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Silicon Valley's elite love to complain about the media. In recent years, Big Tech has attracted a lot of scrutiny from how it treats gig workers to the spread of misinformation. Now the industry has come up with a way to control the narrative - by launching its own media publications. NPR's Bobby Allyn reports.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Marc Andreessen is something of a kingmaker in Silicon Valley. He's the co-founder of leading venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has had huge success by investing early in companies like Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb. Andreessen thinks of himself as an ideas guy, but if a journalist writes a story he doesn't like, he'll be quick to block them. I spoke to longtime journalist Timothy Lee about this.
You've been covering the tech industry for more than a decade. Does Marc Andreessen have you blocked on Twitter?
TIMOTHY LEE: (Laughter) Well, I think - I can check. Is he still on Twitter? He's definitely stopped being active. Yes, I am blocked.
ALLYN: Silicon Valley doesn't like critical coverage because it wasn't always that way. In the early 2000s, journalists were wowed by shiny new gadgets and cool social media sites. But something shifted a few years after the iPhone was introduced in 2007.
SARA WATSON: And, you know, it changed our entire relationship with technology. So I think that's a huge turning point.
ALLYN: Tech critic Sara Watson says reviewers went from describing the iPhone as sexy to saying, wait a minute; what does this supercomputer in our pockets really mean for society? And the coverage kept getting tougher. Social media played a big role in the 2016 election and in the lead-up to the recent capital siege. Journalists have pried deeper and deeper into technology's role in democracy.
WATSON: And that is not the environment that Andreessen Horowitz or any VC firm is used to.
ALLYN: VC firms don't want to attract controversy because that could mean they lose a lot of money that they've poured into startups. So now Andreessen Horowitz has launched its own publication. It hopes to be the, quote, "future of the media." Margit Wennmachers is a partner at the firm and the public face behind the publication.
MARGIT WENNMACHERS: We are launching future.com, the go-to place that's all about the future, how technology shapes it and how to build it.
ALLYN: Wennmachers says they are not hiding their bias.
WENNMACHERS: We are taking a pro stance towards technology.
ALLYN: Other tech companies from Snapchat to Uber have launched in-house media operations. Journalist Timothy Lee says while other industries have done this, too, the tech sector knows how we use the internet and has the ability to reach millions instantly.
LEE: They just see, you know, media as another potential industry like that where they might be able to come along and build something better that was there before the same way they did with taxis and video streaming and lots of other stuff.
ALLYN: Lee says tech running its own media helps avoid hard questions and lets them control the narrative. But more than that, it's aimed at getting people to have a more positive view of Silicon Valley. But it raises questions about fairness and accountability, two central tenets of journalism. Watson says they could break their own news and give exclusive interviews to their own outlet.
WATSON: What I am more worried about is the way that they're kind of wielding access as a tool of power.
ALLYN: Most media, like NPR, is supported by corporate sponsorship or advertisements. But Lee says it's an entirely different thing when the companies are editing and framing the stories with their own point of view.
LEE: How are they going to make clear to readers, this is an independent news organization, versus, this is a article that was written by, you know, an investor in the company?
ALLYN: Wennmachers says, why can't there be both articles from the news media and ones written by the tech industry?
WENNMACHERS: People are like, there cannot be possibly any good content coming out of a company. And there are folks, admittedly, in the technology business who say, like, oh, all reporters are completely unfair. I think both are wrong.
ALLYN: If you go to her site that says it's the future of media, you'll find articles like one on how the legal system should use more robots, and it's written by a guy who started a business that lets you hire robots as lawyers.
Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.
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