My undergrad degree was in history, but I always qualify it as “social history,” which to me means not just focusing on “names, dates, wars” (aka high school history) but understanding the past through stories. Alyssa Bereznak covers tech for The Ringer and her reporting appeals to me for the same reasons. Alyssa doesn’t write wrote explainers about Instagram’s latest feature updates but she will go deep into the Plantstagram subculture. You can read her stuff here but before you click away, here are Five Questions I asked her:
Hunter Walk: The Ringer isn’t a “tech site” but (kiss up alert), you’re one of my favorite tech culture writers. What assumptions do you make about The Ringer’s audience and how does this shape what you write about?
Alyssa Bereznak: Thanks Hunter! I usually only hear that from my mom. Since the Ringer is a pretty young online-only publication that caters to an entertainment-obsessed crowd, I assume two things about our readers:
They, too, are probably creatures of the internet.
Their baseline knowledge of Silicon Valley probably comes from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
In other words, anyone who clicks on a story of mine probably knows what it’s like to be a human online in the year 2017, but they only have a vague understanding of the forces and personalities that shape the tech industry. TechCrunch is probably not in their daily news diet. They don’t know what “due diligence” means. So I keep those two things in mind when brainstorming stories. I always try to approach my topics with the most human angle possible and maintain a good sense of humor about our odd dystopian reality.
Also, I don’t know anything about sports. PR people, if you’re reading this, please don’t pitch me sports tech.
HW: One of the reasons I enjoy your stories is The Ringer hasn’t (so far) focused on covering every breaking tech news story. Why do so many sites feel compelled to always put out their version of the story everyone is covering, even if they don’t have much new to add? Did you have to do more of this when you were at Yahoo News?
AB: I think mostly that’s a numbers game, which I totally understand and acknowledge as a reality of the current high-pressure media landscape, where an entire talented staff of writers can be replaced with a video team in one short memo. What makes less sense to me is the sheer lack of analysis, explanation or personality that goes into that kind of aggregation-based coverage. When Twitter rolls out a new feature with a comprehensive blog post detailing how it works, what’s the purpose of posting the same thing on your site with the same exact information? My theory is that there’s such a fear of missing a story that publications sacrifice quality by casting as wide a net as possible. Or maybe they’re too frazzled and exhausted. I’m lucky to work for a place that doesn’t think that’s the best strategy, and I’m grateful for it.
HW: While you’re currently based out of NYC, you grew up in Silicon Valley and your mother works at Apple. How did teenage Alyssa view the tech industry and how does that compare to your views now?
AB: Yes! My mom works at Apple. (I always try to feed her wine so she’ll tell me secrets but the woman has spy-level interrogation training.) My dad’s a patent lawyer. I grew up in Sunnyvale and went to the same high school as Steve Jobs. Tech was a huge part of my life as a teen. Our campus wasn’t far from Apple’s HQ, and I remember the second the latest iPod came out we were all toting it around in our hoodie pouches. I’d spend hours on AIM chatting with friends and crushes. I watched as catfights broke out in my friend group over Xanga posts and MySpace flirtations. Tech was our essential social glue. It raised me and my friends and we loved it. And it was also the reason all of our parents were employed. I’m not sure if that was entirely exclusive to growing up in Silicon Valley, but maybe it was amplified.
I’ll be honest, as a teen I was too busy being completely self-absorbed to care about how tech companies shaped our society. I was just living proof that it was happening. But my fond memories of tech from that era inform my coverage. I’m a lot more critical and cynical these days, but I always keep in mind that this stuff is a source of joy for so many people.
HW: When a source leaks news to you, how do you decipher what their motivation might be and how does your estimation of their trustworthiness factor into how you use that information?
AB: I usually map out all the players of a story in my mind and try to fill in the blanks. Even if I have sympathy for a source and believe what they’re saying, I ask for receipts in the form of emails or screen shots or whatever they can give me. I try to corroborate statements with as many people as possible. It’s less about trustworthiness to me than it is the ability to confirm a person’s experience. People tend to be unreliable narrators, and talking to as many sources as possible will always guarantee a more nuanced telling than if you just take someone at their word.
HW: Ten years from now are you still a reporter?
AB: I’m not good at anything else, so I really hope so. Here’s to hoping a bot won’t be able to do my job better than I do by then
Thanks Alyssa! Follow her on Twitter @alyssabereznak.