How Recode will break through the tech media bubble

Editor-in-chief Dan Frommer talks about his publication's new entrepreneurial spirit

How Recode will break through the tech media bubble

Name: Dan Frommer

Title: Editor-in-chief

Outlet: Recode


You helped found what became Business Insider, then founded two other media sites before joining Quartz. How does Recode fit into that trajectory?

In 2016, I was thinking of creating a new business news brand. But I started talking to the folks at Recode and Vox Media, and decided ultimately to come and lead Recode instead. I was excited about what was going on at Vox and to be part of its growth (Vox Media acquired Recode in 2015).

The biggest factor was the team. If I were starting a newsroom from scratch, there’s no way I would be able to make as my first five hires Kara Swisher, Peter Kafka, Jason Del Rey, Kurt Wagner, and anyone else at Recode. We’re trying to mix some entrepreneurial spirit into that team now.

What do you mean by entrepreneurial spirit?

There used to be the so-called tech press. Now, because tech is essential to everything, I believe Recode could become a website that follows how tech change permeates other industries.

What were you tasked with when you joined? How’s that changed since then?

After I joined, we moved onto the Vox Media publishing system, rebranded, redesigned, and all that stuff. Now, we’re recruiting the best journalists in various fields.

On November 8, 2016, we had no plans to invest in politics coverage. Then the Trump administration became the biggest business and media story on the planet. When the surprise travel ban was announced, we decided to shift some open headcount and aggressively went after the best reporter covering tech policy: Politico’s Tony Romm. His addition has been huge.

Another thing we saw last year was Peter Thiel using his personal wealth to impact the media industry. This summer, we hired investigative reporter Theodore Schleifer to cover the real story of venture capital, wealth, and power in an area that doesn’t get enough attention.

Do you think there’s a bubble around the media that’s supposed to be covering Silicon Valley?

Oh, yeah. I’m trying to escape the echo chamber of the historical tech press, which isn’t useful to anyone. It doesn’t serve the community or speak truth to power. Ten sites running the same 10 stories every day is not only an ineffective way to differentiate as a media brand, it’s just boring. It’s a bad product. The last thing I want to do is be the eighth site running some funding announcement.

We’re trying to bring in people with interesting experiences and backgrounds who aren’t in that habit. We want to let them loose on Silicon Valley and the broader business field affected by tech-driven changes. So we hired Schleifer, BuzzFeed’s Johana Bhuiyan to cover transportation, and Jason Del Rey to cover the commerce industry.

You recently launched the Recode 100, where tech and business magnates nominate their peers to the list. Why does it make sense for Recode to create a list from the perspective of time and resources?

The Recode 100 is our attempt to highlight and celebrate the 100 best and brightest in our sphere of business and tech this year. We still put on a lot of conferences and we love spending time with our community in person. A list is a great way to recognize them publicly. And there’s a party, too, so we’ll be spending time with them in person again. We want to solidify our two-way bond with our community.

In many ways, this is a massive investigative project. This won’t be just a list of the 100 richest people in the world, or a popularity contest. This is a peer-driven list with a complicated methodology.

When launching the Recode 100, how did you select the advisory team to ensure it had a diverse perspective?

I don’t have any diversity stats, but if you look at the ones we’ve announced so far, you’ll see that. Many competing lists are either lifetime achievement awards, or where some editors in a room scratch their chins, trying to remember who they had lunch with this year. We have a lot of interesting up-and-comers, such as Atom Factory founder and CEO Troy Carter, Spark Capital general partner Megan Quinn, and Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani.

How has Recode benefited from Vox’s scale?

Some of the benefits are behind the scenes, such as legal representation, recruiting, marketing, design, and the publishing system.

We’re building out our capabilities in data journalism. Having hired our first data editor, Bloomberg’s Rani Molla, we hope to expand the team in the coming years.

I haven’t written up the job descriptions yet, but I’m also fascinated with how tech is going to change health and medicine, as well as robotics and automation. We remain committed to the best journalism in all formats we choose: podcasts, live events, text, and the Recode list.

Is there a story you wish Recode broke?

Everyone wishes they had broken more of the story of Facebook’s influence on the election. It’s a situation where the leaders of Facebook don’t grasp just how it defines culture. But we’re following the story closely. Between our politics and policy reporters and those who focus on Facebook and media, we have a good team covering it.

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