It’s certainly no secret that the digital age has complicated journalism. How then do we distinguish time-tested sources like The New York Times or The Washington Post from more up-and-coming click traps like Buzzfeed? And what about social media networks like Facebook and Instagram as news sources?
Senior writer at TechCrunch, Jordan Crook, has spent enough time in the industry to grasp some of these complications. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, from a very young age, and spent time at NYU and then Mobile Marketer, before suddenly landing the job at TechCrunch. For Jordan, technology is a lot about learning more about people. “Why do people care about getting 11 likes on Instagram? Why is Tinder the way we’re dating now?” Jordan Crook says. “It’s more about the human story than anything else, and tech is a good way to look at that.”
IVY Magazine was able to sit down with Jordan Crook in between her time onstage as the host of TechCrunch DISRUPT, the company’s massive annual conference that was located in Red Hook this year. She gave us the scoop on the latest startups and the story of how she became one of the most well-respected journalists in the tech industry.
How do you think social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have changed the way stories are covered?
There’s good things and bad things to it. One good thing is that we can have a discussion instantly across the globe with something like Twitter or Instagram. The problem is that things are less in depth than they’ve ever been. Everything’s bite size. Everything’s snack-able. Because of that there’s less and less journalism out there that really goes deep into anything. I think people know more about a large number of subjects but they know less in terms of depth on those subjects. There are pros and cons to everything.
What do you think about the conflict between more mainstream news outlets like The New York Times and smaller guerrilla sites like Buzzfeed?
I think there’s room for everyone. We’re in trouble when we don’t have The New York Times anymore. I think it’s kind of the north star of journalism in a lot of ways. We look to them as the standard-bearer. And Buzzfeed has a lot of really great journalism alongside its listicles and quizzes. I go to Buzzfeed all the time just for entertainment and to take a break. Like I said, I think there’s room for everything. It’s about how we monetize media in the next ten years – that’s going to be the more important question than how many sites there are or the conflict between them. It’s about how we’re going to make money and actually keep the business going.
What do you think about monetizing the future of journalism?
I’m not one of those people that’s against native advertising or sponsored content. I think it has its place, and it’s all about being honest with your readers. So, I think that is a solid option. I also think that we don’t think all the time about journalism having a retail presence or an offline presence, but that’s exactly what Disrupt is. That’s a huge revenue generator for us.
Basically, what journalists have to offer is access to information. I might be able to call up John Borthwick (Founder and CEO of Betawork) or another bigwig at one of these companies and talk to him or her on a regular basis, and I take for granted that my readers can’t do that. If you can open up those channels and give people an opportunity to meet or speak to or listen to the people we interact with on a daily basis as journalists, then I think there’s a real opportunity to make money in that space. In events, essentially.
TechCrunch has changed a lot in the last ten years. Has that been successful?
We’ve changed, and I think we’ve also stayed very true to our core. The tenets of what TechCrunch does are being the leading source of news for both the really high level entrepreneur or investor, as well as someone who doesn’t know anything about tech and wants to find out what app they need to be downloading. Our key is just to be honest with our readers, as honest as possible. We never want to get so caught up in Silicon Valley that we forget the real world. I think that while we’ve changed a lot, at the end of the day we hold true to that, and that’s the most important thing.
There’s also the AOL and Verizon acquisitions. For us, we just see it as more access to resources and infrastructure as opposed to having dark overlords or anything. They leave us alone, and they let us do our thing. We always try to keep that startup mentality though, because that’s who our readers are. We need to stay grounded in that underdog mentality.
Do you think journalists have an ethical responsibility to be impartial when covering the election?
I think it’s a huge issue, actually, right now. Journalism has traditionally been about removing your bias entirely from a situation, but we’re finding out more and more that you would rather hear news from your best friend than you would from anyone else. People choose sites like Gawker or TechCrunch because those sites do offer an opinion. They offer analysis, and you get to hear it from someone who feels like a friend.
So, with that the line blurs quite a bit, because on the one hand I’m a liberal, and Trump in the Oval Office seems like a disaster to me. If I had my way, no one would write anything about him, but that’s not necessarily journalism. It’s our job to paint both sides of the story. It’s a very complicated issue. There’s a lot of debate about it. I can’t give the perfect right answer, but I do know it’s an important issue, and we need to talk more about it.
There’s been a lot of news lately about Facebook suppressing conservative stories in its trending section. What do you think about that?
I don’t think it’s surprising in any way. Facebook is a corporation. They are built to make money and to push their own agenda. There is a lot of responsibility in having almost 2 billion users on your platform – most of the world is on Facebook – and I think they take that responsibility really seriously. At the same time, they never promised to be The New York Times. They never promised to be The Washington Post. They promised to be a social network.
So do you think it’s ethical for them to curate the trending section on the site?
It’s probably not ethical, is what I would say.
What do you think about the echo chamber effect?
There are far more news sites now, and there is far less depth to everything. I think the echo chamber is just a small symptom of a greater issue, which is how much work it takes as a reader to be informed. My dad talks about when he was a little kid and there was an election, you’d open up the newspaper, and they’d have a table there right in front of you. They’d have all the candidates on top and all the issues along the side, and you could see exactly where everything lined up with what you needed. That just doesn’t really exist anymore.
Today, you’re getting sound bites. You’re getting things that have the highest ratings. Knowing where anyone stands on anything is more and more difficult. I would say that that’s a symptom of a larger issue, which is how do readers stay well-informed with so much content out there that they have to curate themselves?
What is a billion-dollar tech startup that no one has heard of?
It’s not a social network, I can tell you that.
I’m really interested in the on-demand economy – there’s something really interesting going on there in terms of what people will do for convenience and how much they will pay to have something done for them. I also whoever can tie the internet of things together – Amazon is trying to do that with the Echo – whoever can make it easy to access all of the smart devices that you have around you is going to be a big winner, because the language is missing. The connective tissue is missing.
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