Interview: Sam Grobart

Sam Grobart, a former "go-to gadget guy" at a number of magazines, is now assistant technology editor at The New York Times. He speaks with PRWeek about what the future might hold for personal technology and reporters' use of social media.

Sam Grobart, a former “go-to gadget guy” at a number of magazines, is now assistant technology editor at The New York Times. He speaks with PRWeek about what the future might hold for personal technology and reporters' use of social media.

PRWeek: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Sam Grobart: I have been working in media for about a dozen years, started out at New York magazine, worked for Esquire, places such as Popular Science, The Wall Street Journal, Money, and a handful of other places in between. Now I am here at the Times as a personal technology editor. At all of those jobs, I've always been the go-to gadget guy. At lifestyle magazines, I was the guy who would handle the front of the book and back of the book where you would get a lot of your science coverage. At Popular Science, I was doing the front of the book there, and that was more of the consumer technology stuff, as opposed to the harder-core science that they were doing.

PRWeek: And you also contribute to Bits [the Times' technology blog] as well?

Grobart: I have contributed to Bits, from time to time, and I've edited some there as well.

PRWeek: The technology section of the Times is interesting because it's a combination of old and new media. The Times is one of the most respected media brands in the world, but it is also delivering news through blogs. How do you see that working out?

Grobart: I think it's been working out tremendously well. Bits has gone from zero to one of the [best] technology blogs in the world in a very short while, and that is because of the talent of the people who are involved in creating it - from the daily editors to the contributors - and many of them have been writing about technology for some time. They have deep contacts and deep knowledge of the areas that they cover, and they are able to bring that to readers in more of a rapid-fire fashion, which is a good thing as far as I can see.

PRWeek: How have you see technology reporting and journalism changing over the past couple of years? I think it's probably fair to say that tech reporters have been ahead of the trends - whether using Twitter or LinkedIn - more than general interest reporters have.

Grobart: Absolutely, the nature of what we do is that we're so much closer to the technology, and so much more familiar with it, and we are more likely to adopt it. So I would say that reporters following blog posts on the road, following mobilly or wherever they may be, they really seem to be embracing it. I see that change happening throughout the newsroom in general, but I definitely feel as if the technology pod is radiating this familiarity with the technology and it's being picked up by other desks as it moves throughout the newsroom.

PRWeek: As a journalist, what do you see as the top technology trends to keep an eye on in the coming years?

Grobart: I think that, speaking for myself because I have more of a personal technology focus and I tend to look at those issues more, I think that we are on the verge of a real change in the way we consume entertainment, and that's something that has been going on now for some time. But I really do believe that, unless the economy really puts us back into wearing bells or something, we're on the verge of a big change in how we watch TV, how we watch movies, the way we download that kid of material at high speeds at higher and higher quality, how we watch it, and what devices we go on. And that's something that early adopters have been familiar with for a little while, but it is really getting to the point now where even the average consumers are starting to ask questions about it. It reminds me of when, a few years ago, when TiVo was already on the scene and many people knew about it, but then people like my parents were saying, ‘Hey, what's with this recording TV shows, skipping the commercials.'

PRWeek: Speaking of the economy, have you seen the economy really affect the technology sector?

Grobart: I believe I have. I think there have been real substantial issues affecting the technology industry, and you are seeing layoffs and contraction. But there is also just a real anxiety and fear, where if you talk to people or the reporters that we have in Silicon Valley, there is a palpable sense that something is truly awry. And a lot of the companies that have sprouted up are at risk, frankly, and it's a bit unnerving.

PRWeek: You're a tech reporter, but obviously you're with the Times here in New York. How does that affect the way that you receive PR pitches? Are they always accompanied by something technological? Do you get some really unique [pitches]?

Grobart: Most of the pitches that I get are technological in nature. Being here in NY, we're here in a city where a lot of executives are passing through, and there are a lot of invitations to come over and do a quick meeting or desk-side [briefing] or something like that. It's what you would expect - you know, companies looking for some coverage here in the paper.

PRWeek: You mentioned that you've been a lead gadget guy. Do you get sent a lot of gadgets, to play with, and review, and write about?

Grobart: Being an editor of the personal technology section, with the work that we do here, I actually don't receive as many as you might think. Many of them wind up in the hands of my reporters or David Pogue, who, of course, is our personal technology columnist. I also have to go to the mailroom because his mailbox gets full and he isn't working here and things just sort of wind up on my desk…so he gets a lot of things. We have new bloggers on our personal technology blog Gadgetwise, and [it's] been getting things.

PRWeek: And the Times has begun to expand its tech coverage?

Grobart: Just last week, in fact, we launched initiatives, some of which are more themed to the holidays and one of which is an ongoing concern. We launched the Pogue-o-Matic, which is the personalized product finder powered by Pogue, where you can watch him and he will explain to you different aspects of a product…to make a decision… and then David himself has a review and you can read that review.

PRWeek: Obviously media is a rapidly changing environment right now. Do you have any predictions for where you'll see media going in the next couple of years?

Grobart: Oh, wow if I knew that…I'd be trying to make a lot of money doing that. One thing I wanted to mention that I didn't get to in my last point is that one thing we have ongoing is Gadgetwise, which is our new personal technology blog, and that is going to be permanent and that has four contributors working for us and they cover a range of products.

As far as for where media is going, the main question on everyone's mind, and certainly that of everyone who works in this building, is that we keep watching our online numbers go up and up and up, and particularly with the financial crisis of late, we have seen traffic that you wouldn't believe. And that's great. Yet so the problem is, ‘How do you make enough money doing that?' Because you can't quite charge what you were charging for a full-page ad in the paper, and it's something we are trying to figure out like every other media organization is trying to figure out. I think that we are probably better positioned than most and we will come out ahead and on top with this.

Name: Sam Grobart

Title: Assistant technology editor

Outlet: The New York Times

Preferred e-mail address: grobart@nytimes.com

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