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The types of stories she’s writing now for Linked In, she explained, are similar to what she was doing by the end of her tenure at Wired: “ideas-driven pieces about the nature of how technology companies are changing.” Most of those 50 editors are not writing stories like Hempel is, or working on her podcast, . So, instead of influence being something that happened from the top down, it would happen sideways and from the bottom-up. Like Fortune, which was where I spent a good deal of my professional career... Fortune Magazine, and really, I mean, I think Fortune is really where I learned the craft, was a place that existed because people had confidence in the brand, right? He’s always really understood content and understood news in particular and believed in it. I mean, my work hopefully helps the people on Linked In get smarter about their work.
Instead, they’re summarizing big news stories and surfacing public discussions among people who are affected or interested by that news; for example, Hempel said, Linked In provided a unique window into the substantial layoffs at Space X earlier this year. Right, both the readers, advertisers, and then the people you’re writing about, right? I think that Linked In believed that news has the ability to make professionals smarter and, more important, to get them talking to each other across boundaries and borders around who you know and who you don’t, around things that matter to them in their professional lives. I don’t think that I probably need to tell you, as somebody who works in media, that user-generated content is great, but it is not as great as carefully crafted content by somebody who has studied the field for, in my case, 17 years. Which is bigger than any other media business and almost all that content is created by people for free.
It’s funny, my audience, like I think about this one guy, Adam Marx. I’m guessing he’s listening to this podcast because I connected with him on Backchannel and he has basically followed me on all the social platforms. I mean, as somebody who has a new baby, I can tell you that I think that may be impossible to ignore. He was the original “adult supervision.” Right, but then you look at, I don’t know, Space X, Airbnb, Slack ... I don’t mind them, because I figure everyone’s going in eyes wide open.
Now he’s on Linked In and he converses with me about what I’m writing. I like to think of a future in which I can ignore him for just a little bit. I want to talk about some of the stuff you are creating at Linked In. I’ll read the headline for you and you can riff on it. The criticism over the previous two years was centered, I think correctly, at Mark Zuckerberg because he’s the CEO. They need to do all the aspects of the job that the founder doesn’t want to do, and then they also need to be able to gently manipulate the founder into doing the things that the founder want to do. And by the way, those jobs mostly fall to women at tech companies in Silicon Valley. Yeah, oh, and also I guess Dick Costolo at Twitter, but Twitter’s its own weird counterexample. Most of these companies, by the way, don’t succeed. When it becomes time for them to go public, the investors all know full well that is it ...
He was at Wired, and then he came back to Fortune, and he came back to Fortune to run Fortune.com, and I was so excited to work with him. And I told him, “Absolutely, you should go do that.
And then in, I think 2011, he came into my office, he shut the door, and he said, “Jessi, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m going to go to Linked In. ” And he’d obviously asked everybody else there before me, and everybody else had told him it was a crazy idea.
Remember, it was a tech publication, because Medium was full of tech geeks who knew a lot about tech stuff. You just wander in and bam, you’ve got to pay Jessica Lessin some money. So, at Backchannel, I went there because I wanted to write, and I was able to write, and I could still do the 3,000- to 5,000-word features that took a long time and required a lot of resources, but I quickly became obsessed with figuring out actually how to corral those conversations, and try to evolve those conversations into content that actually mattered. Like, there’s a lot of like mediocre user-generated content, that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s a very logical story for me to tell at Linked In, too.
No, so I think that that was true for me before I was affiliated with Backchannel, and the great wonder of Backchannel was that I became obsessed with the idea of conversation as content, meaningful conversation as content, and that worked on Medium in a small tech community. And I realized that I was actually very curious about distribution and how distribution works and who owns distribution and what influence looks like in a world where, instead of a brand talking down to readers, a brand needs to figure out how to engage readers in a conversation. Their personalities are changing and what that means for the people who work at them.
So, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how you got to this job and now we’re going to take a minute on the mechanics of it. I think podcasting is like blogging when I first began, right? You know, there was a moment when everybody could blog and then we quickly realized that just meant that everyone could self-publish. That’s the question about regulation, and who, if anyone, can regulate these companies, which we could spend a whole podcast series about. So, my question was, okay, but where does that information come from? It doesn’t think that is a person because it hasn’t been trained to identify that shape or size or skin color as a person. Like, it doesn’t really matter if I figure out how to make an entry into Wikipedia because how can I, as one person, could possibly help? I mean, look, that was an experiment, and I remember actually, so, yeah, so a bunch of people wrote in, and I turned their commentary into a second piece, and I put that out, and then that got conversation going. You know, when I think about that piece, I actually think about a very long, 700-word long message that I got from an AI engineer working at Facebook, who just read this on Linked In, and just felt like he had so much to say about it that he needed to get in touch with me and share it. ” And they’d say yes and I’d write a paragraph on top of it, and, you know, cynically, it was a cheap and easy way for me to make content. often I’m retailing someone else’s thoughts and ideas anyway. You’ve been covering Silicon Valley insightfully for a long time. Whether it’s a story or a theme or an idea, something you missed. Trying to come up with the job interview answer to that question where, like, the problem ... And, you know, that’s been my focus for a long time and it’s worked out well, but I think I did miss a big story, and I think a lot of us did.
The core business of Microsoft-owned Linked In is helping professionals network and find new jobs — but unlike its social media peers, it’s unabashedly a media company, too. You’re going to find it wherever you listen to your podcasts. Salaried magazine writer living in New York City, that’s a hard thing to accomplish. So I thought, well, when I finally figure out how to get here, I can figure out how to get here, well then, I’m done. ” And I looked at all the people around me who had jobs in my company, and none of them were jobs that I could see myself doing in a decade. I want to know about that, and that’s still the thing I want to know about the most. Going on long enough, with complete access, that when it finally comes out I’m look forward to reading it. That lasted maybe a year, and you know, after Condé Nast bought that property, Medium came out and said oh, actually, we’re not interested in advertising. Yeah, one of the many pivots, but like really bad timing for Condé Nast, which had bought this property to learn about how advertising might work on it. So, that’s unfortunate, but really great timing for me, because I got a whole year and a half of creating long-form journalism on a software that really valued the audience and gave the audience basically a two-way dialog with the writer. And what that software did well, I mean, Medium had and has a lot of challenges, but it has some of the most elegant social software in the biz, and it does a really great job of setting up the reader and the writer to be in conversation with each other in meaningful ways. I have never considered the dialog aspect of Medium. It never once occurred to me to comment on a Medium ... I mean, all those businesses are connected to connecting people with opportunity.
A team of 50 editors, led by editor-in-chief Dan Roth and editor-at-large Jessi Hempel, delivers news to Linked In users around the world. Wherever you listen to fine podcasts like this one. Should we just get right to it, explain why you’re at Linked In? That is a little bit of a mystery to anybody who has followed my career, which would be my mother and you, because I began my life as a magazine writer. They made a movie about how amazing it was, or at least terrifying, to work at Condé Nast. No, but the whole, the premise of was that everyone aspired to be at this, they didn’t say Condé Nast, it was, what? It felt to me like the most interesting thing in media, apart from craft, which is something that I loved perfecting, as a writer, for my entire career... And that’s changed a ton over the course of my career, I would say. I did want to ask you about the Linked In stuff, and then commenting, but you know, I think of Linked In as a place you go to put stuff, instead of a blog, and a lot of times it’s terrible stuff, and sometimes it’s good, and sometimes Jeff Bezos uses it to talk about his personal life. Google has a lot of things, but Google at its core is a search engine. So, Linked In is working on building up anything that connects people to opportunity.
“I remember, that was the one that I was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing,’” she said. People who are looking to hire people who have been laid off. CEOs of Apple or Microsoft or whomever, don’t give interviews, generally, to someone working in their parents’ basement, but they give them to someone working at Fortune. And they might care about the individual writer they’re talking to, but they also care that it’s Fortune Magazine. I think, though, that we have been dealing with the tremblings of the examination of, “Well, what if that’s not true? Blogging came along, and suddenly, “oh no, how crazy, somebody could be in their basement, in their pajamas, writing, and they could have the same size microphone as Fortune.” And of course, we know that’s not really true, because Fortune also had the brand, and so it gave it credibility. I knew who they were — not Bill Gates, but Bill Gates’s PR person, for example, and I had a very deep relationship. I mean, I got to know and report about, like, Mark Zuckerberg very early. And Forbes was you, and Fortune was me, but kind of it was all the same. And frankly, I just remember my mother saying to me — I worked for Businessweek for a long time — and she said to me, “You know, Jessi, I look through every page of Newsweek and I never see you. ” And then I went to Fortune, and it was the same thing. I believe that, but there’s lots of evidence to the contrary, right? Sure, and we have a lot of members creating a lot of content for free.
“You have six or seven conversations that have been tacked to it that include people who have been laid off and the experience there. “You get the smattering of first-person sources that I, as a journalist in my career, would have to go out and search for actively,” Hempel added. And there were, like, oh, Bill Gates is giving an interview to Gizmodo, back when Gizmodo was kind of a scrappy blog. There were bits of that coming up, and then there was also this idea that the audience, whoever the audience was, right? The audience was, in part, the people we were writing about. But the audience-audience, the millions of people for whom Fortune arrived in the mail, who read it, I knew very little about. Maybe, when I went home over Christmas, my dad’s friend talked about something I’d read, but that was kind of the extent of it. “Mom, I got bad news for you, it’s never going to work.” Yeah, she was like, “Jessi, I look through Forbes, every page, you’re never there.” Yeah, so, totally true. He’d really designed this tech publication on the premise that long-form journalism could exist on Medium. I mean, I think that the thing that you have to keep coming back to is, we want content that makes professionals smarter at their jobs, that is useful to them, right?
You gave it a full answer to my question, which I appreciate, but I have questions. Because I’m very interested in career changing, not myself, but I’m just interested in how it works. “Not for me, but good for you.” He had three little kids, like, that seems like a great opportunity for him. And we’ve been in pretty regular touch ever since, as that has evolved. I can’t remember if we talked about, I mean, because he was, he had a minder here from Linked In when he was on, and he was a little tight. But I clearly remember seeing him like a year after he’d taken the job, and he was sitting in the office at the Empire State Building, and he was not happy, and he was not happy for the obvious reasons you would think someone who’d grown up and built a really good career in editorial, would be unhappy when they went to a tech company, which is, it was a tech company. And it’s worked out, but I’m assuming that some of that was in your head when you went over as well. This is not what we wanted, at all.” “We want a journalist. Be quiet over there.” “Just go pick the articles, but stop. That just stressed me out so much, the way that you layered that out. But no, my job is to come to Linked In and continue to write about and create media about big ideas in the same way that I was doing it at Wired.