Plus: Spotify reached a milestone of 100 million paying subscribers and Facebook is sharing its data with more than 60 international academics.

The We Company, better known as WeWork, has filed confidentially for an IPO. The coworking giant initially filed four months ago, but today revealed its plans publicly. It will be the latest of several major startups with sky-high valuations to file for an IPO this year and, like many others, it has yet to prove profitability. The company was valued at $47 billion in its latest round of private funding. While the company doubled its revenue last year to $1.8 billion, it also doubled its losses to $1.9 billion. As the New York Times writes, companies like WeWork and Uber “have argued that growing quickly is more important, and will eventually prove more lucrative, than breaking even right now.” WeWork rents coworking office space around the world and is currently one of the biggest corporate landlords in cities like New York and London — in addition to offering other business lines such as WeLive (a residential living space) and WeGrow (a preschool/elementary school).[Andrew Ross Sorkin and Michael J. de la Merced / The New York Times]

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Spotify reached a milestone of 100 million paying subscribers. The music streaming giant announced it had hit this mark in its earnings report on Monday, beating its main competitor, Apple Music, which currently has around 50 million paying users around the world. Spotify said it has seen its subscriber base increase by 32 percent since the company went public last year. While the user growth is a major accomplishment, as the New York Times writes, the company has also “stumbled slightly in its recent entry into India” over licensing agreements and has seen shrinking profit margins following its heavy investment in podcasts. Spotify purchased podcasting companies Gimlet Media and Anchor for over $340 million in February and bought another podcasting company, Parcast, for $56 million in March.
[Ben Sisario / The New York Times]

Facebook is sharing its data with more than 60 international academics who will study the implications of the social network. The move is an unprecedented opening of Facebook’s private data to people who research it and will allow academics to study topics like how social media use can influence elections. However, Facebook is limiting the timeframe for what data it’s making available, which “means the academics will not be able to analyse the most contentious information,” including the runup to the 2016 US presidential elections and the Brexit vote. The data-sharing initiative comes at a time when the company is facing scandals involving user privacy. Facebook has said they’ve taken steps to introduce “noise” to the data sets to anonymize user profiles and the data is strictly limited to academic use.
[Hannah Murphy / Financial Times]

An unsecure database stored on a Microsoft cloud service exposed details including names, addresses, and income levels of over half of US households. Security researchers Noam Rotem and Ran Locar found the vulnerability on a database from an unknown owner that included the personal demographic information of over 80 million US households. The owner of the database is ultimately responsible for securing the data, although that data was hosted on a Microsoft cloud server. Microsoft said it is working with the owner of the database to remove private information until they have a way to secure it. The incident raises troubling questions about the pervasiveness of security breaches of everyday individuals’ personal information. As CNET writes, “[u]nlike a hack, you don’t need to break into a computer system” to find data in an unsecure database, all you need is to find an IP address of an individual you want to look up. The article notes that there is no indication so far that cybercriminals have accessed this data.
[Laura Hautala / CNET]

Top Stories from Recode

The once-hot robotics startup Anki is shutting down after raising more than $200 million.

It’s a hard, hard fall. [Theodore Schleifer]

Apple is under scrutiny for squashing competitors on the App Store — again.

Apple built its own screen-time management app. Then things got weird on the App Store.[Emily Stewart]

This is Cool

The boom and bust of Chinese bike-sharing

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2J5hglF
https://www.recode.net/

Anki, the maker of Cozmo the tiny robot, is shutting down.

It’s a hard, hard fall.

Anki, the robotics company that has raised over $200 million in venture capital, is laying off its entire staff and the startup is shuttering, Recode has learned.

In a teary all-hands meeting on Monday morning, CEO Boris Sofman told his staff they would be terminated on Wednesday and that close to 200 employees would be paid a week of severance, according to people familiar with the matter. Sofman had told employees a few days earlier that the company was scrambling to find more money after a new round of financing fell through at the last minute, imperiling the company’s future.

The startup is frequently called “cute” for the little robots it produces like Cozmo, but it has raised serious money from investors like Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, whose co-founder, Marc Andreessen, at one point sat on the company’s board.

Anki said last fall that it “approached” $100 million in revenue in 2017 and expected to exceed that figure in 2018. So this isn’t some small lemonade stand closing down.

Leadership had previously told employees that it was fielding acquisition interest from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Comcast.

The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”

“Despite our past successes, we pursued every financial avenue to fund our future product development and expand on our platforms,” a company spokesperson said. “A significant financial deal at a late stage fell through with a strategic investor and we were not able to reach an agreement. We’re doing our best to take care of every single employee and their families, and our management team continues to explore all options available.”

Anki, founded by roboticists from Carnegie Mellon University, was a big deal in the robotics world at one point — its first product, Anki Drive, was prominently featured onstage in a demo at an Apple event in 2013. But its buzz has cooled considerably in recent years as some investors grew skittish about hardware plays and others struggled to wrap their heads around what could reductively be considered just a toy business.

It’s a tough time for the consumer robotics sector, with other companies like Jibo having had to shut down recently.

Despite being a popular choice at places like Toys R Us for its AI race cars, the company in recent years has tried to pivot from toys to becoming a more developed robotics company based on artificial intelligence. It’s unclear what will happen to the company’s assets going forward.

“For us, it was never meant to be a toy company, or even an entertainment company. It’s a robotics and AI company,” Sofman said on an episode of Recode Decode in 2017.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2L7iv6q
https://www.recode.net/

People shop in an Apple retail store in New York City in January 2019.

Apple built its own screen-time management app. Then things got weird on the App Store.

Apple reportedly isn’t all that enthused about apps that help users cut down on screen time — at least when they’re made by its competitors.

The Cupertino, California-based company is under scrutiny yet again over allegations of anticompetitive practices. This time, the issue stems from a report this weekend from the New York Times’s Jack Nicas that said Apple has gone after 11 of the 17 most downloaded apps meant to help users cut down on screen time or help parents monitor and limit what their children are doing on the devices. It has removed the apps altogether or restricted them, for example, by requiring them to remove features.

Apple has cast its decisions as ones meant to protect user privacy and security. It says that the apps it targeted were using a “highly invasive technology” that could be used by hackers to access users’ devices for malicious purposes and that it either asked the developers to make changes to the apps or removed them. (To be sure, Apple doesn’t want people cutting down on screen time too much, either it wants users to use its services, such as Apple News and Apple Music.)

This is the latest development in an ongoing conversation about Apple and whether it seeks to stifle competition within its App Store. In March, music streaming service Spotify filed a complaint against Apple in Europe alleging that the iPhone maker unfairly stifles competition by imposing a “tax” on digital subscription services made by its rivals and otherwise seeking to give its own products advantages over those made by others.

Apple insists that it is just trying to foster the best and most secure App Store ecosystem possible. But some observers say its activities look like an attempt to freeze competitors out.

“That’s the trade-off to focus on, the fact that Apple does state that it has a reason for what it’s doing but that the primary effect is to keep rivals out of the market,” Rutgers University law professor Michael Carrier said.

Apple announced new parental-control features last summer. Then it started purging rival apps.

The Times story outlines how Apple clamped down on multiple screen time and parental-control apps. It notes the suspicious timing of its activities: Apple started to require competitors to make changes to their apps or face removal from the App Store soon after it started to offer those services on its own.

In June 2018, Apple announced that it would build into its iOS 12 features to help users monitor their screen time and allow parents to monitor reports on their children’s mobile activity and set limits for them. It started offering the tools in September.

Soon after, according to the Times, Apple started to target apps doing something similar:

Apple told the companies that their apps violated App Store rules, like enabling one iPhone to control another, although it had allowed such practices for years and had approved hundreds of versions of their apps.

Apple allows corporations to use such software to control employees’ phones. But last year, the company stopped apps from using the software to enable parents to control their children’s devices. The Apple spokeswoman said Apple had blocked the practice because app makers could gain access to too much information on the children’s devices. Apple cited other rule violations when removing some apps, but the spokeswoman didn’t explain the reasoning behind those moves.

Some of the apps targeted include parental-control apps OurPact and Mobicip and website blocker Freedom.

Apple has claimed its actions were an effort to protect users because the apps opened up too much access to their information. Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Philip Schiller told the Times that Apple had acted “extremely responsibly” in protecting children from “technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.”

In a statement on Sunday, Apple claimed that the parental-control apps it went after were using a “highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management,” which gives a third party control and access to sensitive information. It says the technology could allow hackers to access user information and it was trying to ensure safety and security in its decisions.

“Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices,” the company said. “Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security.”

Former Apple executive Tony Fadell in a series of tweets over the weekend said that Apple’s screen time features were a “rush job” and are still “very non-intuitive to use.” He said Apple should instead “be building true APIs for Screen Time so the ‘privacy’ concerns are taken into account” instead of limiting choices in the App Store. “Discouraging entrepreneurs from creating more solutions is the antithesis to what we need,” he wrote.

In a phone interview, Fadell told Recode that it’s not just Apple that needs an API for screen time apps but also Google, Sony, Nintendo, and others, “because you want to make a meta control app so that you can see the usage across all digital platforms.”

Apple did not return a request for comment on this matter.

The App Store is coming under increasing scrutiny over how it deals with competitors

“We’ve heard this story before of Apple squashing competitive apps like grapes,” said Philip Elmer-DeWitt, a journalist who has covered Apple for decades and hosts a blog about the company. “This is an old story.”

Perhaps an old one, but a relevant one.

The conversation about anticompetitive practices from big tech companies, including Apple, is picking up in the United States and around the world. Earlier this month, Dutch enforcers started investigating whether Apple was promoting its own apps over those of competitors. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky has filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in Russia, and, as mentioned, Spotify is targeting Apple in a complaint in the EU.

In the US, buzz about Apple and how it has handled App Store rivals has picked up as well, thanks at least in part to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) push to break up tech companies. In March, the 2020 Democratic Party presidential contender rolled out an ambitious plan aimed at promoting competition in the tech industry. In it, she proposed breaking up Google Facebook, Amazon — and Apple.

“Apple, you’ve got to break it apart from their App Store. It’s got to be one or the other. Either they run the platform or they play in the store,” she told Nilay Patel at The Verge. “They don’t get to do both at the same time.”

Her issue with Apple is similar to the criticisms she’s offered of Google and Amazon: These companies get a competitive advantage in the search results on their platform and can prioritize their products over those made by third parties.

“If you run a platform where others come to sell, then you don’t get to sell your own items on the platform because you have two comparative advantages. One, you’ve sucked up information about every buyer and every seller before you’ve made a decision about what you’re going to sell,” Warren said. “And second, you have the capacity — because you run the platform — to prefer your product over anyone else’s product. It gives an enormous comparative advantage to the platform.”

Fadell, who was one of the designers of the iPod and is now a principal at investment firm Future Shape, said that with the parental-control apps, Apple may have identified one app truly violating its rules and decided to shut it down, but it’s not clear why it’s gone after so many of them. “These apps have existed for years, so why not just shut down the offending one, versus shutting them all down?”

He speculated that Apple could be planning some sort of additional announcement on the screen-time front for its Worldwide Developers Conference in June and is attempting to clean up its App Store ahead of that to avoid more anticompetitive allegations.

Apple insists that its closed ecosystem isn’t a monopoly and that it’s just doing what’s best for customers. Even if you don’t buy that, Carrier, the Rutgers law professor said, it’s not clear whether US antitrust enforcement is equipped to handle the situation: “On its face, what Apple is doing is clearly meant to hurt competitors, any argument they’re offering would really not seem to be legitimate. But nonetheless, it’s no clear that that is punished by antitrust law. I think that would strike some people as being concerning.”

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2DCl8aa
https://www.recode.net/

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Plus: Apple restricts screen-time monitoring apps, some Uber drivers don’t know how much they make, and another mass shooting follows an internet playbook

After “nearly missing” the mobile revolution, Facebook saved itself in 2011 by making a company-wide pivot away from desktop and toward mobile use of its products. Now, as the “social network on which Facebook built its empire is reaching a plateau” with slowing user growth on its core social network, Facebook is facing another era of pivoting. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already announced a shift toward more private, encrypted, or ephemeral messaging services like its WhatsApp and Instagram apps, but the future of Facebook may also lie in other bets: virtual and augmented reality. As Kurt Wagner writes, “Facebook’s core social network isn’t going away anytime soon, but there’s a good chance — probably a great chance — that the way you use Facebook’s products in 10 years will look and feel very different from the way you use them today.”
[Kurt Wagner / Recode]

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Apple has been removing apps that fight app addiction. The company has “removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps,” according to analysis from The New York Times that together with app-data firm Sensor Tower. Many of these app-makers are saying that Apple’s sudden restrictions have devastated their businesses, and that the changes came soon after Apple built its own competing screen-time tracker. Apple has stood by their decision, saying that it comes down to a user privacy issue. The company has said they’ve only restricted apps that “abuse” the device’s mobile device management system. Philip W. Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, wrote that Apple “acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.”
[Jack Nicas / The New York Times]

Some Uber drivers don’t know what they make, according to a new study from Georgetown University. The report, put out by the university’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor released a two-year report on the working conditions of 40 Uber drivers in the Washington DC area. It found that while most Uber drivers knew the overall percentage the company takes from fares, but over a third didn’t know how Uber determined the amount they make on a single trip. Other findings showed that 33 percent of drivers “took on debt relating to the job” and 30 percent “reported physical assaults or safety concerns” Still, 50 percent of drivers would recommend it to a friend, and 45 percent planned to keep working for the company for at least six months.
[Alison Griswold / Oversharing]

Mass shootings are increasingly being broadcast and cultivated on the internet. On Saturday, 11 people died at a mass shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside San Diego, after a 19-year-old man with an assault weapon stormed the house of worship. Just hours before the attack, a user who identified as the shooter posted a manifesto on far-right message board site 8chan. It’s not the first time recently that a mass shooter has found an audience for horror online. The shooter behind the recent Christchurch mosque massacre in March posted a similar post before he killed 49. As Charlie Warzel writes, “[l]ike the Christchurch massacre, the Poway shooting is not only tailored for the internet but also sickeningly standardized.” Warzel makes a case that mass shootings like these have become a kind of “sickening meme”, making the internet “an amplification system for an ideology of white supremacy that only recently was relegated to the shadows.”
[Charlie Warzel / New York Times]

Top Stories from Recode

Slack’s business is reliable. Its IPO-less IPO plan is risky.

The workplace messaging company is gambling on a Spotify-style direct listing path to going public.
[Theodore Schleifer]

What the hell happened at The Markup?

Part 1: Former editor-in-chief Julia Angwin on Recode Decode. And Part 2: Co-founders Sue Gardner and Jeff Larson respond to Julia Angwin’s Recode Decode interview.
[Kara Swisher]

Amazon’s one-day shipping Prime offer is an attempt to suck you in for life.

Amazon is sending a warning shot to competitors.
[Emily Stewart]

This is Cool

Inside a worker-run gig economy app.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2W8AlXW
https://www.recode.net/

Good Food Institute founder and executive director Bruce Friedrich

And the big meat companies are on board: “They wanna produce protein, and if they can do it more efficiently and make more money doing it, they’re happy to go in that direction.”

On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the final of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to the founder and executive director of the Good Food Institute, Bruce Friedrich. The nonprofit he leads promotes alternatives to meat, including lab-grown meat, dairy, and eggs made from plants. He said getting to a place where we can “bio-mimic” meat that tastes good could have multiple positive effects on the environment and the health of humanity.

“It will require probably 99 percent less land, cause 95 percent less climate change, won’t cause a rainforest to be chopped down, won’t require any antibiotics,” Friedrich said. “If you want a scare, Google ‘the end of working antibiotics.’ Medical authorities are literally telling us that we are just about there, and a big part of that is all of the antibiotics that we’re feeding to farm animals.”

You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below.


Erica Anderson: Bruce, welcome to Recode Decode!

Bruce Friedrich: It’s great to be here, thanks Erica.

So I have a full disclosure, I had a burger last night. From beef.

Well, you could have had a burger from plants.

I’m open to learning about this. So, you are a TED fellow this year, and you gave a talk about the future of agriculture. Tell me first, what’s the big idea you’re talking about this week?

The big idea is that we’re going to need to produce 70-100 percent more meat by 2050 and attempting to educate or shame the public out of consuming meat — reference, your burger from last night — isn’t working that well.

I do wanna say I’m a fan of activism, I think activism is great, but if we actually want to turn back the tide on meat consumption, we need to be thinking about the problem in a different way. And what we’ve learned is we can bio-mimic meat with plants. Everything in meat exists in plants, so we can make plant-based meat, which is not … I think you called it mock meat or synthetic meat or something. It’s plant-based meat, it’s still meat, it’s just made from plants instead of from animals.

And then we can also grow meat directly from cells. Both of these methods of making meat cause much less climate change, require no antibiotics, they’re just much better for global health, much better for the individuals consuming them, and much better for our environment.

Quick non-important question, but I guess it is important, does it taste good?

Well, that’s kind of the point, yeah. I mean, it doesn’t work if it doesn’t taste the same or better.

Got it.

And cost the same or less. And yes, everything in meat, meat is made up of lipids and aminos and minerals and water, that all exists in plants. What we have found is if we apply the right amount of effort and the right amount of science, you can actually construct meat from plants. Then growing meat directly from cells, there are now dozens of companies, the first one, Memphis Meats, was founded in 2016, and now there are more than 25 of them. They are all right now growing meat directly from cells.

As the process scales up, because it is so much more efficient, it will cost less. It will require probably 99 percent less land, cause 95 percent less climate change, won’t cause a rainforest to be chopped down, won’t require any antibiotics.

If you want a scare, Google “the end of working antibiotics.” Medical authorities are literally telling us that we are just about there, and a big part of that is all of the antibiotics that we’re feeding to farm animals.

So tell me, let’s talk a bit more about the problem just so that people who maybe aren’t that familiar with, I guess the term would be “industrial farming.” What is the problem with industrial farming? I grew up in Indiana, as I mentioned to you before. My grandfather, great-grandparents, had dairy farms, I grew up in a place with lots of little farms. That’s no longer the way food is produced. What is the problem with the current state of agriculture today, in your opinion?

At its most basic, it takes nine calories fed to a chicken to get one calorie back out. The chicken is the most efficient animal. So that’s nine times as much land, nine times as much water, nine times as many pesticides and herbicides. But it’s not just that, you then have to grow all of those crops, you ship them to the feed mill, you operate the feed mill. You ship the feed to the farm, you operate the farm. You ship the animals to the slaughterhouse, you operate the slaughterhouse.

Once you crunch the numbers, that chicken — which, again, is the most efficient meat — also the least climate-change-inducing meat, on a per-protein calorie basis causes 40 times as much climate change, 4,000 percent of the climate change of if you were to just eat the legumes directly, if you were just to eat peas or soy or whatever directly. Nine times as much energy, nine times as much land, etc. But then all of those extra stages of energy-intensive and polluting factories and gas-guzzling and polluting vehicles, you put all of that together and it’s just environmentally, it’s catastrophic. That’s just the climate change issue.

The United Nations said whatever environment issue you’re looking at from the smallest and most local to the largest and most global, industrial meat production is one of the top three causes. And then the other issue that we talk most about is antibiotic resistance. The UK government said the threat to the human race from antibiotic-resistant superbugs is greater than the threat from climate change. We’re literally talking about the end of modern medicine. In the US, 70 percent of all of the antibiotics produced by pharmaceuticals are fed to farm animals.

Right, and actually I think all that is like patent-protected, right? If you asked Tyson or Purdue for information about how many antibiotics they give to their chickens, they say they can’t disclose that, right?

Yeah, what they’re doing is legal, within the realm of that there’s not any reason they have to disclose it. I will say, one of the things we’re really excited about at The Good Food Institute is the fact that companies like Tyson and Purdue and Cargill, the big meat companies, they’re not tied to the idea that we have to be raising and slaughtering animals. They wanna produce protein, and if they can do it more efficiently and make more money doing it, they’re happy to go in that direction.

Interesting. So next question, Bruce. What’s the inspiration for this work?

Well the inspiration for me is, I have been for more than two decades advocating a shift away from industrial animal agriculture. Just watching as more and more animals are slaughtered, and we go in the opposite direction. Even in the United States, per capita meat consumption in 2018 was as high as it’s been in recorded history. Globally, it was way way up, and all of the projections indicate that we’re going to have to produce 70-100 percent more meat by 2050. The latest calculation, we’re going to have to double the amount of meat that we’re producing by 2050.

It just seems that there is something in human beings, I don’t know if it’s physiology, psychology, or emotion or what, but there’s something in human beings that causes people, as they become affluent, like it’s part of … they decide to eat more meat. That’s true in the developing world, and it appears to be true in the developed world as well, despite our decades and decades of trying to educate people about the issue.

So this is a solution that can work. We can produce meat from plants at a lower price. Price, taste, and convenience is what dictates consumer choice for just about everybody. We can compete on the basis of price, taste, and convenience, and just remove animals from the equation altogether.

So interesting. I wish we had something to taste here right now, but that will come later. Tell me, how do you execute this at The Good Food Institute? You’ve got this idea, you’re deeply inspired, you see this macro problem kind of on the horizon globally, how do you execute it day to day?

At The Good Food Institute, people can find out about us at GFI.org. We’ve just north of 60 staff in the United States and then we have about a dozen staff across India, Israel, Brazil, Hong Kong — which is Asia Pacific — and Europe. The four programmatic areas that we focus on, one is corporate engagement, so engaging with Tyson and Cargill and ADM and kind of all of the traditional food and meat industries to help them. We don’t want this to be disruption, we want it to be transformation. We want to engage them in the shift.

Our second department is policy. Policy is focused both on the regulatory side, making sure that there’s a clear regulatory pathway forward for these products, as well as the statutory side, which is focused to a significant degree on encouraging the US government and other governments to fund R&D into these products. Global governments put tens of billions of dollars into research and development focused on environmental initiatives and global health initiatives.

These are the solution to a lot of problems that governments recognize they have. Governments that want to meet their obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, this is a way to do it. Governments that have food security or food safety issues, this is a way to alleviate those problems. It’s a big part of what we’re doing in policy.

And then in innovation and entrepreneurship, we help startups to be successful and we’ve actually started some companies from scratch. We have a startup manual, we have a monthly call for budding entrepreneurs, we have fellowship programs at colleges and universities to encourage the next generation of leaders and scientists to use their talents in this field. We also work with venture capitalists to help them understand why this is a colossal opportunity for them to both do good and do well.

And then finally, science and technology is our fourth programmatic area. That came from a sort of realization that what happened with the plant-based meat, and clean meat — so, meat grown directly from cells, we call it “clean meat” as a nod to clean energy — what happened was people had an idea, and then they had a company. Nobody really stopped and figured out what the scientific groundwork would look like in the middle. So idea, company, with no open-source science in the middle.

The first thing we did is figure out, what are the critical technology elements for plant-based meat and for clean meat? What do we know, what do we know that we don’t know, and where are the areas where there’s just a ton of stuff that we don’t even know we don’t know? And let’s start mapping that. Let’s find scientists to help us map that, and then let’s start funding this research.

We gave away $2.8 million in December/January, and we should be giving away another $5 million at the end of this year and into the beginning of next year to scientists to help fill some of the gaps in both the plant-based meat side and the clean meat side.

Sounds like you’ve had a lot of momentum behind this idea. Tell me about the startups. You mentioned you’re giving away money. You have these weekly or monthly calls for startups. Obviously there’s some big agricultural universities in the country, what’s that like? Who are the types of entrepreneurs that wanna do this work? Is there an entrepreneur that comes to mind that’s kind of taking this on?

I should make a distinction here. So our science and technology department, that’s where we have the money for open-source research. We had two donors, one who gave us a million dollars for clean meat open-source science. And another one who gave us $2 million for open source plant-based science.

I should also take a step back and say for people that want to find out more about this, we have an annual conference. It sold out about six weeks early last year, so you might wanna go check it out now. It’s goodfoodconference.com. There will be poster presentations from all of the 14 grantees for this call for proposals. Our scientists will be there to talk with people about other research that they might wanna do in the space.

And then the entrepreneurship and innovation side of the Good Food Institute, we don’t actually do any of that funding, although there are a lot of venture capitalists that are particularly interested in this space. There are venture capital funds like New Crop Capital and Stray Dog Capital and Clear Current Capital, and some others that are specifically interested in investment opportunities that will remove animals from industrial animal agriculture. And then there are a bunch of other sort of just Sand Hill Road VCs that are just interested in the space primarily because of the profitability.

And then interestingly, the Bill Gates investment fund has just invested in kind of all of the plant-based companies, and the cell-based companies sort of once they get to Series A. Bill and Melinda Gates are very enthusiastic about this as a way to feed the world.

Fascinating. You’re definitely on to something. I think my last question for you in our final few minutes, what do you hope to accomplish? What’s your 20, 30 years from now, looking back, what have you accomplished, what’s the big moonshot here?

Well, I will say I hope it doesn’t take 20 or 30 years. People have only been working on this for a very brief period of time. The first plant-based meat that really had its vision set on the idea of we are going to compete with industrial animal meat, this is not a product for flexitarians or vegetarians, this is a product for everyone. That was the Beyond Meat nugget, which came out nationally in 2013, so just six years ago. That’s the thing that caused Bill Gates to say, “What I just tasted was not just a clever meat substitute. What I just tasted is the future of food.” So that was the first one.

And then the Impossible Burger didn’t debut until 2016. The first clean meat company, also 2016, also oftentimes referred to as cell-based meat. This is very new and it’s moving incredibly quickly. This is something that governments should be putting billions of dollars into.

I believe that China should be putting tens of billions of dollars into this. They’ve got food safety and food security issues. They’ve got water resource issues, they want to be the leader on climate change. Countries like Singapore and Israel are small and have food security issues. India cares very deeply about this, and is just working with GFI India, put more than half a million dollars into this sort of research. That’s a great start.

It should be billions of dollars into this space. The goal is that if X is plant-based meat and Y is clean meat, X + Y should equal about 99. There maybe some regenerative agriculture left, but industrial animal agriculture, the lowest common denominator stuff, the stuff people choose because it’s tasty and cheap, that should all be replaced by meat from plants and meat grown directly from cells. They’re more efficient, they solve a lot of problems. And it shouldn’t just be nonprofit organizations and venture capitalists and Tyson Foods in this. It should be governments, it should be foundations, anybody who cares about these sorts of issues.

A truly global kind of cross-functional intersectional effort to change the food industry. Bruce, it was so good to talk to you, thank you so much for coming and sharing your big idea. We will be watching and hopefully tasting the future of food in the coming months.

I’m thrilled to be here.

If not later today. Okay, thank you so much Bruce.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2UIOzND
https://www.recode.net/

Astrophysicist Erika Hamden

“If you want to discover a new thing about the universe, you have to look at the universe in a new way… [and] in order to do that, you need to invent something.”

On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the third of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to astrophysicist Erika Hamden, who has developed new telescopes and other technology for observing space. In the short term, that tech can help Hamden and her peers better understand the galaxies we know about, but in the long term, she has bigger goals.

“We know a lot about the universe,” she said. “But then if you’d break it down, we don’t know anything. We know that 4 percent of the universe is made up of regular matter like protons, electrons, the whole rest of it is like dark matter and dark energy, which is totally mysterious.”

You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below.


Erica Anderson: Welcome to Recode Decode!

Erika Hamden: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

So really quickly, let’s start … Your background is so cool. You dropped out of MIT before going to Harvard, before now building state-of-the-art technology that’s been used in telescopes … So give me a quick nutshell on that.

I went to MIT in the fall of 2001. And I was really naive. I came from a family that like, we did everything together, and the transition to college was rough. I met these people who were going to go into business and I thought people were going to be there because they really love science.

And I know those people were there, but I didn’t find them. So I left. I took some time for myself to figure out what did I really want to do. And then I reapplied to college and I went to Harvard. And I tried as much as possible while I was there to make sure that I was doing things that made me happy every day. It wasn’t worth being unhappy because maybe one day there will be an end goal that would make me happy.

And so it was a hard choice to drop out of college, because I had identified so much as an achiever and being smart. And then I was an MIT dropout. So I had to realize that didn’t define me. And what mattered was enjoying my life and making sure that I was doing things because I wanted to do them.

Yeah, I mean, that’s an incredible story. So I wouldn’t say that being a dropout is a bad thing.

It was definitely the right call.

Yeah, yeah. Because you found your path, which is so cool. And I want to talk about it. So let’s start. What’s the idea that you presented … What’s your big idea that you were talking about at TED this week?

So my big idea is that if you want to discover a new thing about the universe, you have to look at the universe in a new way. That you can do more observations with stuff that already exists. And that work is really important to kind of expand and classify the stuff that we already know.

But that if you want to make like a breakthrough discovery, you want to find out what’s the new, weird thing about our universe, you have to be creative. And a lot of people don’t associate science and scientists with creativity. But it actually takes a huge amount of creativity to think about, “Well, how can I see this thing in a different way no one has looked in for this particular stuff before in this way.” And typically I find that in order to do that, you need to invent something. Because astronomers are really good about using every technology available.

We’re trying to capture every single photon so people will always be pushing the limits, but that totally new technologies is usually how new discoveries get made. So like LIGO, it took 40 years.

What’s LIGO?

LIGO is the … Now, I don’t know what the acronyms stand for.

That’s okay. That’s good. High level.

It’s basically a gravitational wave detector. It’s a totally different spectrum that we can explore the universe on. When two black holes merge, for example, or two neutron stars merge, they bend spacetime so much that it sends waves out through the universe.

Got it. So having a piece of technology that can detect that.

Previously, we could not detect waves in spacetime and now we can, and this whole new way of looking at the universe has opened up. So for my work on the detectors that I helped develop, they’re super sensitive in a wavelength range where we haven’t really had sensitive detectors ever.

The previous best detector was actually photographic plates. Film is pretty good in the UV, but you can’t send film to space. You can, but it’s really difficult. So the other detectors that we were using, they worked for what they were doing, but the sensitivity was just not great. It’s less than 10 percent. And the detectors that I’ve helped develop, you can get sensitivities. The ones that we put on the balloon telescope I built is 60 percent. So it’s a six times improvement and you haven’t changed anything else about the telescope where you get six times as much information.

Got it. Got it.

Inventing technologies is really like, we call it mission enabling. That now you can do things and make observations of stuff that was previously not detectable.

Yeah. And I think you’re being a little modest because I think you helped to really invent this new technology. I mean, it sounds like you’ve helped to invent it, but then, or invented it and then have overseen teams to kind of build it. What was it like? What is the problem you’re trying to solve? When you said, I think the idea of like asking new questions about the galaxy. What is the discovery that you think … What was your inspiration for this?

Well, so I will say that for the technology, I’m part of a really great team of people that are based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And so the woman that actually invented the very base … There’s a base process that has to happen that’s called delta domain or super lattice domain and her name is Shouleh Nikzad. She’s worked at JPL for a long time. So she invented this technology and then has been developing it for like 20 years. And so I came in and assisted in making it even better, basically. But it’s definitely been a team effort.

And the machinery that we use is so expensive. There’s no way that one person could really do it, because you have to sort of have a team to get enough people to do all that stuff. But the work that I want to do … So we look out in the universe and you can see galaxies. People are lazy, so they want to look at the thing that’s easiest to look at.

So if you just look, your eyes will be naturally be drawn to the bright stuff, the stars that are really bright, the galaxies that are really bright. And that’s the first thing that always gets explored because everything is dim in the universe. So you go for at least the brightest stuff.

But if you keep going to lower and lower brightness, you actually get a lot more interesting components. So we know galaxies exist because we can see them. And from simulations, we think that there’s these huge, influencing filaments and exploding bubbles that filaments flow in and bubbles coming out of the galaxy.

That’s a dynamic environment around the galaxy of hydrogen and other gas that’s kind of swirling around and coming in and out. And some of the hydrogen is originally from the Big Bang. It’s primordial, and other gases from mergers are just like a chaotic environment around the galaxy.

And we look at galaxies and we see some of them are these beautiful spirals that are gorgeous, others are totally messed up. They’ve had a bunch of mergers. There’s others that are just a perfect ring, like some wacky things out in the universe. And right now we can see them, but we can’t say like, “Well, this galaxy looks like this because of this reason.” The why behind it is not clear.

And so I think that in order to figure out that why, if you look at the environment around the galaxy and you can measure the amount of hydrogen that’s there and the other gas that’s there, you can say, “Well, this galaxy is a beautiful spiral, making lots of new stars because it has huge in-flowing filaments of hydrogen that are coming in and feeding the star formation. Whereas this other galaxy that’s just a red blob doesn’t have any of those filaments. Instead, it has a really hot halo of gas that can’t fall into the galaxy,” because of complicated physics that I won’t explain here.

But that you can say like, “Okay, well, this galaxy looks the way it does because of this stuff around it. And this other galaxy looks the way it does because of this totally different environment.” So that’s what I want to do in the short term.

And in the longer term, we don’t really … We know a lot about the universe. But then if you’d break it down, we don’t know anything. We know that 4 percent of the universe is made up of regular matter like protons, electrons, the whole rest of it is like dark matter and dark energy, which is totally mysterious.

But even that few percent that’s made up of stuff that we understand, we don’t know where any of it is. Well, if you count how many galaxies we can see, the estimated mass for those galaxies, you add in things like planets and black holes that you can’t actually see, you add all that up and it doesn’t add up to the amount of mass that we know exists in regular matter. So there’s this problem where we don’t know where everything is.

And part of the solution is that probably it’s this really faint, very low-density hydrogen that’s outside the galaxy. So it’s emitting very, very faintly. But we just haven’t been able to take a census because our detectors haven’t been sensitive enough. So that’s one of the things I want to do.

So you’re obviously super passionate about the future of space exploration. It’s honestly not something I’ve thought a lot about. Which is crazy. It’s all you think about, what are the secrets in the galaxies that we need to understand? What is the modern … What is the space race today about?

For galaxies?

Yeah.

We can’t really explain how our galaxy got here. And I think a lot of what drives astronomers and just people who are interested in space is being able to say like, “Why are we here? And how did we get here?”

Age-old question.

Yeah, and our galaxy is a pretty boring galaxy. Our star’s great, I love our star, but it’s just a pretty standard star. But we see all this other stuff, these galaxies that are super active. The one where they detected the black hole last week. That galaxy is wild compared to our galaxy. Which I guess is maybe why we’re here, because our galaxy is very boring. It’s better for life.

Oh, interesting. So boring equals safe.

Boring is good, yeah. But I think that’s really what drives people is like, “Well, how do we explain the situation that we’re in right now?” We have made a huge amount of progress in just understanding how galaxies have changed throughout time. We can look back through history at old galaxies that are really far away and we can see that they’re different.

And there’s some change through time of how many galaxies are making new stars and the sizes of them and so on. But we don’t have a full picture yet to say, “Oh, you start with this little baby galaxy and then give it 13 billion years and it becomes the Milky Way.”

So you want to create that picture. Next question, how do you execute this?

So there’s a lot … It’s like a multi-pronged effort. So usually, when I feel like there’s a problem that I want to solve, my strategy is “do everything.” I think developing technology is super crucial, because that’s the basis that you can do new observations of. So I have been working on one type of detector and I’m starting to set up my lab to test a new kind of detector that is sort of an offshoot of the one I’ve been working on but it has even better noise properties. Just continuing to make better tools I think is essential.

And then working on new ideas for telescope concepts and space telescopes and advocacy about making sure that young astronomers can be the principal investigators of those future space telescopes. Right now I’m working on a proposal for space telescope to NASA small explorer program.

So that mission is totally theoretical. We’re just kind of figuring out, what’s the instrument, what’s the spacecraft going to be. That’s been a really interesting process for me as the PI. And there’s all this stuff that I think like, I wish someone had told me this two years ago or six months ago about who to contact at NASA centers or who to contact an aerospace company. And so I decided, like, “Well, this is annoying, there should just be like … This information should just be out there.”

So how all good solutions start: “It’s extremely annoying.”

Annoying. I feel like Adam Sandler’s character in The Wedding Singer when his fiance shows up the next day and she’s like, “Oh, you are not a rockstar.” He’s like, “This is information I could have used yesterday.” I originally thought I’d just write a paper that’s like “How to build a space telescope” and just list all the things that I learned.

And then I’ve decided, instead, I’m going to turn it into a workshop and bring people and actually tell them like, “Okay. You start with a science question. What’s the thing you want to know about the universe, and then we’re going to figure out whether a space mission is the way to go.”

And I’ve gotten the NASA people that I’ve talked to really excited about it, and I’m working with a few other people. Typically I’ll go to meetings about space, astrophysics, and future missions, and I’m the youngest person in the room. And typically I’m one of the few women. And they’re talking about things that are going to get built in the 2030s. And a lot of the people that are in those rooms are not going to be working in the 2030s.

Interesting, yeah.

I hope they’re all going to be alive. They’re lovely people, and they’re so excellent at what they do. There has to be people coming up to take their places. And so that’s something that I hope I can do and at least help bring up the people behind me. And make sure that there’s new people in the pipeline, younger people, diverse people.

And I also just think that’ll make the science a lot more vibrant. When you get more people asking interesting questions, you’re going to get a lot of exciting results.

Absolutely. That’s something I want to ask you before we go to our last question, which is, coming up, were there female role models?

Oh, yeah. Well, so Shouleh Nikzad, the woman that I worked with at JPL, she has been such an inspiration for me. She’s just a super lovely, wonderful person. And she’s always been really supportive of my work. And all the people that I’ve worked with, I’ve had a lot of male mentors and they’ve been really great. So I feel like I’ve had a lot of personal, very careful attention, which I think is really important.

Great. Great. And I’m sure you are a role model for people coming up.

I try to be.

Yeah, no, it’s great. Well, giving a TED talk is definitely a good way to spread that. So this is the last question. What do you hope to accomplish with this idea, with these telescopes? What’s the big picture?

Well, when I was young, I knew that there were astronomers and astronauts, but I didn’t know that it could be a job that you build the telescope. I knew people went to [work with] telescopes, but then in college, I discovered like, “Oh, you can make it? That’s awesome.” And I’ve always liked to build stuff and use my hands. That’s why I like cooking, because you make a thing. And so I wanted to just broaden the world a little bit, that maybe people will realize, like, “Oh, I could build telescopes.”

The other thing I want to do is kind of tell people that it’s okay to try something and still fail spectacularly. I think about my experience at MIT and dropping out, that I failed in such a big way. And for an 18-year-old, it was the end of the world. But I’m here, I’m still doing exactly the work that I want to do. And I learned so much from that experience.

All the stuff that I talked about in my TED talk was, you know, the stuff with the detectors. It took years for us to figure out how to get the part that we were working on to work correctly. And every step of the way it’s like, “Oh, this didn’t work. Okay. Let’s try something else.” And then that works. But then something else fails, and the only way you learn is in that space in between the failures. And with the whole balloon payload, all of our stuff works. But we had this other failure that we hadn’t planned on.

This is when you sent the telescope up into orbit into the stratosphere.

Into the stratosphere. Yeah.

And the balloon was the thing that failed.

Yeah. So all of our stuff worked. The pointing system, which was done by our French collaborators. That was gorgeous. Everything worked, and then the balloon had a hole in it. I remember thinking, I didn’t even know to be worried about that. Yeah. I feel like, if you want to do something creative or just something new in the world you have to take a risk.

And society is so risk averse. I mean, I understand because the consequences of failing for a lot of people are they get fired. They lose their houses. People live on the edge all the time. So it’s hard to say, “Well, try this totally wacky thing and fail and whatever.” But I think talking more about it, maybe the people who have control and run a business, let your employees fail. Just see what happens, give them the opportunity. Because really, it’s that they’re trying, they’re wanting to do something new.

Failing in service of doing something new and better.

Yeah. And to take a risk and explore a little bit. And that it’s scary. And there’s a lot of times when I felt like, “God, I wish someone else had already done this so that I knew what to do.” The path would be there and it’s not. It’s hard to be going your own way.

But also I would imagine really rewarding and also like you said deeply creative in the field of science. Well, thank you so much, Erika for joining Recode Decode. It was a pleasure to have you here.

I’m so happy to be here.

Thank you and we will watch the advancements in your work with great intrigue. So thank you.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2GRIniH
https://www.recode.net/

Astronomer and space environmentalist Moriba Jah, who studies “space junk”

Plus: Why space will be a “trillion-dollar business.”

On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the second of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to astronomer Moriba Jah, a self-described “space environmentalist” who studies the old satellites and other debris floating in orbit, also known as “space junk.” At the conference, he also explained why space could be a “trillion-dollar business” — and not just because of people going up, but also because of the private data that could be gathered from cameras pointed back down at the Earth.

“Knowing what people do and how they move and how they interact as pervasive and as persistent as possible, that’s a big business,” Jah said. “So now if you tie the Internet of Things on the ground with what is in orbit, that’s like a mega set of information. I’ll put it this way, people are very surprised with the level of knowledge that a company like Google might have. If they start incorporating space-based information and linking that with stuff going on the ground, that’s going to blow people’s minds, big time.”

You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below.


Erica Anderson: Moriba, welcome to Recode Decode.

Moriba Jah: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure and honor to be here.

So let’s start. What is space junk?

Yeah, so basically since we’ve been putting up satellites — Sputnik all the way to the current day — most of what we put up there doesn’t come back. It dies, it ages, it falls apart. Every once in a while, two things collide with each other or something will blow up or somebody will blow something up. And then these things become many more pieces that are also mostly never coming back. And so the population is just growing, and it grows on its own, and it grows because we’re launching stuff and more and more countries are getting involved in space, and they want to put more stuff on orbit.

So currently there’s a hypothesis, about half a million objects ranging in size from a speck of paint all the way to a school bus that could harm any services and capabilities we depend upon, like global positioning system, banking, weather warnings, agriculture, TV communications, and soon even the internet. Because that’s the new thing. I mean, SpaceX and Amazon, now they all want to rush to send thousands of satellites up there to provide global internet.

How did you learn about this issue? How did you learn about the issue of space junk and the need for solutions?

My career started off at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. I was a spacecraft navigator navigating several missions to Mars and that sort of stuff. But then I stumbled upon the work that the Air Force Research Laboratory was doing. And from a defense perspective, one of the questions is “debris or not debris.” That is the question.

Nice. So all right. Now that we understand, I think we have a baseline of space junk. Tell me, what’s the big idea? What are you here at TED talking about?

Yeah. So one of the things that’s very unfortunate is that there isn’t a consistent space traffic map around earth’s orbit. If you ask the US government, “Oh, well what do you think is up there?” and where it’s at, you’ll get an answer. If you asked the Russian government, you’ll get an answer. And they’re different. If you asked the Chinese, you’ll get a different answer. Ask five people the question, you’ll get 10 different answers, sort of thing.

And so one of the things that I’m trying to do is I ask people this question, “How do you know that you have the world’s most accurate clock?” And the way that you know is because you have hundreds of them. And that’s how time has actually standardized across the globe. You have hundreds of atomic clocks that predict what the time is and then they kind of crowdsource that and figure out what the actual time is.

In order to get through really what’s up there and where it’s going and what can it do, the idea is to crowdsource multiple sources of independent information and see where does it seem to be consistent and where is it inconsistent, and do it in such a way that no single entity can dominate or bias what that answer is. Because some people are very happy with having this sort of mystery cloak around space, right? They can just do whatever because it’s the Wild West up there. It’s like a gold rush because people see, “Oh, wow, there are trillions of dollars to be made with space-based services. There are no space traffic rules. It’s like the Wild West. I’m just going to go up there and make my claim and make my money and get out.” And I’m like, “Ahh, hold on a second. Let’s think about long-term sustainability of that environment.” I want to make sure nothing hides. That’s my goal: to make space transparent and predictable.

So you want to find the common answer with the metaphor of a clock.

Exactly. What is the common answer? That’s right.

You showed a chart, a visual in your presentation that had the information from the United States versus the information from Russia about the kind of the rate of space junk out there. And it was totally different. So you’ve identified this challenge is kind of different sources of truth, if you will.

Exactly. Opinions.

Opinions. So this is the idea. So your idea is to create really like space traffic information, a way to understand a common source of what’s happening in space. What was the inspiration for this?

Basically, I worked for the Air Force Research Laboratory for a decade. I’ve seen escalatory language in the news, meaning the US is saying, “Well, China has these capabilities, and we need to prepare for a war in space.” And China is saying one thing and Russia is saying the other. And before anybody presses some weird red button, I would like to say, “Hold off, let’s really understand what’s going on.”

Because people … In the absence of knowledge, people become very paranoid. And so I want to provide a basis of scientific evidence so that we can make informed decisions and not just act in ignorance. Because right now there’s just a lot of ignorance. And I’ve got to tell you, people are very concerned about intent. “Oh, well, when this satellite comes close to mine, what’s their intent? Do they just not know they’re that close or are they trying to do something to me?” And the more people send satellites in space, that’s going to be a growing concern.

So how do you execute this?

So right now, at the University of Texas at Austin, there’s this thing called the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which is where Astra Graph lives, autonomously we’re grabbing several sources of information, bringing that into this graph database. And then when you go to the website, it visualizes all these things.

So right now, we’re in the final stages of developing an API that would let people interact with the graph database. I want to open this up to amateur telescope operators, like people from all over the globe. “Hey, deposit your evidence in this common bucket.” And then we’re going to have algorithms that are going to try to sort this stuff out to come up with this sort of common knowledge and make it globally accessible. That’s the thing, is that anybody can have access to this stuff for safety and sustainability.

So I was just going to ask, who would use this? Who would use this database?

Let me give you an example. You have African countries that are developing their own kind of space agencies and that sort of stuff. Nigeria has a space agency. They only have a few satellites. Guess what? Nigeria doesn’t have a global network of sensors to track stuff in their orbital neighborhood. And so it’s like, “How do the Nigerians stay safe? How do they know when to get out of the way if something is going to come towards them?” And so this basic service would be to facilitate people who just don’t have all this capability to know where everything is at all the time. But they’re space operators. And so if they’re on the highway, it would be nice to remove the blindfold and let them see the traffic that’s around them.

And really to level the playing field to make this kind of information accessible.

Exactly.

Yeah. I want to jump back to something you said that’s fascinating. You said that the future of space is a trillion-dollar business. What are the types of things you’ve seen happen in the space exploration area that have to do with building new businesses up there? Because we actually can’t see it. We hear about these ideas of what people are doing. But from your perspective, what are those big kind of new business ideas that are happening?

Right. So I would say, by and large, there are two dominating camps. One of them is communications, and most of the money made in space is based on communications. Now with the thought of having internet anywhere on the planet, 24/7, that’s a big business. I mean, like I said, Elon Musk with SpaceX, Bezos with [Blue Origin], they want to put stuff up there, and that’s just the US. I mean, European companies have their own ideas. China has their own ideas for this stuff. So that’s definitely a big market place.

The other dominant camp is the remote sensing looking down. So I mentioned things with cameras looking to the surface of the earth. I said agriculture, disaster relief. But in general, human-based activity monitoring, that’s a big deal. Everything from government intelligence agencies that want to track motion of certain people around the planet, to people that might say, “Hey, I want to see what kind of cars are being driven in this parking lot on what days of the week so I can figure out how to strategize and market.” Knowing what people do and how they move and how they interact as pervasive and as persistent as possible, that’s a big business.

So now if you tie the Internet of Things on the ground with what is in orbit, that’s like a mega set of information. I’ll put it this way, people are very surprised with the level of knowledge that a company like Google might have. If they start incorporating space-based information and linking that with stuff going on the ground, that’s going to blow people’s minds, big time.

Let me give you another example. Let’s say country A has all these space-based capabilities looking down, and they go to have a conversation with country B about, I don’t know, mining. Country B doesn’t have all these assets. When country A goes to talk to country B and says, “Well, so what’s the price of the gold or this and that in your country?” Country B can’t just say whatever they want because country A can say, “You know what? I actually know the answer because I see how much dirt you’re actually moving on a daily basis and based on where your mines are located and how many trucks I see, that means that your yield is only this percent.” So it completely gives an advantage to certain groups or entities if they have this knowledge over other people in just doing regular business.

Wow.

Big time.

So space surveillance.

Exactly.

Yeah.

And if you can sell that on tap, that is a lot of money to be made there.

So it’s almost like what you’re doing in terms of like your … it’s about space junk, but you want to understand, and you want to make it transparent, you want to kind of lift the veil a bit on what’s happening, so that it’s almost like an ethical pursuit, in some sense.

In some sense, yes.

Yeah. So back to the space junk, should there be junkyards up in space? And this is a silly question, but once you monitor it and understand it, what do you do with it? Do they just exist?

Right. So it turns out that there actually is a junkyard in space.

A junkyard. Yeah.

Yeah, yeah. There is one, and it’s called the GEO Graveyard. So the geostationary space highway, if you will, is located about 36,000 kilometers above the earth’s surface. And it’s where you put a satellite such that the time it takes a satellite to go once around in its orbit is equivalent to an Earth day. So that helps you point your dish at a certain region in the sky and you’ll always get a signal. The GEO Graveyard is about 300 kilometers above GEO. And we’ve been putting things there for a long time. I can tell you that it’s bad news because things in the graveyard are actually coming back to the highway sooner than people predicted. So we actually have zombies. Yeah, zombie objects.

Define zombie objects.

So basically you put something up there, you think it’s dead and it can’t do any harm. And this dead thing all of a sudden breaks up and produces kids after death. And these kids now come in …

This is terrifying.

I know!

What?

Right?

Yeah.

Yeah. So we see evidence of that whole thing, and it’s just not so good. So here’s the thing: If I can come up with a science that monitors this stuff, can quantify the birth and death processes of all these things, if I can develop a taxonomy to classify things and say these species of these things in this region behave this way versus that way, then we can start talking about: How do you mitigate this stuff? How do you slow down the rate of this stuff? How do you … but you can’t get there unless you have that kind of foundational body of knowledge.

Right. More specific information and …

That’s right.

Wow. There’s so much to think about Moriba, my mind is blown. So last question, what do you hope to accomplish?

What I want to do is I want to, A, raise awareness. I really, really want for space to be safe, secure, and sustainable long term. And my pathway to get there is by trying to make space transparent and predictable. And I can’t get to transparency and predictability without information from as many different sources as possible. And so I just want to crowdsource the living ___ out of all this information, make it automated, and make it publicly and globally accessible, so that nothing hides. I want nothing to hide in space.

Wow. All right. Cool. Thank you so much for coming on Recode Decode.

Thank you for having me. Thank you.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2L8IbzC
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Biologist Danielle N. Lee at The Root 100 gala on November 9, 2017.

Also: What Lauren Hill can teach us about sexual conflict.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Kara passed the mic to her executive producer Erica Anderson, who recently attended the 2019 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. On the new podcast, you’ll hear four interviews with TED Fellows, up-and-coming innovators in science and technology who give talks about their work on the conference’s first day.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of the first of those four interviews: In it, Erica talks to Danielle N. Lee, a behavioral biologist who has also been a vocal advocate for diversity in STEM.

“I want to see other copies of me. Young women, young people, who come from the hood, who come from urban areas, who come from the South, who come from working-class families, and come from teen moms, and … Those people have expertise and genius,” Lee said. “We don’t often think about all these different layers and flavors of genius. And you have so many nerdy black and brown kids, and they need to know it’s all right to be hood and nerdy at the same time.”

You can hear all four interviews right now on Recode Decode, which you’ll find on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Or, just listen using the embedded audio player below.


Erica Anderson: Danielle, welcome to Recode Decode!

Danielle Lee: Thank you.

So let’s start out. You gave a talk about the birds and the bees. It was a biology talk about mating and monogamy. But what was really interesting is, you really talked about how you can use hip-hop to frame and communicate science to a broader audience. So first, tell me a little about your talk, but what’s your big idea that you want to talk about today?

I like that you called it “the birds and the bees.” I sometimes call it “the birds, the bees, and the beats.” So my big idea is using culturally relevant context to communicate science to audiences who have been traditionally overlooked by popular science outreach and media. I grew up listening to hip-hop, and I was that kid who liked watching nature shows, but I always felt like I could narrate it better by using a vernacular and lexicon that represented how I spoke and how we talked in my neighborhood. Just like, “You see that bird, he rolling up on her, because he’s like, hey mama, what’s up?”

Tell me a little bit about how you got into … you’re a scientist. Why did you decide to become a scientist?

I’ve always loved animals. I was that kid who spent time outside a lot, because I got to go to work with my mom, she worked outdoors. And so I lived in a park, I was hunting four-leaf clovers, and I’d learn this ecology, I didn’t know the word at the time, about when things were happening in my neighborhood. So my little patches of nature were my parks and my schoolyard and backyard, and I was always just collecting stuff and bringing stuff home and asking a lot of questions about why animals did this and why they did that. And throughout school and college I could get no satisfactory answers. None.

Until one day, one of the papers I wrote in my Animal Communications class, the professor said, “This is a great idea, you should do a project on it.” And he sketched out the experimental design, because I wasn’t really there yet, and it started as just a simple summer project. He told me, he said, “You can do this, this is research, you can do in two months.” I worked on that for two-and-a-half years. But it was the hook. That got me hooked into doing science formally. Until then, I was set on going to veterinary school, because I thought the only career available to you if you liked animals was veterinary medicine, or maybe a zoo keeper. But what I loved about it, doing science, was I no longer asked anyone any questions any more. I was equipped to answer my own questions.

That’s amazing. So your big idea that you’re bringing to TED and that you want to talk about today is about … you talked to me a little bit about, like centering marginalized voices in the conversation and this idea of inclusive science. Talk about what that means.

That means making room at the table. Even if you think the table is full, you make space available to scooch over. And you bring people to the table and recognize who’s not there, who’s voices aren’t there, who’s ability to communicate and tap into audiences that are being left behind. So I come from what I call under-served audiences, like urban audiences and African American and brown, these kind of mixed-culture audiences are often overlooked and completely under-served.

If you look at the average science information going out, like science magazines … I’ve written for Scientific American. The average reader of those types of magazines is a 49-year-old college-educated white man who works in middle management. That’s the average reader of those types of magazines. Who’s being left out? We’re leaving a lot of folks out. And I can’t talk to everybody, but I know my audience, because I come from that audience. So I was like, I speak both science and I speak what’s happening … some variations of hood, Southern vernacular in particular, and I want to at least communicate with younger versions of myself.

Yeah. So what was the inspiration for this idea? What’s the inspiration for inclusive science and dedicating yourself to talking about this on such a big stages?

I am trying to replace myself.

Tell me, what does that mean?

That means, I want to see other copies of me. Young women, young people, who come from the hood, who come from urban areas, who come from the South, who come from working-class families, and come from teen moms, and … Those people have expertise and genius.

We don’t often think about all these different layers and flavors of genius. And you have so many nerdy black and brown kids, and they need to know it’s all right to be hood and nerdy at the same time. You can talk about Three 6 Mafia and what’s happening in nature and quantum physics. They need to know that that’s normal. So what I’m trying to do is, until we get the numbers, I’m trying to create a perception of normality, that we are there and present.

I love that. In Silicon Valley you often hear, the problem with inclusion is there’s a pipeline problem. And you would probably refute that.

Somewhat. There is genius out there. Now the pipeline problem is real as far as the formal education part. We are losing people. Because some of these spaces are not welcoming enough, or the people who are in charge of educating them and holding these precious young people and preparing them sometimes lack patience to let people go through stuff or find their way. Or they just don’t recognize genius if it doesn’t come in a package that they’re prepared for.

Interesting.

Yeah.

Right. That makes sense. So did you have role models, did you have people, teachers, who drew … saw your genius, when you were coming up?

A little bit. Now I was … I think they did, yes, no doubt. But I was … I’m also very tenacious. I refuse “no” as an answer. So much of it … I’ve had professors who were like, “You just weren’t going away.” I’m like, “Exactly.”

Yeah. That is … that’s good, that works.

I refuse to wait for … I don’t ask for permission.

Ask for forgiveness.

If that.

Okay. Okay, all right. I can take a tip from you. So, next question. How do you execute this ambition of centering marginalized voices and making science more inclusive? How do you execute that?

How I got started was actually through social media. I used blogging, so the golden age of blogging around ‘06, ‘07, when it was really hitting. I just started blogging about these experiences, and so these were ideas that had been swirling around in my head for the longest time, and I started a blog called Southern Playalistic Evolution Music.

Say it again.

Southern Playalistic Evolution Music. It was a play on an OutKast song. And it was … what did I say? Explaining evolutionary science with fat beats.

Amazing.

And that’s how I got started, by using social media.

Probably weren’t a lot of blogs like that.

There were not.

This was the golden age of blogging, when you had the Google blog search and you could find other great blogs. That’s when I started blogging.

Yeah. The highlight of networks.

Yeah.

So I was on a … at the time it was a brand-new science network, because there was a lot of reconfiguring. That was the other play, it was on the Southern Fried Science blog network, science blog network.

Very clever.

So it was a play on the Southern Fried Science, and also the fact that I’m from the South.

Yeah. Cool. So you started … that was, what, 10 years ago, 12 years ago?

Yeah.

So you started using social media, you started telling stories, you started creating your own content. Where are you at today, like how do you execute this work today? I know you’ve spent a lot of time in Tanzania conducting research, the other part of your life spent in St. Louis teaching. So what is the execution like for this idea?

So the execution for this idea is primarily me talking to my students in class. Now, some of them, my music is dated, so I get blank looks, but I’m like, “You all know these songs, I hear you all bopping to them.” But it means interacting with my students. I’ve done some … I still get invited to do speaking engagements. So that’s really where it happens, in the speaking engagements and venued events to talk about these things.

Yeah, yeah. I spent eight years in tech, I worked at Twitter and Google, and there’s a huge focus on scale. What can you scale? But the kind of work I did, which was talking about the company’s role in journalism, kind of doesn’t scale. You just have to go out and have conversations.

Yeah. And that’s why I think being in academia puts me in a safe space to do that, so that I can pop in and out and do this. As I see it, that’s the place right there. Everything’s not always easily scalable.

Something you said to me is, “Observation is the foundation of scientific process.” Tell me about that, because I asked you yesterday when we talked, “Why is this important?” Like, why? And you talked about that, the scientific process. So explain that.

All right. So you know in school you learn a scientific method, like there’s seven, eight steps, and they’re like, there’s question, and hypothesis …

I was not paying attention but this is my own fault. Yes.

But what they don’t tell you is, you can’t ask questions about the world if you haven’t been paying attention. So the real first step of science, of a scientific process, is observation. And we got … as we say in the hood, the streets is watching. We got a lot of folks with eyes out there, who have a really good understanding of the ecologies, the ecosystems, the science, both wildlife and natural science, which I study, or even the night skies and the stars and how things are moving. There’s a lot of observers out there that we don’t recognize as authentic observers. And they have good questions in them. And just giving them the space and recognizing, when you have a question in you, how can we help you cultivate the science in you to ask that question, to test it, to validate it, and to affirm the science genius I know that already exists.

And so we are missing out on a lot of good questions. So what people don’t recognize is that all the innovation we have in the world, how science works, people are pursuing questions that are personally relevant. There is no recipe. You’re not told, “You’re studying this, you’re studying that.” And so from my perspective, it’s a miracle we have amassed as much knowledge as we have, because everyone’s simply pursuing personally interesting questions.

Wow.

Which questions aren’t being asked because whole demographics aren’t participating in science?

Wow, that’s fascinating. It’s such a good point. What questions aren’t being asked?

So that’s why I want to recenter … who’s at the center. So when we look at, what questions are marginalized communities asking themselves every day? That I just want to recenter. Let’s pick this microscope up, literally, or telescope, and let’s move it 30 degrees.

Yeah. What’s so interesting about that is, that’s where innovation comes from, new ideas and the circulation of new ideas.

Absolutely.

So, last question before we send you back to the TED conference. What do you hope to accomplish with this work? What’s the moonshot?

If we’re dreaming big …

We are, yeah.

Sky’s the limit. I started blogging because I wanted a science show. At the time, there was zero women and zero people of color and definitely no one who was intersectional, who occupied these multiple identities of a woman and a person of color. So I wanted a science show, so I was documenting and putting out content of what I thought would be great little episodes. So the moonshot for me would be to do a science show. It’d be awesome to do a whole … a hood version, if you will, of a nature show, of me explaining, “You see what’s happening now? Let me explain this.”

I would watch that. All right, you’re the new … let’s get PBS on this, or Netflix.

Yes, David Attenborough, move over. What y’all need is a Southern accent.

Yes! I love it. I love it, I love it. Well, I’ve learned a lot from speaking with you. So thank you for your time and I guess the one last, last question is, what’s the hip-hop song we should all be listening to to learn more about science?

Wow. See, you got me with that one. It depends on what we’re talking about. So, a lot of what I’ll talk about in the evolutionary context is sexual selection. And if you want a really good first introduction to this foundation concept in sexual selection, we call it sexual conflict. And that’s because males and females of any species, they’re not always on the same page. And so it’s the conflict of getting what you want, which may not always line up with what the other sex wants. And so the perfect song that explains it perfectly, is Lauren Hill’s “That Thing.”

Okay. All right.

So if you want to understand sexual conflict, listen to “That Thing” by Lauren Hill.

All right. We’ll roll the tape. All right. Thank you, Dr. Danielle N. Lee, former TED fellow, who spoke onstage at TED 2019. Thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you. This was fun.

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New York Magazine editor-in-chief David Haskell in October 2018

Haskell took up the reins of New York Magazine this year after its 15-year editor Adam Moss stepped away.

On the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Peter was joined in studio by David Haskell, the recently appointed editor-in-chief of New York Magazine. Haskell minced no words about how intimidating it is to replace Adam Moss, his well-liked predecessor who restored New York Magazine to cultural relevance.

“He saw a moment to leave the New York Times Magazine and then he was up high in the masthead at the Times,” Haskell said of Moss. “To leave that for New York Magazine — which was, at that moment, not a great magazine, you know? It had the bones of something amazing and an early history that was exciting, but Adam got to oversee this massive restoration project and it was like all upside for him.”

Haskell told Kafka that he never actively sought out the editor-in-chief job, so being asked to take the job by the magazine’s owner, Pam Wasserstein, was a surprise.

”I was never interested in the pressure of the job that I have right now,” he said. “But I did find myself, over the course of last year, recognizing that I wanted next in my career the opportunity to lead an editorial project with the ambition and resources to be excellent. That was a sentence that I typed the morning that Pam called me into her office.”

You can listen to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Peter’s conversation with Jessi.


Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka. That’s me, talking to you from Vox Media headquarters in New York City. My guest today is David Haskell, the brand-new editor-in-chief of New York Magazine. Welcome, David.

David Haskell: Thanks.

You’re looking at me askance. Did I get something wrong?

No, that’s all right.

Did I pronounce your name wrong? Did I get the title wrong?

You got it all right.

New York Magazine is correct.

It just still feels a little bit weird.

Because it’s brand new.

Because it’s brand new.

As we’re speaking, you have your first new issue as the new editor-in-chief of New York Magazine.

Yep, that came out on Monday. Today’s Thursday, I think?

Thursday-ish. Mayor Pete’s on the cover.

Mayor Pete’s on the cover.

Lot of … How much pressure is there in issue No. 1 for you? Or do you feel like you’re just going to ease into this job?

Well, I spent a lot of February and March telling people not to judge.

Yeah.

And that the real project for the first couple months was just me adjusting and the whole editorial operation adjusting to saying goodbye to Adam, basically, and finding our way in this new world.

Let’s fill it in for listeners who don’t know who Adam is.

Sure.

Adam Moss is one of the bold-type big-deal editor-in-chiefs — formerly big-deal chiefs — left in the magazine business. There was Graydon Carter, there was Anna Wintour, Adam Moss. It’s kind of a triumverate. David Remnick.

David Remnick.

David Remnick.

Jeffery Goldberg, but yes. Jeff is not in New York, so that’s a different thing.

Jeffery’s a great person. But this is one of the people that you like moved to New York to work for.

Right, right.

And you are filling his shoes.

Yeah, that’s … Of all of the things, that is the scariest part.

Yeah.

Just the filling of the shoes of Adam. And I’ve known him for my entire … I’ve worked at New York Magazine for 12 years. I knew Adam for a handful of years before that in a kind of mentor/friend relationship. I had started a magazine of my own in graduate school, a little magazine called Topic. Originally, it was at Cambridge University and then I moved it to New York City, and Adam, who was editing the New York Times Magazine at the time, I got in touch with and he just was really generous with his time and gave me a lot of advice about how to make a magazine.

So, we had that kind of a relationship. Then he went to New York for a couple years. He was there and I was editing Topic magazine. We’d sort of loosely had conversations about me going there and then in 2007, that all made sense. And I went.

I can’t underscore how big a deal Adam is in the magazine world.

Yeah, he’s a big deal. I mean, the thing that’s interesting to hear you, to me as you talk, is that he is such a big deal in all of those ways and then at the same time as a person, incredibly approachable, friendly, warm, understated, modest. He doesn’t play a character.

How many people did he have working for him to read his emails? I heard Graydon Carter had four different assistants that would print out his emails and read them.

Adam had these two … Adam.moss@nymag.com was sort of the public email and his assistant read that. And then, he had a shorter email for internal, all of us to reach him more directly.

And he read his own email?

Of course, yeah.

Down to earth, great.

He was a very hands-on editor, not the kind of editor who sort of set the stage and then did a lot of public events. He was the opposite of that.

We can name names, if you want. So, there was a public announcement that he was leaving.

Yeah.

And then there was a gap in between that and you being anointed. Behind the scenes, was that already a done deal? How did that work?

Yeah, yeah. I found out soon after Thanksgiving.

He pulls you in …

No, not him. Pam.

Pam Wasserstein.

Who’s the CEO of the company.

Owner.

And with her family, the owner of it. So it was really a decision that Pam had already made after some time of sitting with the news that Adam had told her that he didn’t want to stick around for another re-up of his contract.

So they had already been having months of conversations of what that meant and she landed on a plan and looped me into that plan.

She brings you in and says, “Sit down. I have news.”

Yeah, it was kind of a … it was a classic scenario where I completely didn’t expect it, it was an informal …

Because Adam had not told you he was leaving.

No.

Yeah.

And it wasn’t like there was a meeting that showed up on my calendar, an important conversation that I was about to have with Pam. It was literally a, “Hey, can you come by?” She had a few things to talk to me about that were completely tiny and then she said …

“Oh, by the way.”

Yeah, oh, by the way, some sad news, but good news, is that Adam is leaving and I’d like you to take his job. So anyway, that was in December, right after Thanksgiving.

She says to you, “You are going to replace Adam Moss. He’s leaving, you’re going to replace him.” Do you go, “Great”? Do you go, “Holy shit”?

My face flushed and I was so taken aback, I really, truly was. It was not what I was imagining was going on. And I mean, I was just so appreciative. Inside, incredibly nervous already, but I think all that fumbled out of me was just … thank you, I guess, and I’m so excited? Something along those lines.

So no introspection, no, “I got to think about whether I could do this or whether I want to do this”?

No. I mean, I had weirdly, I had just filled out, you know, maybe you have this here too, but we instituted a couple years ago this annual review, annual summary HR process. And part of that is you have to write your own assessment and answer a handful of questions. And one of the questions was a sort of long term, or what is your view of the future, something like that.

And I had been at this place for 12 years and I have been always sure that I didn’t want Adam’s job because of the pressure of inheriting something that’s performing so well.

It seems like it’s the kind of thing that tears up your stomach lining, where you’re filling his shoes, the magazine is doing really well and …

And the thing that I so envy about Adams’s career is that he saw a moment to leave the New York Times Magazine and then he was up high in the masthead at the Times, to leave that for New York Magazine, which was, at that moment, not a great magazine, you know? It had the bones of something amazing and an early history that was exciting, but Adam got to oversee this massive restoration project and it was like all upside for him.

Because the history of New York was city magazine, back when city magazines didn’t get respect, and then it was the new journalism …

Well, the first 10 years of New York Magazine were amazing.

It’s Tom Wolfe.

Exactly, Clay Felker built it with Milton Glaser and a handful of other people, Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron, Gloria Steinem, Jimmy Breslin, just an incredible collection of journalists.

It is a local magazine, but it’s definitely a national magazine.

Yeah, it was writing about Watergate. It was writing about Hollywood. It had a New Yorker’s point of view of the world and then very specific, useful, no-bullshit service about how to actually get around the city. That was sort of its thing. It invented what city magazines could be.

And then, the “city magazine” kind of became this thing and it often wasn’t that ambitious.

It was more service, less impact.

Yeah. But you know, the simplest way of understanding what Adam did was look to those first years, the Clay Felker era, and find in that history a template for what the print magazine could be and also what a digital magazine could be, which we could talk about more.

But just to finish my story, I was never interested in the pressure of the job that I have right now.

That job, yeah, yeah.

But I did find myself, over the course of last year, recognizing that I wanted next in my career the opportunity to lead an editorial project with the ambition and resources to be excellent. That was a sentence that I typed the morning that Pam called me into her office. And so, somehow internally, I had gotten myself to the place and I really, truly did not think it was going to be here because I didn’t think Adam was going to be leaving and so it just felt like I should let Adam and Pam know that kind of long term, I’d like to run something.

And anyway, then she called me into her office and so that was, sorry, that was December and then we were all very nervous about how to break this news. And it was Adam’s very smart, although at the time I thought maybe not correct idea that the best way to do it would be to split the news cycles, create two news cycles, basically.

“Someone’s leaving, someone’s coming.” Two different stories.

Someone’s leaving, yeah. Exactly. And in that gap, people wouldn’t jump out the window. That was the thing I was worried about, that Adam is so beloved in the office and truly has created a magazine and its digital incarnation in his image and what would the staff think to know that he’s going and not to know who’s coming.

So anyway, we got through those 24 hours, and there was an enormous and glowing article in the Times about his career and all that stuff. And then, people were interested in my news too, so that didn’t get buried either. So it was …

Well played.

And then Adam, his last day was going to be and was March 31st. And this was mid-January now that the news came out. So then we had a like, 10-week transition, which was, every week very different from the week before.

Is he pulling you aside and saying, “Listen, I mean, we never talked about this, but this is actually the secret to doing the whole thing.”

We had a handful of conversations of like, “All right, big picture. How does this place work? And big picture, if you look at the staff …”

Because again, you’re there, you’re obviously high up the masthead now and thought … so you had access to a lot of this, you knew how a lot of the mechanism worked.

The last iteration of my job at the magazine was in a position of some leadership and was pretty strategic. So I was involved in a lot of conversation about where this place was going. I wasn’t as clued into the mechanics and the budgeting about how it currently works. So that was a big education.

You are, by the way, how old?

I just turned 40.

That’s the right age to start running a magazine.

Yeah, so I started it when I was 39 …

You already aged.

And then April 10th, I turned 40.

So there had been a series of high-profile magazine leaders leaving in the last couple years.

Yeah.

Sometimes on the business side, sometimes on the editing side. And very often, the through line is — whether it’s stated or not — is this person is leaving because the magazine business is contracting and there isn’t the budget for them to get paid the gazillion dollars they’re getting paid, or there’s cutting and they don’t want to do the cutting or they just need a cheaper person. Graydon Carter just did a thing for Hollywood Reporter where he more or less says, this whole thing’s shrinking and its less fun for me.

Radhika Jones has that job, and part of her job is to run that thing at a smaller budget but still have it be a big deal.

Right.

How much of that is …

It’s not really applicable to this situation.

Yeah, yeah, so how different or applicable is it?

Pretty different. I mean, it was … it’s a pretty exciting time to be the editor-in-chief of the magazine. I feel that and Adam also feels that. So he wasn’t sort of, it wasn’t a kind of … I mean, you should ask him, but I believe him when he says in public and in private that it was truly a sense of personal … exhaustion’s not the right word, but ready for something else.

It’s kind of surprising to me, it has been, that so many magazine editors are still interested in being in the job for as long as they sometimes are. It doesn’t necessarily reflect …

Because in the old days, it was was a great gig, right?

Yeah, I mean, I guess that’s true.

Town cars and expense budgets and …

But just, Adam’s incredibly, has an incredibly creative, fertile mind. And the fun thing about this job is you’re constantly reinventing things. You’re not only constantly looking around the world and saying, “Oh, that’s a story we want to do, this is actually changing in the world and let’s notice it,” but you’re the magazine itself and the digital newsroom and the brands that we’re creating, the verticals, all of that … going to film, television, podcast, events, there’s so much to create all the time. So that is really fun and makes the job exciting. But it doesn’t surprise me that after 15 years of that Adam was like, “Oh, okay. Let’s sort of see what else I’ve got in me.” And specifically, the management drain was wearing on him.

It’s a lot of work.

So anyway, that’s why he left. And it really didn’t have anything to do with the business. But it was interesting when we were trying to plot out how to manage this announcement, there aren’t that many playbooks that we could find of a successful transition in magazine editorship, especially recently. It’s all been kind of rocky. And I’m just so grateful that he saw as part of his legacy transitioning well, you know? That was part … he has set me up in every possible way to succeed and that’s also super stressful because I might not, but it’s such a different situation compared to, say, Graydon and Radhika.

Normally, this would be the part of the conversation where I’d say, “Hey, magazines, what’s up with magazines? What’s the point of a magazine, isn’t this all digital?” But New York in particular has done a very good job of adapting in a lot of ways to a digital world, right?

Yeah, I think so.

You’ve been publishing aggressively online for a long time and I think have done a really good job of providing useful information, big important stories, and also service-y stuff, so you’re getting both eyeballs and attention, positive attention. How much of that was your hand?

Not that much. I think one way to look at the last 15 years of Adam’s tenure and also the Wasserstein family’s ownership of this place is that we as a magazine figured out how to be a digital publication and to bring the qualities of magazine-ness to the digital world and our magazine in particular. That was like the big accomplishment. And I had very little to do with it. Most of my time was editing big features.

Doing actual magazine editing?

Yeah.

Yeah.

Not that much time spent on decoration of … our verticals, with the exception of The Strategist, which is …

Yeah, explain what The Strategist is.

Sure.

I think a lot of people in the magazine business know what it is, but others might not.

Well yeah, so really quickly, one thing that we as a company realized early on is that New York Magazine is a general interest magazine. Right? It’s a very particular point of view and voice. It’s sort of known for its stylish journalism and all that stuff, but it’s general interest. Whereas on the internet, what really performs, what really works is deep obsessional reporting and commentary and attitude around specific topics.

”I want this thing. I equate this brand with this thing, and that’s why I value it.”

Yeah, or like Vulture, which is one of the first verticals that we created, New York Magazine has always covered culture in a very obsessive way. Rather than just sort of add a lot of culture covers to what New York Magazine was digitally, we created this thing out of nowhere called Vulture. It just was this repository of, it’s motto for a long time has been, “Mind of a critic, heart of a fan.”

And some people are consuming Vulture and don’t know it’s a New York Magazine product.

Exactly, right. The big discovery was that we could create these verticals of excitement and enthusiasm attitude, blah, blah, blah, and that they could completely live on their own, independently. You really truly could be — and there are millions of them out there — huge Vulture fans, and not really have that much of a relationship to the rest of what we’re about, same with The Cut. There’s five of them, Vulture, The Cut, Intelligencer, The Strategist, and Grove Street.

The Strategist is the newest one?

Yeah, The Strategist is named after a section of the magazine that gives you service journalism, tells you how to do life more.

Right, and it’s fashion-centric, right?

Well, no. It’s not fashion-centric, but it’s practical centric. It’s main job in the magazine originally was your strategies for getting through New York City. It’s where our food coverage is, “This is the restaurant to go to,” but also, “This thing is trending right now, and this is literally the best route.”

We just did this thing on everything guide to umbrellas, and it included, “What is the right way to walk through certain areas of the city to get rained on the least?” And it’s very specifically …

That’s good. Does it have an umbrella etiquette, because people are …

It has an umbrella etiquette.

Good.

Exactly, and it also has “these are the best umbrellas.” So there was an aspect of what we were doing that was always a lot of really rigorous testing and research and filtering through our point of view to say, “This is worth buying.” What we decided to do a few years ago is create a digital expression of The Strategist that was all about internet shopping, and saying that, “The internet, like New York City, is both overwhelmingly exciting and just overwhelming.”

”We recommend you buy this stuff.”

That’s what we do. So we say in a million different ways, and we have different forms for doing it, we look at what’s out there in the world and say, “This is worth buying.” It’s a different business model for us than the rest of our …

Because it’s e-commerce.

Because it’s e-com affiliate-revenue based.

So you’re sending people to Amazon, other retailers, getting a cut of that. You guys were early on that. Everyone’s very interested in it now. New York Times bought Wirecutter. I think they in their filings they said that’s now doing $50 million a year for them. BuzzFeed is pushing it. We’re doing it at Vox Media … It’s still growing for you guys, I’m assuming.

Yeah, it’s growing very quickly. It’s a great business story for us. It’s really exciting editorially, because it’s … business incentives are so in line with editorial excellence. You have to be trustworthy in order to convince people to click on a link. Then if you do, Amazon or Nordstrom or whoever’s gonna sell that product eventually, is really appreciative of our referral, because they know that we were for something we’d genuinely believe it and the people who are coming are “qualified.” Right? They pay us for that, and they have no influence over what we choose.

From the outside, it seems like the obvious problem here is you have a race to the bottom where you have Amazon dominating this business, and then Walmart and a few other retailers. They know that all the publishers really want this business, and they can afford to give them less and less on each cut.

I was just talking to someone who’s doing this business and they were providing the counterargument. Did you want to explain why this is …

Yeah, I’ll give you a counterargument.

Why this is sustainable?

We’re in a stronger position than the Amazons of the world are. Really, in a sense that …

Very few people can say that with a straight face.

Well, they’ve got a great business. I’m not saying we’re a better business, but in this relationship … In a world without storefronts, it’s really hard for e-commerce retailers to get people to discover products. That is a dilemma that they’ve got.

So even though Amazon has everything …

It has everything, but how are they gonna get you to some of the stuff? In my opinion, it’s a pretty sustainable business if it’s not … You don’t wanna have all your eggs in the Amazon basket, and we don’t. We work with pretty much anybody who sells anything online, but I just see that ecosystem needing referral sources.

Right. As big as Amazon is, they need you guys to funnel shoppers to them to buy a specific thing.

So they’ll pay a small … a few pennies. It’s just cutting into a tiny bit of their margin and saying, “Sure, take some of it for getting these people here.” I think that’ll keep going. I really do. From our point of view, where we’re more concerned is just making sure that we have, on the business side, relationships with a lot of different places, so that if Amazon is changing its plans …

Right, and they’ve already gone, they’ve already said once, “We’re cutting the fees for this in general.”

Well, they did to their non-preferred relationships, but if you are …

If you’re a generic link provider…

Yeah, if you are a kind of blogger, you’re not as valuable to them, but for us, for the Times, I’m sure that a handful of other places, that relationship is getting stronger over time.

Yeah, someone told me that they’re actually going to expand in specific territories around the world, because Amazon is saying, “We would like it if you went to country X and generated more leads for us.”

Yeah.

Which sounds both creepy and, “Our office supports journalism. We’ll take it.”

Yup. That’s what I was saying.

Let’s have the “whither magazines?” talk, though. So you guys make great stuff online, and then there’s stuff that’s also online but exists in print. How do you demarcate, “Okay, this is an online-only thing,” “This deserves to be in the magazine,” or “This should be in the magazine”?

Yeah.

Because as a reader, I don’t care. Right?

Yeah, right. I mean, everything that we publish shows up digitally, so it’s really just a question of, “What also is in the print product?” Historically, the way that the editorial operation was built, the print magazine was really the engine for a lot of journalism. One thing I know I want to do is shift that a bit, so it’s more a showcase for it, but the engine exists outside of the print magazine.

Over the years, our verticals, digital verticals in general, have gotten more ambitious, more layered in their approach, borrowed a lot of the tools of magazine-making, becoming real magazines. When you look at “enterprise journalism,” which was like traditionally the very expensive journalism that was happening in the magazine, and then that would show up on Vulture and be the big Vulture story. Vulture itself is making enterprise journalism, and it should be doing more of that.

We’ll get to this place where they are somewhat now, it’s not gonna be completely there, but we will push more towards a place where the magazine is just, “Every two weeks, how can we package it all together and just something that has a lot of magazine drama?” Magazines are such a theatrical experience.

Explain that, because I think — again, I moved to New York 20-plus years ago because I loved magazines and I wanted to work at them. I thought they were great products. For a bunch of reasons, I think, well, economic reasons and just culturally, they become devalued, and it’s hard to sort of explain how big a deal they were, again, even 20 years ago. Again, as a reader, and I read voraciously, it’s all in my phone. It kind of all looks the same.

You did your Biden story, “Joe Biden creeped me out,” kind of story, and that’s online, and I can’t imagine …

Didn’t run in the magazine.

Didn’t run in the magazine, and again, it said, I think everyone said, “This is a New York Magazine piece.”

And The Cut.

And The Cut, right?

Right.

But as a reader, it’s all the same stuff. I value it, but I don’t value it. The idea of this sort of … curated, very specific thing is kind of lost, I think. Even to someone like me who’d love this magazine.

Yeah, I think that that’s true. That’s the world we’re in that so much news comes at you in a kind of uniform way. It’s just the world we live in. And I’m not saying that we’re gonna live in a different world, but there is something …

What is the drama of a magazine then?

Well, starting with the cover, what you’ve got is this opportunity to shake people and say, like what we just did with this Mayor Pete cover, “How about Pete?” That was the cover line. It took most of my 24 hours of Thursday into Friday just focusing on that and the deck, the language going into the cover line, to figure out what is it that we’re actually going to say? It was that important to me to get that language right, because it’s a big jolt of a statement. We took a kind of weird … a live photograph that was both real and slightly cartoonish.

From the very beginning, a magazine cover can announce something and make something big happen in the world.

Right, and there’s iconic Esquire magazine covers, bunch of famous magazine covers. Even, again, fairly recently, if you were a magazine editor, you spent a lot of time thinking about how this would work on a newsstand. “What would this sell?

I mean, the newsstand of today is Instagram.

I assume that you don’t care. Yeah.

It’s not that I’m … New York Magazine’s never really had a newsstand business, so actually that is special to us.

”We’re gonna make this print thing that we have been …”

We’ve always been more based on subscribers. So the value of a cover for us isn’t so much like, “You’re walking in an airport and you see it.” I mean, that’s great, fine, but it’s a marginal part of the business now. It always kind of has been, but it’s really kind of just like, “Oh yeah, this is why I subscribed, because wow, that’s exciting, or weird, or provocative.”

Someone’s already giving you money, you feel better. Then you also expect this is gonna travel around the internet, have a certain brand for you.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s just one part of my magazine experience, but I’ve always appreciated a kind of curated intentional … dramatic walk-through of my news. I mean, I find that when I go to a museum, I want to know whether to turn right or left, and I want somebody to have guided me through what they think is the right way to see something. So that’s sort of a bias of mine, but I think it’s what’s exciting to a lot of people about magazines, is that you can really go on a journey in a kind of regularized weekly, bi-weekly, monthly cadence.

It’s kind of this form, right, where there’s the front of the book and the shorter, snappier pieces?

Then, once you get into that kind of how it all works, that’s where I’m like, “Eh.”

You don’t care.

Yeah, or like, “Let’s shake it up.” None of those rules are important. Really, the only thing that I would argue for in terms of a print magazine is just that it forces you as editors to spend a lot of attention to making a full experience, and it gives a reader a chance to break from the world and have an experience. That’s the argument for print.

The core thing of what New York Magazine is translates beyond print because it’s about voice, attitude, and approach to journalism.

So the same reason, like when people who still make albums care about track listings and the order, even though most of the stuff is gonna get disaggregated and the single’s gonna go out or someone’s gonna stream it. They still think it’s important to like, “This track starts this side.” Well, there’s no sides anymore, but still, “We’re gonna go in order. We’re gonna tell you a story.”

I think, whatever you think of what Apple News+ is, the fact that they, Apple, a tech company’s in magazines matter in the world. I think what they’re saying is, not just that flip-through cadence are the digital equivalent of that, but that there is a type of content out in the world, a type of journalism that isn’t newspapers, and it isn’t nonfiction books, and it isn’t documentaries on Netflix. It’s this other thing where it is a relationship that you can have with a brand of journalism that shares a point of view and an attitude with you, and is your sort of partner in understanding the modern world.

Let’s talk about Apple News+.

Sure.

You guys were prominently featured in it. A lot of Rebecca Traister in that promo reel. She looked great. A lot of the magazine publishers are in it in part because they were in a contractual… They had this thing called Texture and they sold it to Apple, and they’re bought, but you guys have opted into this.

No, we were part of Texture too.

You were part of Texture to begin with. Okay.

Yeah.

But you weren’t owners of Texture?

We weren’t, but we had already had a relationship with … There were people, not many of them, who were reading us on Texture already.

You didn’t need to be part of Apple News+, right?

I’m not sure, but we definitely decided it was worth jumping on.

So, I’ve talked about this a couple times. I think it is a pretty cool experience if you like magazines but don’t particularly care about any one magazine.

Yeah.

It’s kind of what Apple is saying sort of like, but not onstage. It’s sort of like if you, same thing for the Wall Street Journal. If you love the Wall Street Journal, it’s not a replacement.

Just sort of interested in “premium content” but across a wide variety of stuff, and you’re not too loyal to any one thing.

So the upside for you guys is there’s money potentially, and then theoretically you’re exposing your stuff to someone who maybe doesn’t read your stuff all the time. That’s all good. The flip side is, there’s a real disincentive, I think, to subscribe to New York Magazine if you’re getting Texture, because it’s already in there. You guys are getting a very, very small slice of $10.

The one thing for us, because we put everything on the internet, you could get it all on Apple News regular. We’re already giving you all of our content there. Now Apple is coming to us and saying, “Can we put it in this premium locked category, and we’ll actually be paying you for some of the readers of it?” So that’s sort of just an up.

So, “We’re already giving it away, and now we’re getting paid for it.”

But the other thing that happened this year, probably most significant, second-most significant thing after Adam leaving, is that we launched a digital subscription business back in December. Now, we are asking our readers to pay $5 a month or $50 a year.

If you look at what we’re about from a macro business thing, Pam Wasserstein, our CEO, she’s been here for three years. She made this big decision early on that even if we thought — and we do think we can grow our advertising business — the overall business is better if it’s diversified. That there are these two other business models out there that are best for us. One is the affiliate revenue, with The Strategist, and one is the digital subscription business.

The cool thing about being an editor is that both of those are basically rewarding good journalism. Right? It’s just, as an editor, I need to try to get some percentage of the 50 million people who are reading us each month to decide that we’re that good that they want to pay for it. So okay, great.

Because you get this, and you get five free articles or whatever it is, and they pay up.

Yeah, we have this thing, “dynamic paywall,” which means you never really know what the tally is, but at some point if you’re …

You get a tap on the shoulder.

You get a tap on the shoulder, and then you get a full wall and it says, “You’re up for the month. Please subscribe.”

When you go to Apple News, then again, which is gonna allow me to pay, I’m paying for it now, $10 and then I can read you and the New Yorker and everything else in there. In theory, when I get to your tap on the shoulder and the paywall goes up online, I go, “Oh, I don’t wanna pay you directly. I’m already paying Apple.”

“I’m just gonna go to Apple News.” Yeah. That might happen with enough frequency that the whole thing doesn’t work for us.

The answer is, you don’t know.

Yeah, of course we don’t know. We’ll see. The sense is that there [are] two different use cases, really. That there are people who are gonna get to us from Apple News, and they’re really not. There’s a huge number of them, first of all, and for the most part they’re not the people who are already going to our site all the time.

That’s a billion iPhone owners that are gonna flip through it periodically.

And I know folks at the New Yorker have made a separate argument. If you really love us the best experience of us is gonna be on our site. If you’re kinda …

The New Yorker’s online editor said, “please, please don’t go through it, Texture, through Apple News+, please subscribe to us directly.”

Yeah, and I would say a similar thing. If you really like us, you’re gonna get the best experience from us. And that’s on us to make sure, from a product point of view, we’re giving you the best version of us. But if you’re just casually interested in content, I think Apple News is probably worth it. I mean, it’s definitely a deal.

So this is, even though you guys are prominently featured and you’re a big part of this, you view this as an experiment, wait and let’s see how this goes.

Yeah, I think we as a company, I mean, I don’t know what the deal is and how much flexibility we have, but I know that just strategically, jury’s out on how much it will cannibalize the digital subscription.

And you have the capacity to get out at some point, I think.

I don’t know, honestly.

I think you do.

I think we do.

I think you do.

Yeah, I’m sure.

And all of this business conversation, right, in newspapers, in the old model, the editors were proudly ignorant of how any part of the business worked, they wanted no part of it. In magazines, I think there’s always been more of a blend, right? ‘Cause you’re selling the product, you’re well aware of it, at least with the magazine experiences I’ve had. Even if there’s a clear wall between edit and advertising, you guys were talking all the time.

Yeah, and I’ve also felt, always, like a kind of entrepreneurial editor, so I’m not afraid of any of the business conversations. I’m very protective and careful of our journalism and brand, so I’d rather be in the room and say, “Let’s double down on The Strategist. It was really important to me that we grow that business. It felt completely in line with who we are as a company and would facilitate a lot of really great journalism that was on brand, so I was like, “If this is the business that’s gonna work, let’s go deep into it.”

But then, we’ve had other conversations about X, Y, and Z ways of making money that would obviously be intentioned with editorial quality, and that’s super important to me to be in that room and say, “Nope, not that one, let’s not do that,” and make that case.

And it’s not just being defensive, right, it’s like, “I think we should pursue this, but let’s do this, this is a good revenue opportunity for us.”

Exactly. Exactly. I really think, and it’s very fun to be Pam’s partner in this because she is very interested in ways of growing the business that is smart. But she’s also very discerning and has really great taste, so that is a nice combo to have in a boss.

By the way, last fall there was a story saying you guys had hired a banker, and you were exploring alternatives, I haven’t heard anything about that, it sounds like it didn’t go anywhere.

Yeah. The magazine’s owned by the Wasserstein family, they’re a pretty private family and you should talk to them about what happened. But I will say that at the town hall meeting, our big company-wide meeting in February, Pam was asked by one of our employees, “Are we still for sale?” and she said no. And in all of my conversations with her, too, that is a true answer.

Good, we got it out of the way!

Good. I know.

Just one more business question for you, what percent of the revenue comes from strategists and e-commerce and that stuff right now?

That, I don’t know, I know that a couple years ago the whole company had about 85 percent of its business was advertising. And this year we’re on track, Pam was telling me the other day, to be around 60 percent, even though the advertising business is growing.

Okay, so that’s not just the ad business declining, okay.

Right, so the ad numbers are growing in absolute terms but going down pretty significantly in overall …

And this is the new normal for publishers, they want that.

Yeah. I mean, at least for Pam. And for this company, I think it’s like, you find a few different business models that all, in different ways, make money on high-quality content. And so, anyway, that number I can give you. This year, we’re on pace for advertising to be at around 60. But I can’t break it out between the others, I don’t know what they’re …

All right, I’ll get the pie chart from you later, we’ll publish it.

Let’s talk about politics, and then how you guys think about your role in covering politics in general and 2020. Again, clearly, like we talked about, you guys are New York Magazine, but you are a national publication.

Everyone wants to cover Trump, everyone’s gonna cover the Democratic race. How do you stand out in that crowd?

That’s a conversation we’re having all the time, and it changes all the time. Looking back on the last few presidential cycles, it’s kind of been interesting to study what our lane has been. John Heilemann was writing for us for the 2008 race and the drama, that was a premium cable show. The primary between Clinton and Obama, the race itself, so narratively-focused.

2012, and also ‘16, by that point, we had a kind of murderer’s row of commentary with Frank Rich, John Chait, Rebecca Traister, Andrew Sullivan, giving really super-smart analysis of what’s going on. In addition to obviously a lot of strong reporting, also.

So I’m, just in a sort of theoretical in-my-head way, that you try to plan things, and then in reality, things just happen, trying to think of how we can really meet the 2020 race with our greatest assets. But if you look at the piece that Olivia Nuzzi wrote about Pete, it was actually a pretty quick turnaround piece, we decided just a few weeks ago that our internal Pete obsession was actually maybe worth covering.

And so we were like, “All right, let’s do this, the classic New York Magazine piece. She’s gonna fly to New Hampshire, she’s gonna watch him, she’s gonna have a lot of conversations with him, but she’s not just gonna write a piece that transcribes her conversations, she’s gonna download all of the wisdom that she’s picked up of what’s going on, she’s gonna be a super-smart observer, what’s happening.”

Meanwhile, we’re getting a photographer out to New Hampshire to try to document what these surreal early primary meetings are there. And then we’re also on the phone with the campaign to convince them to give us a portrait session, because if that could come through, that really felt to me like a cover. And then we realized that he’s actually going to be announcing right when the piece is coming out, and that’s just …

Just serendipity.

Yeah, it’s luck that you sort of fall into and sort of make for yourself kind of thing.

It’s funny, all those elements are still how big magazine covers are made, which is, there’s a combination of, “we have a gut feeling of this is an interesting person, and we’re trying to catch that wave, and we wanna be out a little bit early, and then by putting him on the cover, we’re now part of the wave, it’s self-perpetuating,” and then also, like you mentioned, needing a photo. Again, I think for a lot of folks, especially folks who consume stuff online, you don’t think about photography, and if you’re us at Vox Media, generally you go to the Getty archive and there’s a photo.

Yeah, photography’s really important for me.

But for you guys, the photo is a big deal, it’s very important, and if you don’t get the photo, it makes it less compelling for you, it makes it less likely to put on the cover.

Yeah, or it’s a bigger cover challenge. I think by the end of that cycle, of closing that issue, I was sure that that should be the cover, with or without the picture, and so, if it wasn’t going to be that, then that’s really fun, because we as a magazine don’t have the kind of cover constraints that … we don’t need to make a commercial cover. We can really do anything we want on it. So, it could be in all type, just a bunch of words, it could be … we have this weird picture of — or not weird, but a kind of cute picture of the back of a teenager’s head where he had shaved, “Pete for President 2020” on it. And I was like, “all right, well, that could be a cover.”

That’s your backup. Yeah.

Anything could be, but you just need it to solve the cover problem. And thinking about politics going forward, I really do want to apply our journalistic talent to each of the candidates while there is still an opportunity to be observing a lot of them, but at the same time, write about the systems of how a race works, the money behind it. New York Magazine’s always been particularly strong on the media of politics, and the money of politics, and the behind-the-scenes, how something is constructed. So there’s a lot of that that I wanna be able to do.

And then, also, we all feel like, you never want to feel stuck, hostage to the horse race coverage. So where can we be surprising, and who is the senator who’s not on anyone’s radar right now but an incredible story right now? I definitely want to be assigning into the heat of the 2020 stuff, not just the obvious 2020 pieces.

I’ve been asking people this for a couple of years, there was all this soul-searching post-Trump on the media side. What did we get wrong, how do we fix it? I feel like maybe you guys were exempt from that conversation because you weren’t supposed to be providing a national take, but maybe I’m wrong.

Well, I don’t know. We were definitely a part of that conversation.

I mean, obviously you had Rebecca writing about Clinton, and she was deep into that, and you guys really focused a ton of resources on that.

The cover of the magazine that was out on election day on 2016, it was a piece by Barbara Kruger where you had a big image of Donald Trump and it said “loser” on it. And he wasn’t. But he is. I’m not afraid of anticipating the future. I think we’re actually really good at that. A lot of our political commentary is, “Okay, what does this mean next?” We’re talking right now, as the Mueller report, I assume, is being released any minute now, and the job of …

It’s already out.

It’s out, okay. So, the job of our political writers and editors is not just to say what’s in it, but how is that changing the near future. And so we’re gonna get that wrong sometimes. And there’s a lot of conversations we’re having internally about responsibility and how much has actually changed in the world of political media? What did the 2016 election permanently do? In what way did it permanently change how you can responsibly cover politics? We are deep in those conversations.

Trump famously is a New York-centric media person, likes the Post, the Times, are you guys in his media diary?

I mean, he “likes,” quote-unquote. He’s complained about us.

But consumes it.

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

So he’s aware.

He’s aware.

That’s good. Or is it good?

Of course it’s good. You wanna be …

You want the president of the United States reading your copy.

Yeah. You wanna be in the conversation.

Last question is about whiskey. You have a side hustle. You’re running New York Magazine and you have your own distillery. How did that happen?

It’s a business I started with a friend of mine from college. And he, at the time, was working at an architecture firm, I was working at a magazine, the economy had just crashed, both of those jobs seemed pretty precarious, and we had this little hobby going on where he had brought some moonshine back from eastern Kentucky, where he’s from, we bought a still on the internet.

We’re making — illegally, because you aren’t allowed to distill anything without a license in this country — but we were making some whiskey. Realized we could be the first in New York City to get a license if we moved quickly, and therefore always “the oldest distillery in New York City,” and that seemed like a great business proposition.

Oldest distillery in New York City means incorporated in 2009.

Yeah, actually, our birthday was last week, so we’re officially nine years old.

What’s the name of the brand?

Kings County Distillery.

And if you go to a certain kind of liquor store, meaning the ones I go to all the time, your stuff is all over the place.

Yeah, that’s good to hear.

The little bottles of moonshine.

The big news in our business is that we’re about to finally release to the world a 750-milliliter bottle, which is the average size bottle of liquor. But we started so small, we were not only first in New York City, we were the smallest distillery in America by a factor of 20 or something, when we started.

Where do you actually make the stuff?

In the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But now, we’ve amassed enough juice that we can put out a regular-size bottle, and that’ll be a big deal for us.

Are you gonna branch out of whiskey, or you go whiskey, whiskey, whiskey?

Well, the big bet was to be just a whiskey distillery. We bought stills that were only good for whiskey and not gin and vodka and other stuff, which was a departure from how a lot of other micro-distilleries were building their businesses. So now that we’ve got … all we really do is whiskey, but we’ve played with brandy, and we’ve played with our version of tequila.

You didn’t make a gin, right? I had some kind of Brooklyn-y gin for a sort of industry setting.

No. Yeah, so there’s around, I think, 30 distilleries in New York City now.

The first.

But we’re always the oldest. And if you’re ever in …

On your Twitter account, there’s one post from you, it’s an image of I guess of you in a cornfield.

Yeah, I don’t know how to be on Twitter. I mean, I use it all day long as a way of reading the news, but in terms of expressing myself on Twitter, it’s never made sense for me.

You can’t fuck up that way, right?

I used to promote stories I worked on, but I just couldn’t find a language that felt true to myself, so I deleted all of those before the news came out, because I was like, “eh, that’s just kind of awkward.”

Ah, okay, so you have used it in the past.

I’ve played with it.

You’ve made more than one post.

And I’ve made more than one, but none of them made any sense to me.

Okay, so we can buy your liquor anywhere in New York City and beyond?

Yeah, we’re in most states and a handful of other countries.

We can buy your magazine at a newsstand, via Apple News, online … people can figure it out.

Or just nymag.com. You can pay an extra 20 bucks a year beyond your 50 and get it in your mailbox, which is also pretty cool.

We subscribed, post-election.

Yeah, all right, good.

I don’t know if it renewed. I gotta check. I’ll look at it. David, this is great. Thank you.

Thank you so much for having me.

I’ll let you get back to reading the Mueller report.

Can’t wait.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2UO0mdm
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Amazon boxes at a fulfillment center in New Jersey in August 2017.

Amazon is sending a warning shot to competitors.

Amazon has set out to cut its two-day free shipping offer to one. It’s a warning shot to competitors — and yet another example of the edge it has in setting the bar in e-commerce.

In a Thursday call discussing its first-quarter earnings, the Seattle-based company said it is in the process of overhauling its Amazon Prime delivery service to offer free one-day shipping instead of two. Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said Amazon would spend $800 million in the second quarter to make the necessary improvements to its fulfillment and logistics network to make one-day delivery the rule, not the exception, for members of Amazon Prime.

“It’s a significant step, and it will take us time to achieve,” Olsavsky said.

This is a big deal for Amazon, which a year ago hiked the priced of its Prime membership from $99 to $119 and has spent more than 20 years laying the logistics for its e-commerce business to position itself ahead of its competitors. It has more than 100 million Prime members worldwide.

Shares of Target and Walmart declined on Friday, a sign that Amazon’s one-day shipping threat is to be taken seriously.

“I see it as a major and potentially groundbreaking initiative to go from two-day free shipping to one day,” Tuna Amobi, an analyst at CFRA Research, told Recode. “It’s a massive endeavor that is going to take a lot of details to pull off.”

In other words, one-day shipping for Prime isn’t going to be the norm for all members by June.

Amazon will initially focus much of the one-day initiative on the United States, but the plan is for it to eventually go global. (Some markets, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, already have free one-day shipping on some items.) In the US, Amazon has been offering accelerated shipping for a while, depending on the product — one-day, same-day, and even two-hour delivery.

“We have significantly expanded our selection and eligible zip codes in the past month and we aren’t done,” Amazon spokesperson Julie Law said in an email. “We’ve taken a significant step, and it will take some time to achieve. We want to ensure a good delivery experience for customers as we evolve this offer.”

Amazon has the privilege of setting some of the rules in e-commerce

Amazon has positioned itself as the standard-setter for shipping in online shopping and has spent years and billions of dollars refining its supply chain. As Gaby Del Valle at Vox notes, beyond Amazon Prime, which launched in 2005, Amazon has also introduced other delivery streams, including Amazon lockers for customers to pick up their packages and Amazon Day, where customers pick a single day of the week for all their orders to arrive.

Amazon will be able to build on the massive infrastructure it already has in place to get one-day delivery up and running. The service will also depend somewhat on the shippers FedEx, UPS, and USPS, though Amazon has been expanding its own delivery capabilities as well. As Bloomberg notes, Amazon’s announcement will likely put “fresh strain” on shippers to achieve the requisite pace, and Amazon is a big customer for them.

“To me, this whole thing is Amazon flexing their ability to do this,” Juozas Kaziukėnas, the founder and CEO of the business intelligence firm Marketplace Pulse, told Del Valle. “This renders Prime shipping much more valuable, because even if some orders are delayed, the perception of one-day shipping is very valuable, because no one else can do it. That’s what’s going to keep people subscribing to Prime.”

She said that for some competitors, trying to match Amazon will be “borderline impossible.”

Part of the reason Amazon is able to even attempt this one-day Prime rollout is that it’s had so much runway and money to develop its e-commerce business that its competitors do not. Much of this is due to Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud services solution, which has represented the bulk of its profits for years. Plus, a long leash from Wall Street has allowed it to slash retail prices and spend on building out its logistics network. I outlined part of the story at Vox last year on some of the antitrust concerns surrounding Amazon:

For years, the company — which Bezos founded in 1994 — has had an ethos of prioritizing growth over profits. After it went public in 1997, Wall Street largely accepted losses and razor-thin profits quarter after quarter with the expectation that Amazon would ultimately be a good bet. It has been: Amazon’s stock price has multiplied five times over in the past five years, and it saw $1.9 billion in profits in the last three months of 2017 alone.

Prime is an expensive endeavor for Amazon, and this one-day shipping push will likely make it even more so. As Recode’s Jason Del Rey noted the last time Amazon upped its membership fees, beyond Amazon’s heavy spending on its own logistic network and increase of product offers to more than 100 million, it has also invested heavily in creating a library of movies and television shows for Prime members to stream at no extra cost.

To be sure, Amazon Prime is not a perfect service. In December, Fast Company’s Mark Wilson described a “slow dilution” of Prime, including shipping times much longer than the two-day promise and markups from third-party sellers.

But people generally really like Amazon — it consistently ranks as one of the most liked brands in the United States — and Prime is part of that. Amazon’s latest move is an attempt to improve its standing even more.

“This is something they’re doing to make their Prime membership much stickier and a much bigger catalyst for Prime member growth,” Amobi said.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2GFovOa
https://www.recode.net/

Slack founder Stewart Butterfield is sitting pretty at the beginning of his IPO-less IPO.

The workplace messaging company is gambling on a Spotify-style direct listing path to going public.

Slack, the workplace messaging tool that has become the platform of choice for industries like tech and media, is growing revenue at a rapid pace as it prepares to finally become a public company later this year.

Slack on Friday unsealed its paperwork with the SEC and revealed about $400 million in revenue in the fiscal year that ended this January — 80 percent more than it took in the year before. Revenue grew by about 110 percent in the year prior. The company is still turning a profit, but losses have been relatively stable — read: not declining — over the last three years, at about $140 million. So its path to profitability is uncertain.

The company will offer the second test of a novel way to go public: a direct listing, which Recode first reported Slack was considering late last year. Rather than selling new shares in the company to Wall Street insiders in advance of the opening day of trading, Slack — as Spotify did a year ago — will publicly offer existing shares to anyone who wants to buy them on opening day.

That’s risky because selling stock to those insiders is meant to keep the price stable, as does the lockup that keeps shareholders from immediately selling their shares for a number of months. But the draw is that a direct listing is seen as more democratic — after all, anyone can buy shares — and reduces the cut of Wall Street banks, which some say have too much influence in the process.

Spotify’s direct listing is generally viewed by bankers and IPO experts as successful. The downside, which Slack acknowledges, is that it could make for a more volatile run on the stock market because Wall Street has not put up the guardrails around a company’s opening trades the way it typically does (although Spotify’s first year as a public company has not been out of the ordinary).

“The public price of our Class A common stock may be more volatile than in an underwritten initial public offering and could decline significantly and rapidly,” the company described as one of its risk factors, on the typically dour list of things that could go wrong.

Slack’s direct listing is in some ways riskier than Spotify’s because it is not a broadly known consumer company. Bankers have generally advised that a direct listing might make sense for brands like Airbnb, but Slack is gambling that enough regular people are familiar with their product that they will flock to the stock when trading begins. The company claims 10 million daily active users.

Slack is one of 2019’s most highly-anticipated “IPOs” (it’s not really an initial public offering, since there is no “initial” sale) because it has built a subscription software company of scale. Slack could be valued at as high as $20 billion in its opening days, which would easily make it the highest-valued enterprise company to go public in 2019.

That is, if it’s not bought first. Slack has been the target of acquisition interest in the past, and could very well find itself fielding suitors over the next few weeks.

One shareholder has an unusually large ownership grip on the company, the S-1 reveals. Accel Partners, an old-guard venture capital firm primarily known for its Facebook payday, owns almost a quarter of the company — which is pretty rare. Accel led both of Slack’s first two funding rounds when the company wasn’t even called Slack yet.

The company, led by founder Stewart Butterfield, grew out of a gaming startup called Tiny Speck that flopped — but with some money in the bank before it totally combusted. With the final dollars, Butterfield pivoted the company toward the messaging infrastructure that Tiny Speck used internally to communicate, and Slack was born.

from Recode – All http://bit.ly/2VsO4M0
https://www.recode.net/

Julia Angwin, former editor-in-chief of The Markup, talks with Recode’s Kara Swisher at a live taping of the Recode Decode podcast in Washington, DC on April 26, 2019.

Angwin was fired Monday evening, and most of her staff resigned in solidarity. “I have to brush up on my coup literature,” she joked.

Last year, award-winning journalists Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson left ProPublica to start a data-driven media startup called The Markup. This week, the future of not-yet-launched The Markup appeared to be in jeopardy, as Angwin was fired by Larson and their other co-founder Sue Gardner, and most of their reporters publicly resigned in solidarity.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, recorded in front of a live audience at the Line Hotel in Washington, DC, Angwin said the firing stemmed from a fundamental disagreement: Whether The Markup should be based on reporting, or on an explicit anti-tech advocacy agenda. After people in attendance at the taping shared some of Angwin’s comments online, Larson and Gardner called Recode to dispute her claims; you can read their objections here.

“Once we started getting into it, it just became clear that she was taking a much more anti-tech position than I,” Angwin said of Gardner. “And I’m obviously known for being very skeptical about tech, but I’m a reporter. I go in with the facts.”

She also recalled several meetings where Gardner and Larson told her she was “failing as editor-in-chief and bringing down The Markup,” but not offering ideas for how she could improve in that role. Instead, Angwin said, they urged her to be a columnist, which she didn’t want to do.

“I’m not really a columnist,” she said. “I mean, every once in a while I’ve written an op-ed here or there about an investigation I did. So, I just said, ‘That doesn’t make sense’…. I didn’t feel like I could stay there and not be the person in charge of editorial.”

“I don’t know how this plays out,” Angwin added, referring to the fact that The Markup’s staff is now a fraction of its size last week. “I have to brush up on my coup literature…. Actually, somebody told me, ‘The coup’s already happened. This is the counter-coup.’”

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Julia.


Kara Swisher: Hi everybody. First of all, I want to know what the hell you’re doing out here at this time of day. I don’t know what I’m doing. I got excited to drive my kids to work … to school, to work, whatever. Anyway, I’m sorry for being dressed like this. I’m freezing, so I’m gonna stay dressed like Johnny Cash this morning, so you’re gonna have to deal with it.

I’m really excited to do this. I love Vox. Recode has recently been united with Vox, and we’re doing all kinds of cool things together, and we’re very excited, including these events. It’s their fifth anniversary, of Vox itself. It’s I think the 59th anniversary of what Recode has been over the years, but we’ve been going for a long, long time.

We’ve just started doing these amazing live podcasts, and so when they asked me to do this, I thought, “Who could we get where we could talk about journalism and where things are going, and perhaps there’s a little controversy we could talk about at the same time?” And so I brought up someone I worked with for many years, Julia Angwin from the Mark — well, not from The Markup.

She’s gonna come up. We’re gonna talk about a lot of things. We’re gonna talk about The Markup and a bunch of other things.

Sit in my gold chair. My golden chair. So anyway, Julia and I worked at the Wall Street Journal together 20 years ago, 30?

Julia Angwin: I don’t remember, gosh.

We worked in traditional journalism for a long time, and both of us left traditional journalism to do other things. Let’s get Markup out of the way. Tell us what happened there. Explain what The Markup was supposed to be, what happened there, and any other incredibly awful details you can bring to mind.

It’s great to be here, guys. I never knew being fired from the company I founded would be so good for my social media presence. I left ProPublica a year ago to found The Markup. I have been a tech journalist along with Kara for 25 years, and I had built up a specialty in doing investigative journalism alongside and with computer programmers who would help me build big data sets, and analyze data to do really deep investigative work.

Before we get to that, how did you decide to do that? You were a traditional media … you were in media. I was in the early internet and one of the few people who was covering tech long ago. Talk about how you got into that. You had covered just companies, right?

Yeah. I remember I covered Jim Bankoff when he ran AOL, and I covered AOL. You obviously were the original AOL person, wrote the book on it, literally. But I remember actually Jim Bankoff, I wrote a story, he’s the first reference ever being quoted using the term “social media.” It’s in the OED, in a story that I wrote about him.

He was running the content stuff for AOL.

Yeah, right. The way that I ended up in this weird sort of fusion of programming and journalism is that I grew up in Palo Alto and started programming in fifth grade, so my parents were the early, early …

You went to Palo Alto High School?

I did go to Palo Alto High School, also known as Paly. I actually grew up in the personal computer revolution. Computers have gone from the size of the stage to the size of this, and everybody was super excited, including my parents who drove out there in their VW in 1974, and said, like, “Let’s join this.”

I never had a typewriter. I learned to code in fifth grade, actually, because of Steve Jobs. He had done a program in the Palo Alto schools to have all the kids learn how to program in BASIC. I actually thought there were only two life choices: Hardware, software.

So you were going to get into computer tech.

Yeah. I went to college. I studied math at the University of Chicago. They didn’t have a CS degree, so I took CS classes. I spent my summers working at Hewlett Packard and there was no reason I wasn’t gonna go back except that I fell in love with the college paper and started writing for it. I thought, “I’ll just do this for a couple years,” just as like a rebellion against tech.

That worked out for a little while. I was here in DC after college. I covered the Hill. Eventually, in 1996, the San Francisco Chronicle hired me to cover tech, because it became clear that there were no reporters who knew anything about it, and so they were like, “Oh wait, you’ve used computers before, please cover technology.”

That’s about it. Yeah. That’s the qualification.

That was it.

You had this computer background, had you ever thought of moving into tech itself, like, getting a job at Google or wherever?

No. After my summers in Hewlett Packard in college … I mean, to be completely candid with you, Kara, my boss there was sexually harassing me. I was so young that I didn’t know there were any options, and I don’t even know if there were options at that time, so one of the main reasons I left tech is I was really, early, pushed out by #MeToo.

When I had a job waiting for me after college I thought, “I just can’t go back to that. I’m gonna go into journalism.” That was a good choice for me, I think.

At that time, tech was dominated by men, as it is today. You decide to get into journalism, you went to the Chronicle, and then to the Journal.

Yes, right.

How did you get into the idea of using computers to do this? People had been doing it for crime statistics and everything else, but you shifted it in a different way.

Most newsrooms have like a data desk. Actually, I don’t know if all of you guys know, but it was called the Computer-Assisted Reporting desk, the CAR desk. That field is still called that, which is kind of terrifying. What happened was, I went on book leave to write a book about MySpace, because I thought social networking was gonna be big. I was right about that. I was wrong about which one to write a book about.

When I came back I thought … One of the many things I was shocked about while writing that book was sort of the dawning of the realization that there was a market for personal data. That’s really what the social networks were doing is monetizing your data. And so, I thought, I want to start an investigative project on that topic.

I started reading the literature, and I found that there was this programmer at Berkeley in graduate school, Askhan Soltani, who had sort of done this scan of the web to see how much tracking was going on. I convinced my boss to let me hire him just to do that research again for me. That’s how it started. I was just like, “Oh, that seems cool, that seems like an investigative project,” and I hired him.

That spawned a whole series of articles called “What They Know,” where I continued to hire him, and I stole programmers off the graphics desk, and I stole them from wherever I could to do all sorts of different types of analysis. What I found was that that type of reporting, it could lead to more concrete results, because the fact that you diagnosed the problem so clearly and you released your data set meant that people could really clearly identify the problem, and there was a way to solve it. I mean, obviously, we haven’t solved any of those problems, but …

When you were writing those things, there was no people being upset about it that much. There was some. They were doing this wholesale taking of data, not stealing, you gave it up. There wasn’t that much anger over it. It was celebrated. It has been celebrated for a long time.

I was too early for the outrage. People were like, “Why are you writing about this? It’s just creepy ads.” I think it had to get to the point where … The election was where people realized, “Oh, this is affecting our common discourse,” in the elections. That’s why I feel like people woke up in 2016. When I was writing in 2010, Jeff Jarvis blogged, like, “this is so dumb, you’re taking down the innovation economy, like, what a stupid series of articles.” That was kind of the common tech view of it.

That this was a good thing. We finally found a business plan.

Yep.

That works and that people don’t care, and they want to willingly give up their information.

Yeah.

Right. That was the thought about it. I’m gonna fast-forward to what happened at Markup. You had gone to ProPublica, which is a fantastic organization that does investigative … and had done this, and come across a story around Facebook.

Basically, we were looking into Facebook and what Facebook knew about you. We offered readers a tool that let them download all the things that Facebook said it knew about you, and what we noticed was that we hadn’t realized that they were profiling people by race. They would identify you as “African American affinity.” Their description was actually “affinity,” meaning like you liked black people, which was weird.

Somebody tipped me off to the fact that meant, if advertisers could choose that category, they could probably discriminate in their ads by race, so we thought, “Oh, let’s see if we can break the Fair Housing Law, and make a housing ad that’s only targeted to white people,” and we put it through the system and it went through. We wrote an article like, “Wow, didn’t know you could break the Fair Housing Law, that’s cool.”

Facebook said, “Oh, we’ll fix it. We’ll build an algorithm.” Whatever. They built the algorithm, they released it, we tested it again, and we could still break the Fair Housing Law. Then they were like, “We’ll try to fix it again.” HUD began an investigation and then we noticed other things. We actually tested other things. We were able to buy … we didn’t actually buy the ads. We noticed actually that employers were putting age categories in their ads, so their ads would only be targeted to people like 18-24, which also is a violation of age discrimination laws.

We started looking at more and more different aspects of the way that you could discriminate in advertising, and after about two-and-a-half years, three years, actually, it was only about a few weeks ago, Facebook finally said it would stop offering what I call the “dropdown racism menus” that they were offering before.

Right. They don’t call it that. It’s really helpful to people to target their ads properly.

Right. It’s a service.

Were they very, very sorry?

They were!

They were very, very sorry.

Incredibly sorry. You know what they were gonna try to do?

Have an “I’m sorry” tour?

They were gonna do better. They were gonna do better.

It’s like this: “We didn’t mean to do this, and we’re gonna do really, really better.” They have hand signals when they do it … not Mark. When you put into this, what was the attitude towards Facebook? Now, you had written about MySpace in your book. Had you seen the power of Facebook? Had you thought about what was happening there?

You mean prior to the advertising?

Yeah.

Actually, back at the Wall Street Journal, we had done a story, literally the same story as Cambridge Analytica, about a company that was taking your voting information, stealing data from Facebook and using it to target ads. It’s just that we were too early. It was literally the same thing, and Facebook, by the way, said they were sorry and that they were gonna change the third-party controls so that people couldn’t steal this data anymore. I’d been increasingly concerned about this data and market for a long time.

Why do you think they have that attitude? You’ve approached them from a computer point of view, which is something they understand. Why do you think they continue to do this? Today, there’s news they just announced they’re gonna pay a $3 billion to $5 billion fine, which is, they have it in their drawer, it is not a fine. It is not fine. It won’t touch them in any way.

Right.

Why do you think they’re like this, from your perspective?

It’s always hard to prove intent.

We’ve noticed that.

I have to say that I feel like there was a little bit of an engineering mindset. I feel like whenever I would talk to the people at Facebook they’d be like, “Well, if you choose to target ads, what is the difference between targeting towards a group versus having a dropdown menu to exclude a group?” In the engineering mindset, they literally were like, “Well, if you could target ads to people with brown hair, like, why couldn’t you have a dropdown menu to exclude your ads from ever being shown to a black person?”

It was this lack of context about humans and laws that I feel like maybe there was just a lack of education about it?

Their response to you was that? That this was … fine?

It evolved over time. The very initial response was, “I don’t think you understand ad-targeting.” And then, it became, “Oh, this was a mistake, we’re gonna fix it.”

What do you imagine is gonna happen today to Facebook, and companies like this? Because I think a lot of people feel that people have outrage over privacy, but I don’t think people do. I think they’re gonna get fined, and they’re gonna move on and find ever-more-nefarious ways to spy on you.

If you look at Google, they paid an almost $6 billion fine to the EU last year. It literally didn’t move the stock, make a blip in their earnings, it didn’t change any behavior. We’ve seen that these companies can weather these kinds of fines. I don’t know. I try to be optimistic. I do think that public … when they’re embarrassed, they try to eventually sort of fix things, but it doesn’t feel systemically there’s a fix that anyone is pursuing. I don’t know how that works, because these are companies that are almost ungovernable.

They’re absolutely ungovernable.

They’re bigger than any nation. They regulate speech, around the world. Their decisions about what people can say to each other is the decision in any country. And every country is struggling with how can I… “This is something bigger than me that I can’t control.” It’s a force that I don’t think we even know how to deal with in the world.

Right. How would you deal with it?

I’m not that great at solutions. I’m super good at problems. But, I do feel that there has to be … something structural has to change, and I don’t know what it looks like, but I do feel like governments have to have some control over how speech happens in their countries.

Which happened in Sri Lanka. They just shut it down.

Yep. That happens. And Germany is doing a pretty good job of keeping the Nazis off Facebook. So, it’s weird. And Twitter, too. You can go there and have a Nazi-free experience on the internet. And so you realize, there is a world where you could have a Nazi-free experience, which is cool.

Not in this country. They’re trending. So, let’s talk about what you decided to do. You just said this is about journalism, because one of the things that’s being impacted by Facebook and Google and the changes they’ve made in targeting is to suck up all the digital advertising dollars.

Correct.

Let’s talk about … you decided to go off from ProPublica where you had the very traditional, even though ProPublica’s more of an outlier than the Wall Street Journal, than the San Francisco Chronicle, to start The Markup.

Yeah, yeah.

What is the concept?

What I wanted to do was I had a little team at ProPublica, two programmers and a researcher, and we were doing our investigations. And one year we did Facebook, one year we did software that was used to assess criminals and predict their future criminality, which we showed was biased against black defendants. Big surprise. And one year we did car insurance, how red-lining worked. But each year we had to pick. And I felt like, everything is happening all at once and, I want four teams like this!

Because technology is not just impacting the companies that we think of as tech — Facebook and Google — but every bit of our lives is being algorithmically decided. And some of these decisions, like the criminal risk scores, have enormous consequences, incarceration or not. And so my idea was, I want it to scale up this work and sort of build a field around tech accountability journalism. Tech journalism, its origins were really very much fanboy. Right? And so, the field is evolving, but I wanted to build that investigative wing and really make a model for the field of how this could be done using technology to investigate technology.

To investigate things. So, you went around to raise money and got how much money?

More than 23 million.

From?

Mostly from Craig Newmark, who pledged 20 million.

Right. Who ruined classified advertising for the San Francisco Chronicle, for example. Craigslist founder.

Yeah.

So, he was taking his money, and he’s talked about this. He was taking his money that wrecked the newspapers to try to do something about it. He said that to me.

I mean, I’ll let you put words in his mouth.

I shall. Because he said them. So, $23 million to form a team to look at … instead of just what had been done, which is piecemeal, or else someone like me, which I just stand outside of tech companies and yell at them from the side.

Which, by the way, is very effective.

I know it is. It’s really effective. And I will continue to do so. So, you decided to do this, you got two partners, one was someone you worked with at ProPublica.

Yeah, my colleague Jeff Larson. He and I had been doing these investigations together for years. And then, he and I recruited this woman, Sue Gardner who’d run Wikimedia foundation, to be our business partner, because we had heard that journalists were not good at running businesses and so we thought we needed someone to help us with that.

Right. And, you’d seen people trying this thing? I did it. There’s lots of efforts in this area. What did you think was going to … Vox itself was within the Washington Post and then moved to here. What did you think about going into business as a reporter? The word is “reportrepreneur,” in case you’re interested.

Oh, jeez, I didn’t know that.

Please don’t use it ever again. So, go ahead.

I won’t.

So, did you worry about that part of it?

I did worry about it, but I actually felt like the nonprofit model that we were pursuing had a little bit more hope. I feel like the for-profit model has led to … it’s just been really hard because it trends towards clickbait, you know? And you have to really push against that because the ad model is really this incredibly transactional model and it’s not based on the quality of your audience at all.

I was hopeful that we could build a nonprofit model by getting our readers to understand that we weren’t going to have any tracking on the website. It was going to be very privacy-protecting. It was going to feel like a service. Because a lot of places charge subscriptions, but then they still track you and still advertise to you and it’s like, come on guys. So, we felt like, okay, maybe people would donate the amount that they would have subscribed somewhere because they understood that we were on their side. We weren’t selling their data, collecting it at all.

So, it’s like ProPublica, a nonprofit model that you would have people who supported you, which is like a subscription.

Yep.

Essentially. And then, money from rich people.

Yeah. Right. Combination. You got to always have a billionaire in journalism these days.

Apparently.

Apparently.

Yeah. Yeah. So, you did that and then moved into this. So, I guess the only question is, what the hell happened?

Yes. So, I did a kind of founders mistake, which was I recruited Sue to be the business partner. And we didn’t talk about what our roles would be until we were a couple of weeks away from closing the gift from Craig. And then, she gave me an ultimatum that she would quit if I didn’t make her CEO and my boss. And I was scared. I thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to lose this money. How do I go back to them and say we’re starting again with a different team?”

And so, I said, “Okay, well, I’ll agree to that.” Because honestly, I didn’t want to do the business-side stuff. Most of that job is actually stuff I don’t want to do. But I need an employment guarantee. I need a contract so that I can’t be fired at will. And she said, “Sure, let’s totally do that. But it’s going to take a couple of months. Let’s just close this stuff and we’ll get to it. We’ll get to it.” And we never got to it.

Right.

And so, that’s why I was fired by email on Monday.

Right. Right. So, what was the problem? I know starting things, like I started mine with Walt Mossberg, we had plenty of fights. We had plenty of issues. We had less fights than we had agreements, which was, that’s the way it should work, essentially. But in starting these things, it’s really … and we had a for-profit model and we had events and complex things. What happened there? What was your fault? What did you do wrong? Like you said, first of all, you didn’t get this guarantee.

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think we weren’t aligned on the vision as much as I thought, right? Because once we started getting into it, it just became clear that she was taking a much more anti-tech position than I. And I’m obviously known for being very skeptical about tech, but I’m a reporter. I go in with the facts. Right? And, we had numbers of meetings where she was talking about how we should have a take, write a policy paper about our position on tech, how we should be a cause, not a publication. She built a spreadsheet ranking all of the employees that I was thinking about hiring by how skeptical they were on tech and how negative, and wanted them to be more negative. And I felt like not only these were morally questionable, but they were legally, very risky.

And so, we had a lot of conflict about that and I started to feel very nervous about where this was going. Was this going to be an advocacy organization? Because honestly, I could sort of see why, from a financial point of view, probably it’s easier to raise money if you’re like, “We’re out there swinging.” Right? And so, from a business-side perspective that may have been a better play.

Well, talk about that. The difference between skepticism and being negative. Because I get accused of being super negative all the time. Constantly. And I think it’s fair. It’s a fair point of view. I think I’ve been with them long enough to be warning people about what’s happening. Talk about that idea, because there are advocacy publications. I guess you might put Mother Jones in there. You might put some others. But you didn’t think of yourself as that.

No, because I actually had this other idea. So, I really felt like journalism is always put on the pedestal of objectivity, which is this weird neutral tone and point of view, and it really has led basically to false equivalency. Right? On the one hand, climate change is happening. On the other hand, some random person says it’s not. And, the truth is that’s not a fair representation of what the reality is. The fair representation is that 99 percent of the science suggests that climate change is happening and 1 percent of people who don’t have credentials say it’s not.

So, I wanted to move a little bit more towards what I call the scientific method approach, which was, you have a hypothesis. Hypothesis: Facebook allows dropdown menu for racism that allows advertisers to break the law. Test that hypothesis. Okay, how much data do we need to collect? In that particular case, buy one ad, you’ve basically proven it. Some hypotheses need thousands of data points, right? For criminal risk scores, we collected 18,000 scores of defendants. And then you basically say, “Here’s our finding. Our finding is x, and here’s our limitations.” So, the limitations of our finding is we couldn’t test every ad on Facebook. Right?

And so, I felt like that was our approach. And that is different than Mother Jones and the Nation. But it’s also different than normal journalism. It was just an idea of, could we bring a more scientific approach? Because I feel, right now, despite all the craziness in the world, I do feel data changes the narrative. When you bring data to the table, people are willing to take it onboard, and it does lead to change and impact and policy changes. And so I felt like that was our calling, as a journalist, was to bring that data to the table so that we could make change.

And, what happened?

So, I don’t know why I was fired. Right? She would never give me a reason. The reason that’s been out there is the management issues, leadership, that’s what she said publicly.

You didn’t hire fast enough.

Yeah.

Did you not hire fast enough?

I wish we had been hiring faster, but we had a pretty aggressive hiring schedule so I felt like we were definitely on track to launch in July. We some investigative stories that were coming down the closing finish line. I felt excited about it, but she took me aside in January with Jeff, the two of them, and they said, “You’re not suited to be editor-in-chief.” And the reasons were things like “You don’t like meetings.” That’s true. But I did go to all of them. I went to all the meetings, but I just didn’t like them.

Another reason was I wouldn’t agree to take a personality test. I don’t believe they are based on evidence and she was really insistent that she needed me …

A personality test?

A personality test.

Which one?

Actually, I think she wanted me take … there were a couple. Enneagram or something, I don’t know. I don’t know what these things are. And so there were a whole bunch of reasons like that that I wasn’t “suited” to leadership. But it wasn’t a performance improvement plan, like “here’s the ways you can grow as a leader” or anything like that. It was just a negative thing.

And this is someone who had not run a publication previously.

I mean, I think she ran some …

Wikimedia.

… the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation internet site. So she’s been in journalism, like radio, and TV. So that was disturbing. That’s when I sort of realized that, oh, this isn’t going that well. Right?

Right, right.

And then, we continue to have conflicts about the mission and the advocacy. And then, in the end of March, she and Jeff took me to dinner again and said that I was failing as editor-in-chief and bringing down The Markup. And once again, there was no plan of how I could improve. It was just a declaration. And they said, “You’re probably better suited as a columnist.” And I was like, “Oh.” Well, I mean, I’m not really a columnist. I mean, every once in a while I’ve written an op-ed here or there about an investigation I did. So, I just said, “That doesn’t make sense.”

So, you would not step down in the way they wanted you to. They asked…

Yeah. Honestly, though, they didn’t even offer me a job. It was just like, “You might be suited as a columnist,” but there’s no job description of what that would look like and what would your role be or anything. So, I wrote them a letter with my lawyer saying, “Look, it seems like you’re reneging on your agreement to give me my employment contract. It’s been sitting with you, my lawyer’s given it to you. But I’m not going to step down as editor-in-chief because I have promised our donors and employees that we’ll pursue a particular vision and I don’t have faith that you’re going to carry that out.”

You thought they were going to do much more advocacy.

Yeah, that’s what it seemed like. And I don’t actually know what they’re going to do because there’s two journalists left in the newsroom and I don’t know what that publication is at this moment. But that’s where it looked like it was heading. And I didn’t feel like I could stay there and not be the person in charge of editorial. And so I wrote that letter, and then she fired me.

Then she fired you.

Yeah.

So, what happens now? Now, Jeff has written a very problematic memo, very defensive memo, which I said on the internet yesterday, about what’s going on and begging the people to come back, which was odd, at the same time.

Yeah, it’s worth pointing out. So, there were seven reporters, five of them resigned after I was forced out.

Quit. Right. So, most of the staff is gone. Craig has given this money. Now he’s written a note and tweeted that he’s thinking of reconsidering it. So what happens?

I don’t know. I don’t know how this plays out. I have to brush up on my coup literature.

I can help you there. I can help you a lot, actually.

Right. Actually, somebody told me “The coup’s already happened. This is the counter-coup.”

The counter-coup, yes. It’s the counter-coup. We’ve got to get some Mother of Dragons into you. I can help. So, what do you want to do now then? Then we’ll get some questions from the audience here.

Well, I just want to do the thing I was doing. It would be awesome if I could just do that. We had some great investigations. I feel like we were going to launch. I had some great people who were going to come. The people who were there are great. If I could do this somehow, somewhere, that’s what I would do. I want to build this field. This is too important an issue for there not to be a team like this doing this type of work. It doesn’t have to be at The Markup. It can be somewhere, but I’m going to try to figure out a way to make it happen.

Questions from the audience? Right here.

Audience member: Hi. I’m really interested in what you said about it being easier to raise money for a journalism organization that’s focused more on advocacy. Can you talk more about that and maybe suggest an alternative business model or model in general for journalism that can be more objective, but also investigative?

Julia Angwin: Yeah, I’m actually not sure about that but I do feel like … I could imagine that people donate to their favorite causes and I could understand why you might want to position your journalism as a cause. What I feel, though, about that is that from my experience doing this type of work, that it undermines your findings when you go in with an agenda. You have to be willing to follow where the data leads you, and so I think it’s a dangerous road. I can see it’s tempting, but I think it’s dangerous for the pursuit of truth.

Because in the end, “Facebook sucks” is your end point, right?

Yeah.

For example, which it probably is true. It’s probably accurate but you don’t want to start with that. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt when you start something. You could go down another road, for example.

Yeah. No, and many times our stories have taken many surprising turns, right? So we were looking at Amazon, I had been told that if you shopped on your mobile phone versus desktop, you would get different prices. So we put all this testing software up — in the Amazon Cloud, of course — and ran tests on Amazon from Amazon Cloud and we found no results. We were like, “Oh, there’s nothing here.” I thought, “This is really disappointing,” but happens.

Then I went to drinks with Barry Lynn, the guy from Open Markets Institute, and I was like, “Yeah, we looked into Amazon. We couldn’t find anything.” He said, “Oh, well have you tested … The real question with Amazon is how do they treat themselves as a seller on their own platform that they control?”

So we tweaked our hypothesis. We said, “Okay, let’s ask that question. We already have all this stuff running,” and boom, we were like, “Oh my gosh, they give themselves a huge advantage when they’re the seller,” or one of their favorite sellers, what are they called? I’ve forgotten the name, but the ones who pay them fees to be in their warehouses, Fulfilled by Amazon. So then we were like, “Oh,” we had a huge finding. That’s where you just let the facts lead you to where you want to go.

Right, so they were up to something, you just didn’t find the thing they were up to.

Yeah.

Right? One thing. That would make more sense for them to advantage themselves.

Right, and also …

That’s one of the big issues.

… we would have been fine with no finding, right?

Right.

If there’s nothing to find, then there’s nothing to find.

Right, but you keep looking and pushing at various parts. But advocacy is fine, too. There’s a lot of people with points of view who do reporting, reported analysis.

I also feel like there is, I actually feel like we’re not lacking right now for opinions about tech online, in my feeling. So I feel like that space was fully owned and was good, it was great. Everyone’s doing it. We could bring just a different piece to the table.

Okay. Over here.

Audience member: Thanks so much for coming out. I’m interested in your take on media literacy for youth and how we are educating high schoolers, in particular, to consume the news. So how do you, and how does that, relate to the work that you’re doing with data where a lot of people in general and young people don’t really care about data. They just want the stories and they don’t sometimes respond to data in the ways that we want them to. So how do we teach young people to care more about what the data is saying rather than other, frivolous things?

I will push back at you. I have a son who literally is, I call him Wikipedia, Walking Wikipedia, because he has so many, well, not those facts, but he’s so factually oriented that he will not talk about anything else, so it’s an interesting change. But how do you…?

Julia Angwin: Yeah, I’m not sure that hypothesis is true. I’d like to see the data for that, but I do think that media literacy in general is a challenge and I actually just feel like that’s a classic case of pushing the burden onto the user, right? The fact is that if you’re being completely spammed with lies all the time, is it actually your responsibility?

I feel like one thing that we kind of haven’t paid attention to enough is the literature around persuasion and the fact that all of us are very persuadable, and we used to have information gatekeepers who had certain standards and they didn’t publish things that were untrue, and the reason was they were at risk for a lawsuit, right?

Yeah.

The Wall Street Journal, where Kara and I worked together for years, every story in there we could be sued for. We could be sued for the letters to the editor. Those were fact-checked, right?

Right.

The advertisements we were actually responsible for. The internet companies got a special exemption in the 1996 Telecom Act so that they’re not liable for anything that anyone writes on their platform.

If you’d like to know, because I’m going to write about it in the New York Times next week and they’re very nervous, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives internet companies broad immunity from anything that flows over, it’s sort of treating them like a phone company essentially, and it was done at the time, and I was there and I wrote about it for the Washington Post, actually, in order to allow these companies to grow.

They were small startups and they didn’t want to be sued out of existence from the very get-go. AOL was a big part of pushing for that and other sites at the time were. So what they did is got this broad, broad immunity and it was a gift. I just interviewed Nancy Pelosi about it and she said it was a gift that they’re abusing. It certainly was a gift. And so the question is, do we want to allow people who are the richest people on earth now from using this gift to abuse it further? I think it’s been chipped away over issues of FOSTA and …

Yeah, there’s only one chip in it so far.

Yeah, so the question is, do you remove it for the large companies? Do the world’s richest people deserve immunity from behavior? Because what’s resulted is it’s sort of like giving kids sugar all the time. Sure, you can have sugar. Sugar. You can keep your room messy. You can do this. What do you imagine is going to result? This is why we have what we … This is my belief, but other people have different beliefs, so it’s going to be a big question. But as to younger people, I do think they get inundated. It’s like sludge. You can’t be protected from it. The government really should be protecting people from this — or lawyers, suing.

In the US, we usually choose lawyers.

Yeah. So question right here.

Audience member: Hi. I’m a huge fan of your podcast.

Thank you.

Audience member: My question is, if there’s a politician that starts getting rhetorically and legislatively very tough on tech, do you believe that the tech companies will kind of resort and hunker down like the hydrocarbon companies did in the ’80s and ’90s?

They’ve hired a lot of lobbyists. You might look at that. There’s a lot of data on that in terms of they didn’t have lobbyists before and now they have a ton of lobbyists, first of all. I think their approach is a little different than, say, Big Oil or Big Banking or stuff like that. They’ll show up, they’ll apologize, they’ll have meetings, they’ll have dinners, they’ll have “thought time.”

Mark is having a lot of dinners with smart people, like getting his Harvard education now, which is kind of fascinating. He’s having these … Everyone will go. If you’re, I don’t know, the guy who wrote the Hamilton book, Ron Chernow, you’d go to dinner with Mark Zuckerberg, right? Why not? So they’re doing it that way. I think they’re allowing the discussions to go on and then secretly, behind the scenes, sort of trashing people, correct? I don’t know.

I think they seem to be … It’s a different way of approach but there’s no question they’re doing heavy-duty lobbying on lots and lots of issues that affect them. I think the question is who can they … They try to find people they can work with on their side. Like you have somebody like Senator Warner who’s very tough on them on some issues or Senator Klobuchar is tougher on them. Senator Bennett is moving into that direction. Senator Wyden is very interested in voting machines. That’s more of his area, so they tend to try to coopt them.

When I wrote a column this week about Sri Lanka, the first call was a Facebook person saying, “Hey girl, want to chat?” I’m like, “No! Call me Friday,” and then Friday, I’ll not pick up the phone. So it’s a much softer approach. I can’t explain it but it’s just as effective. I think Mark’s piece about his wanting legislation was fascinating. You should read between the lines of that particular thing, I think.

Okay, quickly here and here.

Audience member: I’m interested in the notion of scientific journalism in an era in which there’s a lot of examining of science itself. Between p-hacking and replication problems, academic science has started examining how the apparent rigor isn’t actually as real as we thought.

Julia Angwin: You know, that’s a great question. I say “scientific journalism” and what I mean by that is it’s better than the normal journalism, which is “three anecdotes and you’re out,” right? So when we had our meeting with Craig he was like, “Okay, let me just see if I understand this. Basically all you’re talking about is increasing the sample size?” I was like, “Yes, that’s basically it.” That’s not entirely true, right?

So we have a data ethics policy — or we had — at The Markup which actually said we will not do p-hacking, and also that we aim for replicable results and we will publish our data and our code as often as possible, which is what I’ve done all my career. So I do think journalism can aspire to the standards of science, but we are journalists, right? And so I think of us as the first people out of the trenches, right?

We’re doing the first draft and then actually science usually comes in and does a lot of followup work to validate and solidify the results. This happened with our work on criminal risk scores. We put up the data set, there’s been … I think I have more academic citations than my husband, who is a professor, because it’s been replicated and written about so much and it’s really moved the field in terms of the field of computer science fairness and algorithms.

Okay, we have to go but the very last question, what would you investigate right now if you have a publication to work for? You will.

Trying to break my heart over here? God, there’s so much. But you know, one of the things I’m really upset about is the use of algorithms to score people in ways that actually aren’t really seen as tech. Your resume is sent through an algorithm, right? People work for algorithms, fired by algorithms. People who work everywhere, and so this idea that, and I do, I just think it’s worth pointing out, the people who are scored and sifted by algorithms strangely are often people of color and poor people, and so we’re getting into a world where actually some people get human judgment and some people are judged by machines, and that’s a very upsetting thing.

Great answer. Julia Angwin.

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