Interview: Walt Mossberg at Re/code

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.

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

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