Kara Swisher may very well have been spying on your emails (or those of foreign leaders) had she followed her first path. As an undergraduate at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she was on track to being a spy or diplomat. Instead, she’s reporting on modern-day tech giants. And thank goodness. Her curiosity for information and asking people whatever questions she wanted steered her away from government and to the student newspaper. From there she attended Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and worked her way up at The Washington Post. An interest in the early days of the Internet — as in when AOL sent discs for 1,000 hours of free dial-up — got her noticed by the Wall Street Journal’s tech guy, Walt Mossberg. Together, Mossberg and Swisher built the Journal’s popular tech blog AllThingsD into a powerhouse of digital-age reporting. Their associated “D” conferences attracted thousands of technology insiders, featuring interviews on stage with some of the most notable figures of their time — including a famous exchange with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and a 2007 joint interview with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
In 2014, Mossberg and Swisher left AllThingsD and the Journal to begin their own venture, Revere Digital, and tech news site, Re/Code, complete with their own industry gathering: the Code Conference. Swisher will present a keynote session at the upcoming joint SPJ/RTDNA Excellence in Journalism conference, Sept. 4 to 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
For those who don’t know, what’s the quick overview of what Re/code is?
Right now it’s not that much different than AllThingsD. It’s a news site that’s fair, balanced and interesting. It’s ours (and not affiliated with The Wall Street Journal). We’re trying to decide what it’s going to be next. There’ll be some changes.
And how does it differ from what you were doing with AllThingsD?
The conferences (we do) are very similar. I think this (Code Conference) is a little more fun, a little looser.
Your previous work with AllThingsD and now with Re/code has been a partnership with Walt Mossberg. Can you say why that’s seemingly worked so well? I can imagine other ventures have been strained by having co-CEOs and co-editors.
We’ve been working together for 12 years. We’ve developed a relationship that’s strong. It’s just hard to imagine having a problem working together. I think we help each other and complement each other in that regard, and we just really like each other.
You’ve worked deeply in two areas of traditionally male-dominated fields: journalism and tech, particularly in Silicon Valley. What have you learned about how to navigate both and make your voice heard?
There’s just a lot of men. I don’t have a problem with them. I think one of the things readers appreciate is the ability to tell the truth about things, and how to tell the truth about power. That’s what we tend to focus on. That’s our first line. We don’t think about the people we’re covering. We think about readers and how they come first.
Do you feel like you were constantly trying to prove yourself, at least earlier in your career? I think it’s safe to say you’ve proven you’re a very capable journalist, at least I hope people think that.
No, I don’t think it hurt me at all (being a woman). If you’re a great reporter, you’re a great reporter. It was just doing good work, and also being accurate, and that makes a great deal of difference. Accuracy and fairness are something we try hard to stress.
You and Walt have made it a point to be open and transparent with personal ethics statements on your websites, particularly about your wife, who is a Google executive. How did that transparency statement come about, because that’s certainly not the norm for most journalists and news outlets?
Because we have respect for our readers, and so we wanted to give readers the information.
It was always something we wanted to do and felt it was super important to do that.
What, then, would you advise journalists to do who want to employ similar ethics statements and be transparent, but their company isn’t savvy about linking to it on every story online or giving space for that?
Just do them. It’s important, and there’s nothing wrong with being honest with your readers. I don’t understand (why people wouldn’t). They should agitate for it (in a newsroom that doesn’t put them online). I think everybody should have them.
(Read Swisher’s personal ethics statement – click on “Ethics Statement” next to her headshot.)
SPJ is updating its Code of Ethics this year, and other organizations like the Online News Association are doing similar exercises to re-think ethics in the digital age. What would you say must be included in a modern-day, relevant ethics code for journalists?
I just think you should be clear with your readers (about your background), that’s all. I don’t know why it’s so hard. It should be easy to do. I don’t know what the big deal is. I do think (pure) objectivity is bullshit. You can’t be truly objective. Everybody has biases, and you have to be clear. You just lay it out there, and this is how we lay it out, and if you don’t agree, we’ll go from there.
You’ve done a lot of interviews over the years, some more notable or memorable than others (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates). Those stick out to us, the audience, but is there one or a particular moment that is most memorable for you?
I like them all in different ways. I liked the Jobs-Gates one together. I like the one with Rupert Murdoch; that was a great interview. There are so many. Any interview that turns out to be illuminating and interesting. We’re not trying to do gotchas. What we’re trying to do is just illuminate people.
What’s your daily news routine? Is it all digital tech news all the time after you wake up and scroll through Twitter, or do you sit in the breakfast nook reading a print copy of The Wall Street Journal?
I don’t read any print newspaper whatsoever. I do read magazines. I make a lot of calls. I read people’s tweets. I look at the news on Techmeme. I’m constantly trolling for information. I call a lot of people, and I think I’m always online. I couldn’t live without Twitter.