Quiz: Which tech startup should I leave journalism for?
From Sasha Frere-Jones' exodus from The New Yorker to join the super-bros at RapGenius, to yesterday's news that one of CNN's top political correspondents had bolted for Snapchat, all the cool journalists are joining tech startups.
This is hardly a new trend -- Facebook poached The Wall Street Journal's Liz Heron in March of 2014 to run its news partnerships, and Twitter picked up The Guardian's Simon Rogers all the way back in 2013 to unearth trends and stories from the service's data stream. (The earliest example of big new tech platforms hiring journalists that I've found is Facebook bringing on Mashable's Vadim Lavrusik in April of 2011. Let me know if you've found any earlier instances).
Of course this is really an extension of a trend that's been around far longer: Journalists leaving their profession to do PR. And as Dan Lyons learned when he left ReadWrite(Web) for the marketing firm HubSpot in 2013 -- only to return to "journalism" a year and a half later to run the lifeless husk that Valleywag had become even further into the ground -- somebody will always take you back.
And so journalists: Take the leap! What's stopping you from casting aside the somewhat-compromised world of journalism for the enormously-compromised world of technology startups? It's clear that Facebook and the rest want to own how content is distributed and monetized... and you like making content right? Besides, you'll also make more money and probably be a lot happier.
But which startup should you choose? It's pretty tough -- they all have so much capital! So I've made this handy guide to help you pick the soulless technology firm that's just the right place for you to bury your ambitions of winning a Pulitzer. Or not.
(Note: I don't begrudge anybody who takes a high-paying tech job, especially if it helps support a family or avoid hardship. Even if you take a job like this for greed's sake -- Who cares? What this post takes issue with, however, are the notions that these tech companies truly care about the same things journalists care about -- truth, objectivity, independence from advertisers -- that leaving journalism for a position at a tech firm in no way calls into question one's journalistic integrity, and that people can easily return to the newsgathering flock without addressing the obvious conflicts of being asked to report on companies that moments earlier were paying them enormous sums).
Do you still want people to think of you as a journalist?If yes, your best bet is Buzzfeed (valuation: $850 million).
"But wait," you whisper in my ear, "Isn't Buzzfeed a journalistic organization, not a tech company?"
While Buzzfeed produces some great works of journalism (just yesterday it published a fantastic on-the-ground report from Baltimore) its loyalties are clearly aligned with the same brands that support Facebook's and Twitter's business models. And while you could argue that's been true of every news organization ever since the first brand ran an ad in newspaper ink, the unbundling of media on the Internet has led journalism outlets like Buzzfeed to operate more like tech platforms than the New York Times ever has or likely ever will -- where the first loyalty is to letting brands share their "message," not to reporting objectively. If anything, Buzzfeed's more akin to the content marketing agency Contently, which makes "brand storytelling" its primary goal while operating a separate organization called the Contently Foundation to publish works of investigative journalism. Maybe Buzzfeed should consider a similar, separate arrangement of its content properties.
Of course what Buzzfeed won't do, contrary to the beliefs of some in the New York media scene -- a scene that's become as insular and echoing as the Bay Area tech scene's ever been -- is beat back the ceaseless waves of self-loathing that creep ever closer to the foundations that give our souls flight. But then again, none of these companies will do that.
Alternate: If you still want to be considered a journalist, you could also join Snapchat (valuation: $15 billion). What Hamby has been brought on to do at Snapchat will, technically-speaking, be journalism. And considering the race-to-the-bottom we've seen at basically every major cable news channel, his new work may not be any less substantial than what he did at CNN.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen just how serious sources are when they describe Evan Spiegel to the New York Times "as holding the curated editorial approach of some of the world’s top publications in high regard.”* My guess is that like Mark Zuckerberg he'll continue to talk up the importance of the fourth estate using the same soaring language, even as his business decisions betray a predilection less toward hard-hitting journalism and more toward the light, airy brushstrokes of "content" -- fun, cheeky videos that reach an even far greater audience than the one Hamby had at CNN, but leave a much shallower impact on each consumer than truly important journalism can.
Does human sexuality -- especially female sexuality -- make you uncomfortable?This one's easy: Facebook (market cap: $230 billion).
Over at Facebook, nobody will mistake the "news partnerships" you oversee -- which in the near future could lead to Facebook taking control over the only things news organizations have left: their data and distribution channels -- for journalism. But moreover, you'll become aligned with Mark Zuckerberg and his army of Puritanical algorithms, which are using their ever-increasing control over what content the world does and doesn't see to rid the Internet of anything risque -- or at least to prevent anybody from seeing it.
Facebook banned New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz last month after he posted photographs and other representations of male and female genitalia. And even if Saltz's intentions were primarily to provoke, many of these images had artistic or historical value. A few months earlier, the network banned a page promoting a topless calendar produced by a women's crew team for charity — the images were all PG-13 — but did nothing to police a page promoting a similar calendar from the mens’ team. And most recently, Facebook's subsidiary Instagram removed a photo -- twice -- depicting menstrual blood in a move the photographer called “the exact response my work was created to critique.” Instagram finally reinstated the photo, but only after public outcry which became so widespread because the photographer has a huge social media following. Artists with less robust "personal brands" may not be so lucky.
If the Internet is the new TV as some have argued, then Facebook is bland, primetime network TV. But hey they're absolutely rolling in it.
Are you a good person with well-rounded interests?Work at Twitter! (market cap: $33 billion. Sorry. It was lot higher earlier today!)
Twitter doesn't care about menstrual blood or bare chests. If Facebook is network TV, Twitter is sexy sexy HBO. Nobody will call you a journalist anymore. But at least they won't call you an asshole.
What's more, CEO Dick Costolo is so nice to his users, responding to their concerns and operating with the utmost hesitancy whenever he makes a change to the service that might limit how much fun they're having on it. In fact, Costolo is so nice to users that I'm not sure he even wants to make money off them! What a guy!
Of course with Wall Street growing increasingly impatient with Twitter's slower-than-expected revenue and user growth, you might not have a job for long. But who cares, jobs just age you, man. Get out there and live life. Find a mountain stream to bathe naked in as you hold eye contact with an elk on the yonder ridge. Run through meadows of wildflowers as dusk kisses the infinite horizon before you. And sing lullabies to the stars that hang above you, shining as beautifully and purely and unmonetizeably as a million billion tweets.
Do you want to move markets?Better update your page on LinkedIn (market cap: $32 billion) because that's where you're applying.
Sure, nobody cool uses LinkedIn. But that's because nobody who manages or owns millions of dollars in assets is cool. Beyond servicing lowly freshmen looking for internships in vain, LinkedIn has become a powerful media company in its own right, with Digiday calling its head editor Dan Roth "the most powerful editor in business publishing." And the crazy thing is, that isn't a hyperbole. Roth, a veteran of Fortune and Wired, spends his day handpicking the smartest, most valuable pieces of business journalism from all over the web and serving them up to a readership that is more serious, more influential and wealthier than you'll ever be -- that is, unless you leave journalism to work for LinkedIn.
Do you actually have a degree in engineering or computer science?It's probably no coincidence that the number one company on Glassdoor's list of the Best Places To Work doesn't hire journalists. And so you better have some real skills -- other than talking to strangers and hanging out on Twitter -- if you want to work for Google (market cap: $383 billion).
Google's influence over what is and can be known has waned a bit with the rise of social networking, but as Pando's Mark Ames writes the company still has a "near-monopoly" on how humans and machines locate information. And it's retained that power without ever hiring a journalist to do the things journalists are good at -- as far as I know, anyway.
Google is the most successful consumer Internet company of all time. That's why, even if they have some shady government contracts or even if they try to screw you out of wages, if you're an software engineer this is where you want to work. On that same note, if you're a journalist, you want to work for The New York Times or The New Yorker or other outlets worthy of italics, not Facebook or Snapchat or Twitter. Because even if these pillars of writing and reporting reach smaller audiences than the tech companies -- and go out of business doing it -- they will always produce the best journalism. Which leads me to the last question...
Do you have an insatiable ego? And would you rather feed that ego than feed your family?Stay in journalism.
- An entire version of this article mistakenly directly quoted Evan Spiegel on his feelings toward journalism. This quote came from sources and was paraphrased by the New York Times