Peter Kafka, senior editor at AllThingsD, has been covering the technology beat since 1997. The NYC-based reporter (whose first job out of college was at the Minnesota Real Estate Journal) has experienced first-hand how online journalism and social media has brought about the 24/7 news cycle – dramatically reshaping journalism in the process. He was kind enough to chat with me about covering technology in 2013.
Q. How has tech journalism changed since you started on the beat in 1997?
A. The tight answer is that the pace is much faster...[Back then] people were covering the news in print magazines. That’s the really obvious change. Now it’s all online, on your phone – the news cycle is nearly 24/7.
Q: There’s so much competition to get the news up fast and be first especially with social media. What do you see as the biggest challenge for journalists today?
A. The challenge is there’s a lot of competition. If you work at the wire services, it’s very important to be first. For everybody else, the question is, "How do you add value for the reader?" Most readers don’t care if you’re first. How do you provide the smart take on the story and present people with the right story? I think a lot about what not to cover for my readers. If I’m telling you something, I want to make sure I think it’s interesting and that you’ll think it’s interesting.
Q. How many stories do you write a day?
A. It ranges from one to four.
Q. How do you decide what to write about?
A. For me, it’s a gut check. Would I click on it? And if I did, would I find it interesting? The main conflict I have with (PR people) is they’re usually trying to represent something to me that they and their clients think is important and the rest of world doesn’t. It doesn’t matter how you dress up the pitch.
Q. How should news organizations balance the need to involve and expand their audiences through likes, shares, etc. with the responsibility to provide important news that matters?
A. You can try to game the system and a lot of people do that. [But] if you find a story that’s interesting and important, readers will take care of passing that along for you. It’s worthwhile for us to make things more shareable on Twitter – but we can’t spend too much time thinking about that.
Q. You’re very active on Twitter – does your social media activity inform your reporting?
A. No. Twitter is a very good way for me to find out what other people are writing about. And it’s great fun…but it’s very easy to overstate the value of it for a news organization. A lot of times I’ll start thinking I accomplished a lot in a day and then I realize I’ve just been tweeting. I’m very unlikely to find a good story on Twitter. I still find stories the old-fashioned way, by calling sources and taking meetings.
Q. We’ve seen some high profile journalists move to Yahoo in recent weeks. What do you think of Yahoo’s ability to compete as a serious news organization?
A. They could if they wanted to. They have the resources, so we’ll see. It doesn’t seem like it’s in their domain to do that.
Previous posts in our journalist Q&A series include: