Kara Swisher is a damn good journalist. She’s the co-founder of recode, went to school to be a spy, and known as the most well-liked and feared journalist in Silicon Valley.
Swisher joins Tim Ferriss’ podcast to discuss the skills of a good reporter, her sexuality, parenting, tidbits of interviews with Steve Jobs, and more. This is a short transcription of a few bits I found interesting and useful. Listen to the full interview here.
The skills a reporter should have are persistence. Ability to ask questions. And just an ability to analyze.
I talk about this a little bit. I went to the School of Foreign Intelligence at Georgetown. I was going to be a spy. And I did a lot of scenario building whenever I’m analyzing or thinking about companies or businesses.
Often when I’m thinking about what some company is doing or what I want to cover, for example, like Twitter and the sale. It could be anything.
I go, “what would I do. What are those fuckers up to?”
And there’s 10 things. There is usually not more than 10 things they could be up to. And I follow every one as if it’s the truth. Then I find the right one.
It’s really pretty easy. And I think reporters are so reactive. Something happens, and then they write it. They tend to type it down.
They never take a minute to analyze. They never take a minute not to react. They never take a minute to imagine what people are doing.
So you can almost create your news if you start to get smarter about it. Most reporters literally just react and type.
Well this is interesting, I was talking to someone the other day, and they were telling me about how social media informs them too much.
And they said, “I wonder if I’m more influenced by the outside or the inside?”
Like photos on Facebook or people being happy. We had discussed this issue before, and it’s absolutely true. That’s exactly what was happening.
Those pictures aren’t real. That’s their best side. That doesn’t mean what’s actually going on. There is lots of unhappiness in there. That’s not true. It’s the photo. It’s not the true thing that is happening.
And because I’m a reporter, I know that’s not the real story. When I was a young reporter, I used to think what are people lying to me about?
And to become a great reporter, what are people lying to themselves about every day? What do they need to lie about to get through every day?
So that’s the stronger thing. I think people do that all the time.
I think I tell myself the truth a lot. Today I was mad at someone, and I was like, “I’m fucking pissed.”
Most people, “oh, don’t be pissed.”
What I tell my sons, my oldest son is a real pleaser. I don’t like it. He’s really worried about what people think. He’s a teenager. I get it.
I was like, “what this errant person thinks about you, 20 years from now, you’re never going to remember that person. It doesn’t matter what they think about you. It’s hard to see into the future, but I promise you what this person thinks about you doesn’t matter even slightly for a second.”
So I don’t know how you get out of it, but if you start to realize your best instinct is yourself, and then people you really trust, and even people you really trust don’t give you great advice sometimes.
If you trust in your own self, you can often not feel bad when people come after you.
I think one of the things people got wrong about him [Steve Jobs], and you know he was difficult. I didn’t work with him, so I didn’t know. But he definitely had a temper. Had opinions, very strong opinions that could be very cutting. But so did a lot of people. I don’t think he was anymore than anyone else necessarily. He was just more famous, therefore people note it.
People would say he’s heartless. I think he had too much heart. You know what I mean?
He cared too much. He had so much heart that he just couldn’t stand it when things weren’t right.
When I started looking at him that way, it made a lot more sense to me. Again, I didn’t know him personally very well. I interviewed him eight or nine, maybe 10 times. Walt knew he much better.
I think he just had a lot of heart. And it was overwhelming to him. He had a lot of feelings. He never hid them.
He never pretended he kind of wasn’t an asshole sometimes. I kind of liked that. I like people like that.
People say, “oh he wasn’t as a big of a hero.” I said, “I don’t think he’s a hero. I think he’s fascinating.”
We tend to like cartoonize people. And not make them complex. Not let them have complexity.
Another reason I’m a good reporter is I understand complexity. There is a lot of different personalities at once. I love that.
It’s theater. People don’t think of it as theater. I’m a big theater fan. I used to write a column about theater for the Washington Post on the side.
I went from when I was a kid. My mom took me to all kinds of live events, especially Broadway and stuff like that.
I think a lot about the narrative of a conversation. I lot of people ask a question, get an answer, ask a question, get an answer.
You’re not ask a question, get an answer. I have a conversation.
It’s a narrative conversation. It’s storytelling. I ask questions that people don’t expect. Questions that people want to know.
It’s not Oprah-like. And she’s real good. An amazing interviewer.
One time with Steve Jobs, I think people remember it to this day, he said something right near the end. We did the interview months before he died. It was interesting because you would see him better and worse over the years. One year he has weight on him, and the last year, he was just skeletal. It was sad, but at the same time he had more vibrance than anybody on that stage. That was really striking.
A lot of people when someone is dying or sick, try to pretend that’s not what’s happening. Let’s pretend you’re not very ill here.
I asked two questions that people remembered. I said, “what do you do all day? What’s a Steve Jobs day like?”
I wanted to know. He answered it. It was great.
And then I asked, “what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”
And everyone was shocked. Take a breath, that’s insensitive.
I wanted to know.
He gave a great answer. It was about television. He wanted to change television.
It was so great he had that ambition. Who knows when people are going to die, but he looked very ill.
But he just started coming alive talking about television. He was great. He lived right up until he died.
I think about asking the questions people want to know. I think reporters on stage don’t do that. I’m just curious.
I also treat them like people. Not potentates. You know what I mean? I imagine every day they have problems like I do. I treat the president the same way I would a janitor when interviewing.
You’d be surprised, but Megan and I aren’t very hard of them when it comes to school. I find the obsession with school and achievement to be disturbing. We don’t push that.
I’m always like, “you don’t need to know that.”
Go for a walk. I want them to go outside more.
I think the obsession of making your life better through your children is really demented. You see it all over the place.
The achievement, pushing them when you know full well it doesn’t matter. Most of schooling, doesn’t matter.
I had an argument with one of his teachers recently, they were doing some homework assignment, and I was like, “this is stupid.”
You don’t need it.