Archive for July, 2014

Interview: Walt Mossberg at Re/code

July 2, 2014
Walt Mossberg

Walt Mossberg

By Robert Israel

Walt Mossberg, whose tech journalism beat for The Wall Street Journal introduced readers to Bill Gates, George Lucas, the late Steve Jobs, and many other technology innovators, evolved after he had worked at the newspaper for many years. He had joined The Wall Street Journal in 1970, initially assigned to cover national and international affairs from the newspaper’s Washington, D.C. bureau, where he is based. I met him there in the 1990s when I was assigned to interview him for a newspaper in Rhode Island, where we were both raised. We’ve kept in contact ever since.

Nationally and internationally known for his “Personal Technology” column and other tech journalism pieces, Mossberg shared insights on a host of technological inventions, including some of the first reporting on Apple’s early products. Dubbed by Wired magazine as “The Kingmaker” for his influential columns, he adheres to strict ethical standards. He accepts no freebies or in-kind perks from his subjects that might in any way compromise the integrity of his reporting.

Mossberg is also an entrepreneurial innovator. He co-founded AllThingsD, a subsidiary of the Journal, which sponsored technology conferences, including the celebrated D: All Things Digital Conference, billed as “bringing leading thinkers and sought-after entrepreneurs… to explore the most compelling tech opportunities around the world.”

When the Journal announced in September 2013 that it would no longer support AllThingsD, Mossberg and fellow reporter Kara Swisher left the publication to start Re/code. The website debuted online this year and is defined by its co-founders as an “independent tech news, reviews, and analysis site from the most informed and respected journalists in technology and media. Because everything in tech and media is constantly being rethought, refreshed, and renewed, Re/code’s aim is to reimagine tech journalism.”

I chatted with Mossberg about Re/code’s place in today’s technology journalism industry and where he thinks the site could be headed:

Robert Israel: When you state on Re/codes’s website that you aim to ‘reimagine’ tech journalism, what specifically does that look like?

Walt Mossberg: It looks like a deep staff of authoritative voices, writing medium- and long-form stories, analyses, and reviews, plus some fun things, with fewer commodity stories. It looks like covering beats that aren’t typical, like how the tech industry culture and the overall community interact and often clash—what we call the “culture beat.” It looks like trying the kind of deep series tech websites haven’t typically done, like our recent LA Stories series, which was a detailed look at a tech culture and industry center outside of Silicon Valley. And we’re just getting started.

RI: Many are lamenting the decline (and demise) of newspapers and, consequently, their coverage of tech journalism. Does Re/code’s model seem more viable?

Mossberg: We have nothing against newspapers or their websites and apps. We point our readers to good stories from them. But we do feel that an Internet-native news organization like Re/code can be more nimble and flexible, more easily trying out new things and more easily abandoning things that don’t work. Many of our people come from print backgrounds, and we have imbued the site with strong standards and ethics that Kara and I learned at The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. So, we are fusing the best standards of mainstream media with the advantages of the Web. Since launch, we have hired two people from the San Francisco Chronicle, two from the WSJ, one from the Los Angeles Times and a managing editor from Reuters.

RI: Are you actively seeking additional partners? Do you parse content out to newspapers or trade publications for a fee?

Mossberg: We are not seeking new investors or strategic partners, but we are talking to various people about syndication and other forms of content partnerships.

RI: Re/code certainly ‘covers the waterfront’ of technology news and features today. Are you concerned that it may be spreading itself too thin by covering so many aspects of the industry? Will the focus become narrower in time, or more expansive? Will there ever be a print product?

Mossberg: We never say never to anything, but we have no plans for a print product. We don’t think we are spread too thin, but we have a small staff and are trying to focus more on original, interesting content.

RI: Are you open to journalists pitching you story ideas, or pitching your editorial staff? Are writers and editors paid?

Mossberg: We do accept outside submissions, subject to guidelines. We don’t pay for these. We have an editor who handles them. All of our own reporters and editors are paid, full-time employees.

RI: What are the lessons you’ve learned so far venturing into this new endeavor? Are there any regretful moments you’ve encountered?

Mossberg: Things are going very well so far. I guess one lesson might be that building a news company is harder than simply building a news product. It requires good businesspeople in addition to good editorial folks.

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Robert Israel can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com. This interview previously appeared in The Content Standard, published Skyword (Boston).

Darko Tresnjak’s Well-Deserved Tony Award

July 1, 2014
Director Darko Tresnjak

Director Darko Tresnjak

By Robert Israel

One of the cardinal rules in journalism is to always spell a person’s name correctly. No such rules apply, evidently, to pronouncing an award recipient’s name correctly. An excruciating display of the mumbles was on display at the Tony Awards on Sunday, June 8 when veteran film star and director Clint Eastwood stood in front of a televised audience of millions and a live audience (at Radio City Music Hall in New York) and massacred one of the nominees’ name.

The subject of his knotted tongue was Darko Tresnjak, artistic director of the Hartford Stage, who was later called to the dais to accept the award of Best Direction of a musical for his work in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The show, which premiered in Hartford before traveling to Broadway, garnered three other awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (for Robert L. Freedman) and Best Costume Design (for Linda Cho).

“Darko Tesnajeek,” Eastwood mumbled. A sound of audible derision came from the audience.

When it came time for the envelope to be opened, Eastwood got smart.

“And the award goes to…Darko,” he said, looking a bit like the Cheshire Cat, purposefully omitting the director’s last name.

For his part, Tresnjak took the high road.

“I like to thank my artistic home, Hartford Stage,” Tresnjak said, and then he went onto thank his husband, Josh, the cast, crew and writers, and his 87 year-old mother, who, he said, was once a skydiver during World War II.

Tresnjak has been a rising star in the world of theater for several years. He is well known to Boston audiences from his work as Director-in-Residence with the Huntington Theatre Company. Most recently, he was the directorial force behind a moving production of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which appeared onstage at Emerson’s Cutler Majestic Theater three years ago.

When I interviewed Tesnjak in advance of that touring production — which featured noted stage and film actor F. Murray Abraham in the role of Shylock — he talked about the virulent anti-Semitism he found within the text and how that affected him, having spent his early years in his native Yugoslavia (now Serbia).

“Shakespeare wrote about extreme cruelty in Merchant,” Tresnjak said. “”Take for example the line that Gratiano speaks in the play, ‘Now, by my hood, a Gentile not a Jew.’ He is talking about his foreskin, and it’s an example of the cruel humor that runs throughout the play.”

During the production he went even further to show cruelty by positioning actor Abraham flat on his stomach onstage, arms raised and flailing to avoid the blows and kicks administered by the hoard of other actors who also spat upon him, assailing him with taunts, “Jew! Dirty Jew!” – words that never never appeared in Shakespeare’s original 1596 text.

Tresnjak kept his keen eye on other elements in the production, especially the American economy, which he considers to be driven by greed, and whose materialism contributes mightily to cruelty and ethnic hatreds.

“I have to say that the collapse of the economy rekindled my interest in the play,” Tresnjak told me. “I saw it as a very contemporary play. And when Theatre for a New Audience opened the play, we performed it in a theatre downtown, right near Wall Street. I told the actors to walk around the neighborhood before curtain and to absorb the atmosphere of greed.”

The accolades bestowed upon A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, as evidenced by the four Tony Awards, will, no doubt, assure Tresnjak’s future on Broadway, one he richly deserves.

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Robert Israel can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com. This piece previously appeared in The Arts Fuse (Boston).