What a top tech blogger has to say about journalism
One of the speakers was Kara Swisher, the founder of AllThingsD.com, an immensely popular tech, media and Internet news site (4 million readers) which she launched 5 years ago after she personally began to think that printed newspapers were becoming irrelevant.
Swisher doesn’t mince words. You would expect nothing less from a hardened journalist – one who turned down a gig covering the White House when she worked at the Washington Post because she was interested in a new phenomenon: the Internet, and AOL.
At the time, she told a man for whom she has great affection, Don Graham of the Post — now on the board of Facebook, by the way — exactly what she thought of the paper (outmoded), and quit. She decamped for the Wall Street Journal, where she started covering digital issues out of the San Francisco bureau in 1997 and also wrote the BoomTown column about the sector.
In 2000, she pitched a blog to the Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones, whose response was: “What’s a blog?”
“I said, ‘Why don’t we tape a joint between every page [and then people will read the paper],’” Swisher recalled.
Dow Jones also pushed back by saying bloggers regularly got the facts wrong – they didn’t do proper reporting. At which point Swisher presented the list of “43 mistakes” that the paper had made so far that year.
Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher and Steve Jobs at the website’s spinoff D8 Conference in 2010.
Skip to today. All Things D is staffed with serious journalists. And the staff’s personalized ethics statements are posted prominently, including Swisher’s own fascinating and lengthy one.
The site is unusual in several ways. First, it is wholly owned by Dow Jones and adheres to the journalistic standards of the best of the mainstream media. But, because it is run autonomously as a small online start-up (Swisher and tech columnist Walt Mossberg have skin in the game), they bring “fresh thinking and nimbleness of the best of the new media. We want to be first, and sassy, but also well sourced and accurate. We will offer lots of opinion and analysis, but plenty of fact as well.”
If you are among Swisher’s more than 800,000 Twitter followers, you know what she means. In fact, Twitter is one of their biggest traffic drivers.
With a staff of 7, the site broke seven of the 10 biggest tech stories of the year, Swisher says, and makes money. How many other journalists are providing revenue for the front office? (The Wall Street Journal has dozens of reporters on the same beats, she notes.)
Swisher also said that she does not reveal web traffic results to her reporters on their stories because then the staff would only write about Apple. If I were Swisher (who has a fondness for LOLcats) I’d insert one here:
While Swisher’s Harvard presentation about tech trends was interesting – SoMoLo, Big Data and LOLcats among them – the point of her talk was to admonish the reporters in the room for “not keeping up with digital information.”
“Journalists need to be more entrepreneurial,” she said.
But then, the same holds true for investors.
The big trend in Silicon Valley these days? According to Swisher, “a lot of big minds are chasing small ideas.”