Saturday, November 19, 2022

Andreessen Horowitz and the Media: Yikes! (COIN) "Inside the nasty battle between Silicon Valley and the reporters who write about it."

Following on yesterday's "Media and Tech: "The Unauthorized Story of Andreessen Horowitz"", a repost.

 From New York Magazine, May 21, 2021:

Tech vs. Journalism
 Inside the nasty battle between Silicon Valley and the reporters who write about it.

Late last fall, the New York Times was preparing a bombshell article about Coinbase, a financial exchange that had become the largest U.S. company in the cryptocurrency industry and was just months away from a sensationally lucrative IPO. Nathaniel Popper, a writer in the newspaper’s San Francisco bureau, had spent months reporting a story about Coinbase’s alleged inhospitability to Black employees. (One former worker told him, “Most people of color working in tech know that there’s a diversity problem … But I’ve never experienced anything like Coinbase.”) With Silicon Valley increasingly the dominant force in American life, and during a national reckoning over structural racism, an examination of HR practices at one of the tech industry’s fastest-growing businesses — documented with firsthand accounts — was classic accountability journalism.

It was the kind of story to which Wall Street, Washington, and corporate America have long been grumblingly acquiescent. They might not like it, but they accept that such scrutiny inevitably shadows success; they take their dings and move on.

But Coinbase, led by CEO Brian Armstrong, who had recently instructed his employees not to bring concerns about racial justice into their work (“We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission,” he wrote publicly), wanted to fight back. On November 25, with the Times story yet to drop, Coinbase moved to preempt the exposĂ©, publishing an email the company had sent its employees designed to refute the expected allegations. It included the statement, “We don’t care what the New York Times thinks.”

Bravado from a company on the verge of an IPO? There was some of that. But looming over the Coinbase pique was its venture-capital backer, Andreessen Horowitz, which had lately become an epicenter of anti-media hostility in the Valley. A16Z, as it is known (for the 16 letters between the A in Andreessen and the Z in Horowitz), owned almost a quarter of Coinbase’s class-A shares; co-founder Marc Andreessen sat on the cryptoexchange’s board; and Coinbase’s head of communications, Kim Milosevich, had recently moved over after seven years at the VC firm.

The worlds of crypto and A16Z shared a fervent disdain for incumbent authorities. As self-styled meritocrats in the business of creating the future, they had little patience for heckling by humanities majors who had never written an if-then statement or started a business. And something had shifted: More and more, in the places where tech talks to itself — Hacker News, Clubhouse, Substack — you’d hear complaints that the dead-tree elites cherry-picked facts congruent with prefigured story lines, were out to get tech for “clickbait,” and were jealous that Silicon Valley was ascendant. And the Times was considered ground zero for this impertinent haterism.

Increasingly, Marc Andreessen felt there was a gap in tech coverage, and he decided that his own firm could create content that would be more future-positive and techno-optimistic — telling the tech story from the tech founder’s vantage point. Inside A16Z, one of Milosevich’s projects had been to build up an internal content operation to produce podcasts and blog posts, and the firm had invested in the fast-growing subscription-blog platform Substack. There was a feeling that the rules had changed: Why grovel to the hidebound gatekeepers when you could “go direct” and “own the narrative”?

After Coinbase’s first strike, there was some overheated media eye-rolling at the effectiveness of the strategy. “This attempt at a front-run is mind-blowing,” Popper’s Times colleague Mike Isaac tweeted in response to Coinbase’s defiant post. “They’ve guaranteed readership for the coming story AND torched any semblance of trust or relationship they had with the media.”

But the overlapping subset of tech-, VC-, and crypto-Twitter viewed Coinbase’s move as badass. The investor Michael Arrington weighed in with, “They will never stop attacking @coinbase.” When Popper published a follow-up article documenting salary disparities at Coinbase among women and Black employees, Naval Ravikant, a well-known investor and podcaster in the Valley, tweeted, “It’s only a matter of time until the narrative-industrial complex comes after crypto.” And Balaji Srinivasan, the 41-year-old ex-CTO of Coinbase, ex-partner at Andreessen, and current media troll on Twitter, tweeted at Popper, calling him a “woke white who can’t code.” The hostilities have only ramped up in 2021. The anti-media tech crew recently delighted in Elon Musk’s response to a Washington Post reporter seeking comment for an article — “Give my regards to your puppet master” — screenshotting it and gleefully disseminating it on social media. In February, a prominent VC named David Sacks drew attention to a new app called BlockNYT that allows Times-haters to silence the 800-plus accounts of reporters and editors who tweet. The rise of Substack, where writers are untethered from institutions, has prompted pearl-clutching among journalists fearful of a brain drain from traditional media. (Mike Solana, a marketing executive at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, recently discerned in journalists’ carping about Substack “the same energy as incels complaining about the Tinder algorithm.”) The invite-only audio app Clubhouse has become a virtual salon of media-bashing, featuring rooms with names like “#BlockNYT or How to Destroy the Media,” “NYT vs. Rational Discourse and Free Speech,” and “Taylor L and Other U.S. Journalists That Should Be in Jail,” referring to the Times internet-culture reporter Taylor Lorenz. A handful of journalists have tried to mount a countercampaign, starting rooms like “How Journalism Actually Works. Featuring Real Journalists” and “What Tech Doesn’t Get About Media (+ Vice Versa).” When A16Z recently announced its plan to beef up its content operation, Jessica Lessin, founder of tech-news outlet the Information, declared the move “a call to arms.”....