How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Edmund Lee, a media reporter, discussed the tech he’s using.
What tech tools do you rely on most for reporting on the media industry?
My iPhone is my everyweapon. It’s for emails, texts, Signals, interviews, notes, even suggestions for the best subway route. (I swear by Citymapper, which my wife recommended.)
My typical use case goes something like this: I’ll be headed to a news conference when a source Signals, saying he’s in town. I’ll check my calendar and text back a possible time as I hunt through OpenTable for a reservation somewhere convenient. After I find a spot, I’ll send a calendar invite. By then, I’m exiting the subway and Slacking my editor about when I’ll be back in the office.
Like most reporters, I’m incredibly impatient. Smartphones are the best (or worst?) enablers for that kind of pathology.
I’ve also filed stories from my phone. In May, I was occupied at a news conference when the Walt Disney Company announced it was buying control of Hulu. My laptop was dead, and all the outlets in the room were taken. I tapped out almost the entire article from the compose window of my email app.
Also, I hate to say it, but Twitter.
Really. I’m not being cheeky. You have to go where the sources are, and when it comes to media, a lot of them are on Twitter. A lot. I follow the usual suspects, but I also make myself known.
Last year, I interviewed the AT&T executive who was put in charge of WarnerMedia, and in my tweet promoting the piece, I highlighted a comment he made about the importance of culture fit between the two companies. A source direct-messaged me in disbelief. We chatted, and that led to a story about a closed-door town hall at HBO that exposed some of those culture differences. It got a lot of attention.
And, yes, my DMs are open.
But my best tool is the in-person meeting. I think that’s true for most reporters. Sources want to make sure they can trust you. And a lot can be revealed with just a look. A look can tell you where to hunt for a particular story. So the restaurant, the bar, the coffee shop are important tools. I go out a lot.
Clothes are a device, too. Not to stick out but to blend in. A close-cut suit and cordovan lace-ups when appropriate. The look changes if it’s someone in Hollywood or Palo Alto, but you get the idea.
What do you personally use to consume media?
I’m the opposite of a cord cutter. I’ve had the same cable account for nearly 20 years. I also have most of the streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access and even PBS, which offers a $5-a-month app.
I’ll toggle from the Yankees game on my cable feed to the Netflix app on my Roku box to binge “Derry Girls” (it’s great) while scrolling through Twitter on my phone.
And for media geeks like me, HBO’s “Succession” is everything. The second season really shines. I have a few quibbles, but I’m amazed by its vivid accuracy. Plus, witness Sunday Night Twitter, when broadcasting your favorite lines becomes its own piece of theater.
How has streaming changed the media industry?
Streaming is both a reaction to and a cause of cord cutting, but really it just means more content. It’s worth noting that for all of tech’s disruptions, Apple and Amazon are now in the business of producing what is essentially cable television. Google and Facebook, too. You have to wonder when one of them will just buy a media company.
I’m not saying it’ll happen, but there were nearly $200 billion in history-making media mergers in the past year. All the big ones are done. The next one — if there is to be one — will be a tech giant swallowing a media giant. The irony is that media merged to take on tech, but it’s one possible outcome.
I’ll add one more note: Robert A. Iger, the head of Disney, published a book in September that reads as a sort of business memoir. In it, he writes that he believes if Steve Jobs were still alive, Apple would most likely have bought Disney. That’s fascinating. Saying it out loud isn’t what makes it interesting. Saying it out loud more than a year after Disney agreed to buy the majority of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire for $71.3 billion is what makes it interesting.
Is social media a blessing or a curse?
I guess social media somehow felt inevitable? It reminds me of the 1980s TV series “Max Headroom.” The log line went something like this: In the future, an all-powerful TV network controls society through subliminal programming. Sound familiar?
The premise was more fanciful than the current reality, but the show presciently dramatized the disinformation campaigns we’re now witnessing across social media, except the social media companies are also the unwitting tools. (I suspect Netflix or HBO or Amazon may want to revive the show.)
Outside of work, what tech product are you currently obsessed with?
Semi-seriously, is there anything outside of work?
But seriously, our household has the usual stuff. We have an Alexa that my wife can’t stand. I use it as a timer and to check when our packages are coming. We have several Philips Hue smart bulbs that are a nifty way to set up the lights.
My coffee grinder is my most consistently prized nonwork gadget. It’s a Baratza Encore and it’s not cheap, but I have to have good coffee. It’s the only way I can resolve myself in the morning.
And our teenage daughter is an expert at piping Spotify through our Sonos speakers as she flips through her Instagram while swiping through Netflix on our iPad to find something to watch. I have no idea where she gets it from.
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