Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are angry about the way journalists cover their failures

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs don’t seem to understand the social mission of journalism. Because so many of them are libertarians, they may not recognize the need for that social mission, in which case they don’t see why journalism needs to exist; they would prefer if all journalists were converted in public relation workers who could hype whatever the entrepreneurs needed hyped. This article in Vice reports on a conversation among Silicon Valley insiders, and the venom they expressed towards certain journalists who’ve covered Silicon Valley. The conversation is sad and interesting

“When it comes to our industry, there’s a really, really toxic dynamic that exists right now,” Nait Jones, an Andreessen Horowitz VC, said on the call while speaking about recent reports about abuse in the tech industry. “Because those stories were so popular and drove so much traffic, they also created a market for more of those stories. They created a pressure on many reporters to find the next one of those stories inside of a fast growing tech company because those stories play very well on Twitter, especially around protecting vulnerable people.”

(In 2020, the idea that fishing for “clicks” to drive ad revenue is a successful or even common business model is a fallacy. Publications that rely exclusively on advertising are failing at an astonishing rate; financially, many journalistic outlets are increasingly moving away from an ad-based revenue model driven by traffic, and instead focus on live events, subscriptions, optioning their articles to movie studios, and other models that rely on having a dedicated readership that trusts the publication).

The exclusive users of Clubhouse on the call seemed to conceive of themselves as humble citizens preyed upon by corrupted elites cravenly lusting after money and power; this reached a bizarre apogee when Srinivasan boasted of standing up for the CEO of a scandal-plagued luggage brand, depicting her as all but powerless because of her relatively low Twitter follower count. The conversation essentially resembled a Gamergate chat, with people obsessing over minute drama and, at times, suggesting that Lorenz had crossed a line on Twitter and must be punished.

…The conversation was set off by a series of exhausting, insidery events from the last two weeks. Some in the Silicon Valley set turned their sights on the Times after Scott Alexander, a psychiatrist who ran the philosophy blog SlateStarCodex, deleted the entire blog because he said the Times was going to “dox” him by publishing his real name in an upcoming story. (It is worth noting that Alexander has republished SlateStarCodex blogs in books using his full name.) This event resurfaced an ongoing and tedious discussion among venture capitalist types about journalism ethics, business models, and publishing incentives.

…Wednesday, Korey, the co-CEO of Away, a direct to consumer luggage brand that was the subject of an expose in The Verge last year, published a series of Instagram Story posts in which she suggested that she was unfairly targeted by The Verge in part because she is a woman. She also said that journalists should be easier to sue, and suggested that the main thing driving journalism is “clicks.” The Verge story focused on a culture of abuse at Away under Korey’s leadership; workers there said they were prevented from taking vacation, were banned from emailing each other, and worked extremely long hours.

“The incentive isn’t to report what’s happening,” Korey wrote. “It’s to write things that will be shared by people on social media. And several of these digital-only outlets have nearly nonexistent editorial standards (especially the click baity-y ones, you know who they are). Side note: I could write a whole separate essay about how defamation lawsuits should be easier to pursue now that misrepresentation *is* the business model of some of these outlets.” (In the aftermath of The Verge’s story, Korey announced she’d hired the well-known defamation firm Clare Locke LLP, which has made a business out of getting unflattering stories stalled or killed.)

While Korey’s Instagram comments were a supposed critique of the journalism industry, they looked at times a lot more like a claim that The Verge story was unfair or inaccurate in ways she didn’t actually address.

…After Korey posted her stories on Instagram, a number of journalists commented on them, including Lorenz, who tweeted “Steph Korey, the disgraced former CEO of Away luggage company, is ranting on IG stories about the media. Her posts are incoherent and it’s disappointing to see a woman who ran a luggage brand perpetuate falsehoods like this abt an industry she clearly has 0 understanding of.”

Lorenz’s tweet was immediately tweeted about by several Silicon Valley venture capitalists, most notably Srinivasan, who eventually made a seven-tweet thread in which he suggested Lorenz, and journalists like her, are “sociopaths.”

That same day, a self-described Taylor Lorenz “parody” Twitter account started retweeting Srinivasan and other tech investors and executives critical of her work. The account’s bio also links to a website, also self-described as parody, which is dedicated to harassing Lorenz. (Twitter told Motherboard it deleted another account for impersonating Lorenz.)

…Articles like the Verge’s investigation into Away do not appear out of thin air. People who work at tech companies—often burdened with non-disclosure agreements—take risks to discuss labor conditions at their company. At the time the Verge article was published, Korey apologized. Wednesday, she was suggesting she’d been unfairly targeted, and that “a few who are using the media platform they have access to further their careers by knowingly misrepresenting female founders for clicks & their own profile/fame.”

“I spoke up for her because she had, you know, 8,000 followers, and she was being attacked by a New York Times reporter as a disgraced former CEO and she’s actually still, you know, current co-CEO,” Srinivasan said. “I believe in standing up for those people who don’t have a voice, who cannot stand up for themselves.”

Lost in the shuffle are the employees who say this apparently powerless CEO still presides over a broken company. Thursday afternoon, a coalition of Away employees emailed Away’s leadership to say that “Steph’s Comments Are Hurting Us.”

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