Media: Journalist Q&A - John Markoff, Senior writer, The New York Times

Name: John Markoff

Name: John Markoff

Publication: The New York Times

Title: Senior writer/West Coast correspondent

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John Markoff, who has written about the tech industry since 1976, could very well be the most experienced writer covering the dizzying ups and tumultuous downs of Silicon Valley. To The New York Times' credit, it didn't add an army of reporters to cover the Valley during the boom as many other publications did. And today, Markoff is still outnumbered by competitors such as The Wall Street Journal, who have a small army covering technology. Here, Markoff talks to PRWeek about the state of technology journalism, what makes a good story, and tech PR.

PRWeek: What has changed the most in the way the media covers technology?

John Markoff: The dot-com and early internet era had two effects. One was that it became clear the internet would affect the publishing industry. Publishers became very interested in it, and they were trying to understand how to chart their own businesses. But I think it got more coverage than it deserved. If not for Monica Lewinsky, there wouldn't have been any news coverage of anything but websites. Second, it did change the nature of our business and the impact of newspapers in the news cycle. I think that one negative consequence is that tech coverage has been distorted, and we confuse business and technology stories. Why should Yahoo or Google be a technology story? There are stories that are under-covered. Rambus is shifting strategies, and no one (in the media) cares.

PRWeek: So what constitutes a good tech story for you today?

Markoff: I look for stories that have an impact on a broad readership. Interesting stories are the ones about a change in the nature of the business, companies that either collapse or accelerate. I'm also interested in technologies that are disruptive, that change the way people and businesses do things.

PRWeek: What about tech PR?

Markoff: The quality of the work is all over the map. There are PR people who impress me, who are very competent. But I still see stuff where it gets blasted out and has nothing to do with what I cover. All it takes is a little bit of strategy. Anyone who studies my style and what I write would realize I'm vulnerable to certain kinds of stories. I know it's their job to get the word out, but it's not my job to shovel everything into the paper.

PRWeek: So where is tech coverage going?

Markoff: I'm actually concerned about the survivability of newspapers, when flat-panel screens are everywhere. I'm not sure how that changes how people put ink on dead trees. But I think it will. My sense is we will be in this period of permanent change and that the business models will be constantly changing. I believe newspapers will be around for the rest of my lifetime. But if Tablet PCs become so comfortable, why not get your newspaper on one?

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