Big Technology

‘New York Times’ Ben Smith Talks Slack, Newsroom Politics, and Tech Regulation

Plus, why Twitter is a double-edged sword

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
13 min readOct 15, 2020

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Ben Smith

OneZero is partnering with the Big Technology Podcast from Alex Kantrowitz to bring readers exclusive access to interview transcripts with notable figures in and around the tech industry.

This week, Kantrowitz sits down with Ben Smith, the Media Equation columnist at the New York Times and former editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To subscribe to the podcast and hear the interview for yourself, you can check it out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Overcast.

As the Media Equation columnist at the New York Times, Ben Smith is covering an industry going through transformation and turbulence. And as the former editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News — a place I worked until this June — he lived that change while managing a newsroom of reporters who lived online in a VC funded media company.

In this week’s edition of the Big Technology Podcast, I caught up with Smith for a discussion focused on how tech is changing journalism, what media companies can do to connect with people that have shut them out, and where big tech regulation may lead.

Let’s start with technology. Twitter and Slack, while helpful tools, can also show reporters how to think. When you see a bunch of editors express the same viewpoint in a Slack room, it can make you feel like you should go along. At the New York Times, do you think Slack and Twitter are increasing or decreasing the range of ideas and perspectives that show up in the paper?

Twitter is the most incredible, fast, effective, centralized public square there has ever been in the history of the world by far and is a dream for journalists in a lot of ways just in that you find out the news really fast.

It also can really keep you honest. You can’t just go out there and bullshit the way you used to be able to. But as you say, there’s also this incredible peer pressure and pressure for conformity that has always, always been there in journalism but is blunter, and there’s more enforcement of it now.

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Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.