Beyond the Bubble Filter with Peter Kafka at Recode
In this episode, Peter Kafka senior correspondent at Recode – the business and technology network from Vox Media – talks about his career as a journalist, what he likes to cover, podcasting, the dangers of just covering trending stories, and reporting beyond the bubble filter.
Peter is also the host of Recode Media, the weekly podcast dedicated to the future of media and technology, as well as the producer of the Code Media Conference (Sept. 27-9, 2021 in Beverly Hills), a live event that hosts hard-hitting interviews with the media and tech industry’s leading players.
From an early age, Peter always wanted to be journalist. From writing for his school’s newspaper to working in the newspaper business in his hometown of Minneapolis, he describes his professional career arc as “relatively straightforward.” Early in his career, he worked with Walt Mossberg at allthingsd.
In terms of which stories he likes to cover most, Peter enjoys providing clarity to confusing topics and thick issues. He likes to cut through the BS. “I think that where I do best is when I'm able to explain things that are relatively complicated or maybe intentionally obtuse – and say, ‘Here's what's really going on,” he says. Keep that in mind if you're trying to figure out how to get press for your startup.
As someone who has lived through our transition to digital, a lot of where we are today was predictable, he says. But the ride has been full of surprises nonetheless. Especially when it comes to the unforeseen consequences of progress brought about by the net. “The internet is bringing us 500 channels of TV or more, and access to the world's information, and that all panned out,” he explained, “and what we didn't think about is who might use the internet to sow mistrust, and create disinformation and do terrible things to people.”
A Day in the life at Recode
When it comes to day-to-day operations at Recode, Peter wears a number of hats. He describes his approach as hands-on, while still working with a producer, an engineer, and other members of the team. Their staff is small (“It's probably about half a dozen of us reporting day to day”), and we're all working on different stories at a given time, sans any quota.
Because of the pandemic, the Recode team has had to pivot and take advantage of technology to record podcast interviews remotely. “Prior to the pandemic, I was always insistent that people come into the studio to do the podcast, to the point where I would, like, pass on guests because they either wouldn't come to the studio or we couldn't find a way to do something in person,” he said, citing the difficulty of conducting an interview via teleconference. “It'll be interesting when we start going back to the office: How much of those we're going to do remotely? And how much we'll do in person again?”
According to Peter, Recode’s general editorial approach used to be quite personality-driven, though the emphasis on that has decreased over time. And in working with Vox, Peter found that the work has become more about explaining things and concepts. “As we've been transferring over to Vox, there's been a different sort of conversation about technology that we're having. It's a sort of reaction to a lot of glowing press that tech got for years – but also just an acknowledgement that tech is complicated.”
Beyond the Echo Chamber
When deciding what stories to cover, Peter asks some pretty straightforward questions: “Am I animated by the story? Do I think it's interesting? Do I think it's news?”
The team’s discussions about stories worth covering is equally simple: “Is there something in the news that we want to help explain to people? Is there something that we're working on that no one's heard of that we want that we want to spend time on? Do I do a short story versus a long story?”
With Peter’s background as a fact-checker for Forbes magazine comes a certain level of confidence in terms of making sure that what they’re publishing is factual. “People generally expect me to know what I'm talking about, and that if I said [I had] multiple sources, they assume that's the case.” There are also editors that serve as the final checkpoint to ensure the veracity of their stories.
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