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'I Think Google's Pretty Dangerous and Thuggish. I've Always Said That.'

Ellen Cushing | April 29, 2014 | Story Tech World National

This is "Think Tank," an occasional series of conversations with Bay Area power players, conducted by San Francisco editors. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Name: Kara Swisher
Job: Co–executive editor (with Walt Mossberg) of the website Re/code
Age: 51
Residence: The Castro

San Francisco: You recently split from the Wall Street Journal–affiliated AllThingsD to start Re/code. How’s it going?
Kara Swisher: You second-guess yourself, but I think the launch was hugely successful. AllThingsD was profitable for the whole 12 years of our existence; we’ll probably lose money this year, and that will be upsetting. I’m focused on getting to a place where we can prove that journalism can make good money on the web. So we’ll see about that.

Do you feel an affinity with other journalism startups, like Ezra Klein’s Vox and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight?
It’s funny to watch the press on it like we’re some weird trend. Do you know how long we’ve been doing this? It’s not an experiment. But traditional media has always been hostile to what we’re doing. As their business models collapse, they’re questioning ours.

Do you really think these media giants are threatened by you?
People are worried about what’s going to happen to journalism—and they should be. Every day, the blogosphere is getting better and print media is getting worse; you have to be an idiot not to see that. The fact that we’re still arguing it is comical. It’s like arguing gay marriage: I’ve had it. It’s done, you’re wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What do you make of the argument that online tech journalism is too close to its subject?
As soon as you tell me what the ethical problem is, I will be happy to answer. But the “problem” seems to be that the journalist has some say in the business. That doesn’t mean that they’re selling ads or writing nice stories to be nicer to advertisers. That’s bullshit—nobody does that.

But some people do.
Of course. But the good people don’t. Why do we have to get pilloried for other people’s behavior? I’m not responsible for the people who cut corners. I wish that they didn’t, but it’s not what we do. The new meme is that tech journalists are too in bed with their sources. It’s the nature of journalism to need to be close to your subjects. And either you’re able to be tough on them, which a lot of us are, or you get in bed with them, and some people do. I just don’t think it’s new.

And then there’s you, whose wife, Megan Smith, is a VP at Google.
I don’t have her money. Any of it. Which, I know, is stupid—she has a lot. We split everything 50/50. I went out of my way not to take her money because I wanted to make a point: I take it seriously. I don’t write about Google except to insult the company. Someone actually said once that I’m in the camp for Google, so I sent them my pieces, and they said, “You must have problems in your marriage because you’re so mean to Google.” I was like, “I do not, but thank you so much.” They were like, “Seriously, you could be nicer; they are pretty fantastic,” and I was like, “Not to me. I think they’re pretty dangerous and thuggish.” I’ve always said that.

How does Megan feel about that?
She doesn’t care. She’s, like, a computer genius. She doesn’t pay attention. She’s not a political person, she’s not a corporate person—she’s a techie. And she has a different opinion of Google: She thinks it’s all daffodils and sunshine and that they’re helping the world—like most of these idiot techies. I gotta listen to that shit all day. But they believe it. So whatever.

Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco magazine

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