Covering Innovation with Fast Company Tech Editor Harry McCracken

harry mccracken fast co

Harry McCracken is an award-winning journalist and Technology Editor of Fast Company, a news media outlet dedicated to inspiring readers to think beyond traditional boundaries and create the future of business.

In this podcast interview, Harry talks about regulating tech without ruining it, restoring trust in journalism, YouTube's product strategy, and how to get featured by Fast Company.


Regulating Technology

Ever since the Cambridge Analytica psychographic profiling scandal, Congress has yet to hold Facebook, Twitter or Google accountable for the lies and deception their algorithms spread in order to increase session time with sensationalized content that is psychographically selected to align with and stoke each user’s fears, hopes and dreams. These social networks do the same thing Cambridge Analytica tried to do, but was shut down because the social networks want their user data all for themselves.

Despite the fact that social networks use algorithms to direct users to content most likely to provoke an emotional reaction, they are currently shielded from liability for what users say on their platforms under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which Justice Clarence Thomas took aim at. By saying social networks have really become more like “common carriers” — which is the language used to describe phone companies — Thomas is suggesting that social networks should be treated more like phone companies. 

Harry says that while What’s App is similar to a common carrier, social networks don’t like to admit it but they are much more comparable to traditional news media outlets. He also says there’s a bipartisan consensus in the federal government that section 230 is broken and needs to be fixed.

The fact that social networks are removing noncompliant content, makes them much more of a publisher than a common carrier. 

Restoring Truth in Journalism

Back in 2007, Harry was the editor in chief of PC World Magazine, which at that point was the largest tech magazine in terms of circulation. He briefly left his position at the publication after an editorial dispute with their CEO at the time, where he took a stand for a story titled “10 Things We Hate About Apple” that the CEO did not want to publish (in the interest of protecting a critical business relationship). The issue became public, and after some time, the CEO ultimately left his position. Harry returned to his duties as EIC and stayed for another year.

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows a decline in trust in the news media. “I'd say that, broadly speaking, the reputation of the media is in tatters,” Harry opines, though he adds that it’s still possible to build a media brand that people trust. “One of the reasons that Fast Company is weathering this era pretty well, is that we have this quorum of people who have really bonded with us on an emotional level in terms of what our mission is.”

Harry describes Fast Company as a brand that has stayed optimistic in its 25 years of existence, and that it has done its best to tell uplifting, inspiring stories in the tech world. However, the publisher has also evolved over the last four or five years to be quite a bit more critical than it once was, calling out big tech and media companies whenever necessary. “I think that's probably the single most important thing you can do to continue to have credibility among your readers.”

What Makes Fast Company Different

While Fast Company covers tech news like other outlets, the brand leans more towards keeping stories short and skimmable, giving them more freedom to invest time and energy into stories that really matter. “We love behind-the-scenes stories; we love having the opportunity to follow an innovation in progress over days or weeks, or months, and tell the story that other outlets often don't have the luxury of telling, because they're much more news-driven.”

In 2020, there was a period in which Fast Company devoted the entirety of its reporting resources to the pandemic. “And then, even when we started to weave other stuff back into our reporting, it tended to be either pandemic-adjacent, or it was about politics and the presidential campaign, and misinformation,” says Harry.

As far as news beats go, Fast Company covers tech in general, but tends to put focus on stories that involve interesting elements. “In some cases, my reporting involves walking into a company over a few weeks or a few months and following that tail in person, which has not been possible,” reminisces Harry. “But I'm looking forward to that becoming an option again. And that's often some of the most satisfying reporting we do.”

To listen to my full interview with Harry (in which we also talked about what would happen if Congress were to regulate social media, the blurring line between news and opinion, how technology will likely change after the COVID-19 pandemic, nostalgic tech stories, and more), click the link at the top of the post. Subscribe to the Earned Media Podcast for more on the latest development in earned media marketing.

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