It’s time for the most powerful companies in digital media to stop playing dumb, Brown says.
Starting in her 20s as the editor of Tatler Magazine in London, Tina Brown rode a wave of print magazines to become one of the most influential people in the media. She tells a good portion of that story in her new no-holds-barred memoir, “The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983 – 1992.”
But after editing Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and the short-lived Talk magazine (which was financed by Harvey Weinstein), Brown moved her editing online, founding the Daily Beast in 2008. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, she explained why she left that publication after six years, and why the new power players in media — tech companies like Google and Facebook — have left her feeling frustrated.
“I am very angry and upset about the way advertising revenue has been essentially pirated by the Facebook-Google world, without nearly enough giveback — no giveback, really — to the people who create those brilliant pieces that are posted all over their platforms,” Brown said. “It’s high time they gave back to journalism.”
She proposed the creation of a “huge journalism fund” for local media, even though she doubts that that would ever happen.
“They have no interest, I realize that,” Brown said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re not a media company, we’re a platform.’ Okay, well, guess what? When you don’t have human beings who have judgment, who have taste, who have a sense of responsibility, you can have any old Russian hacker dishing it out to the American public.”
“Opinion-forming, influential content, it’s very hard to find and support and have an impact with,” she added. “People don’t know what’s important or where to find it. So it doesn’t wash to say, ‘There’s so many transactions, everybody can find it.’ It’s a needle in a haystack for so many people.”
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On the new podcast, Brown said she’s also concerned about how the global reach of social media platforms could over-amplify voices that don’t represent how most people feel, or shouldn’t be the loudest in the room.
“A flash mob can suddenly form very, very quickly around a person, and wow!” Brown said. “Suddenly, their reputation is shredded, and they’re sent spinning by the dissent of a thousand people writing abusive stuff about them. It’s a frightening thing, actually. It can lead to a lot of stress and dangerous emotions, and ultimately could lead to violence.”
“You know, I think we’ve also seen the empowering of a lot of delinquent voices, in a sense,” she added. “In the past, [they] would be some crazy person muttering in a bar. All of a sudden, there’s a huge community around those voices and they have influence and power and they can multiply, and that adds to the toxicity of the culture.”
If journalists are looking for hope among the tech giants of Silicon Valley, Brown said, their best bet might be Apple.
“Steve Jobs was a topographer himself, he always cared about design,” she said. “There’s a sense of excellence there that has always been about rejection of the mediocre. I am hoping that they might step in to do something really good in journalism.”
If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:
- Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
- Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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