This month In the Tank, we talk to Alex Kantrowitz, author of the newsletter Big Technology and CNBC contributor to discuss the current state of tech journalism, how social media has impacted the industry, and how he chooses his next story.
You are one of several high profile journalists who have recently left prominent media outlets to go independent. Tell us about Big Technology and what drove your decision to go out on your own.
Big Technology is a new publication I founded to cover the Tech Giants with nuance and focus. My book, Always Day One, digs into the workplace cultures of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. In writing it, I looked into these companies’ physiology, examining who they are, not simply what they do. Big Technology continues that work. It’s a weekly newsletter and podcast that gets at the heart of what’s going on with these companies.
Having covered some of the largest companies in the world for their innovation, what has it been like seeing them now at the forefront of news for taking stands on non-technology topics like civil rights, disinformation, and politics? Do they have a responsibility to act?
It’s not surprising. All tech is politics now. People used to pay attention to the latest advances, like how a messaging app used machine learning to deliver GIFs faster. But after companies set up the key infrastructure, we began to reckon with how these products were changing the world, because they undeniably were. Now, Congress is scrutinizing content moderation decisions and even enterprise technology companies are deciding whether they’ll work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Software was going to eat the world. Then it ate it. Now we’re trying to understand the implications.
News used to be broken when the paper hit your front step. Now it’s a series of 280-character Tweets. How has the immediacy of social media forever changed journalism?
Social media is bad for journalism. Platforms optimized for engagement and outrage don’t reward stories told with the nuance. Twitter is breaking people’s brains. I hope mine survives. But it’s no guarantee. This is why I like email.
Every week it feels like there’s another landmark story being broken about one of the tech giants or an up-and-coming Silicon Valley darling. In such a crowded space, how do you determine your coverage?
There are many great stories, but there’s still a lot of room to do great work. Imagine each of these companies as countries unto themselves, with foreign policy, domestic policy, civic unrest, and mini-economies humming within them. That’s a lot of action. As for what stories I pick, I aim to swing big and follow my curiosity.
What’s been the biggest/most important technology story of 2020 and why?
Tech giant antitrust will be the biggest tech story for the foreseeable future. What happens in Washington in the coming years will shape Silicon Valley for decades.
To keep up with Alex, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his newsletter Big Technology/listen to the podcast. You can also check out his book Always Day One, which digs into the inner workings of the most powerful companies in the world.
Interested in sharing your insights in journalism, marketing, or communications in a future installment of In the Tank? Drop us a line.