nerds in the room. And “sweetly” admitting that you’re not as good as a rival editor — and that’s just dandy! — is just all fucking kittens and rainbows. I’ll even let slide nonsense about how TechCrunch was “always” entrepreneur friendly to the point where leaks would be discouraged: Perhaps Michael Arrington will have something to say on that one.
But to get into specifics: To admit to the world that it just takes a call from a guy in Washington to get you to throw your reporters under the bus… to actually boast about doing that... at a time when that mention of Edward Snowden (who keynoted at that same SXSW, by the way) underscores how writing about the intersection of technology and power isn’t a fucking game any more…
That’s not cute. It’s not “sweet.” It’s disgusting. With that quote Tsotsis told the world there will never be anything on TechCrunch that remotely risks upsetting powerful people and, if it does, they have her personal guarantee it’ll be removed promptly.
In any news organization where reporters give a shit about their work, that line should be a death knell. It should be the admission that prompts every reporter who works at TechCrunch — anyone who gives a single shit about speaking truth to power, and defending the first fucking amendment –to slam their resignation letter onto their boss’ desk and walk out the door.
The sad twist, of course, is that everyone reading this knows exactly what will happen next. Or, rather, what won’t.
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.
Her post ends…
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.
Yes, it’d be cheap to link to examples of TechCrunch’s fearless, non-press release coverage. But a thousand words of gibberish about how you were just kidding about your willingness to throw your reporters under the bus… man, that’s gold-plated class.
Remember journalism noobs: It’s slander if it’s spoken, libel if it’s written… and neither if it’s true.