Opinion

Letter from the editor: Kicked out of the Clubhouse

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer media award, in Berlin, Germany in December 2020. Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via AP
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As someone who runs a digital-media business, I spend a lot of time paying attention to the state of the media industry, and the latest “it” platform. This week, that title belongs to Clubhouse, which is quickly becoming Silicon Valley’s social media of choice.

If you haven’t yet heard of Clubhouse, it’s an invitation-only iOS app where you can listen to ––and even be cold called to participate in––conversations with other users. Think of it as being a fly on the wall during a worldwide conference call. It’s become a popular platform for tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to converse about topics ranging from how to run a business to how to interact with the media, and even broader societal questions, like how to address economic inequality.

Last Sunday night, Elon Musk tweeted that he would host a discussion on Clubhouse. What Musk does, people follow. The Tesla CEO’s announcement led to a flurry of installations for the invite-only app, including by many tech journalists eager to report on the conversation. The rub: Clubhouse allows participants to block specific individuals from joining their chat rooms. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of preeminent Silicon Valley VC firm (and Clubhouse investor) Andreessen Horowitz, had blocked many reporters, thus preventing them from listening to Musk’s talk. 

Tensions were already high between tech journalists and the industry they cover. The Musk event came on the heels of Andreessen Horowitz announcing it was launching its own opinion publication. And so, it became the match that lit a firestorm of criticism. 

Maybe it’s because The Logic isn’t based in the Valley, but I don’t get all the fuss over Clubhouse access, in particular. Almost all conferences exclude media from certain events. The World Economic Forum in Davos has tiers of access, and the media aren’t allowed into some meetings. Clubhouse is not an exception. 

However, the fight over Clubhouse is the latest front in a dispute that does hit a little closer to home. Resentment between tech journalists and the community they cover has been brewing for the past decade. Tech reporting used to be a siloed beat featured mostly in business sections and trade publications. It wasn’t long ago that most mainstream news tech coverage consisted of Steve Jobs parading the latest Apple products on stage at a MacExpo. 

As tech companies’ market caps grew, so did the size of the news bureaus covering them. The realization that tech wasn’t simply a beat, but rather a lens through which to view the world radically changed the relationship between reporters and their sources. Gone was the mutually beneficial boosterism of reporters and VCs championing the founder myth, replaced by a skeptical press that weighed valuations and IPO pricings against engineering biases and long-term societal harms.

Here’s the thing: companies (and governments, for that matter) that consider it the media’s job only to amplify their narratives are ultimately hurting their ability to build trust and credibility with their customers, employees and the public. I can guarantee that if a journalist is asking a tough question, there’s an employee within your organization who is wondering the very same thing. 

I was struck last week watching a BNN interview with Wealthsimple co-founder and CEO Michael Katchen, who––in the midst of the day-trader storm––stood up and directly answered Amber Kanwar’s questions about why his company wasn’t halting trading on GameStop and other meme stocks. You may not have agreed with Katchen’s answers, but you could only respect his willingness to defend them.

Compare that with Robinhood’s CEO Vladimir Tenev, who didn’t answer questions for almost a full workday after halting trading, leaving a vacuum filled by pundits and critics, whose unchallenged opinions may have done long-term damage to the company. (Tenev did, however, pop up on Clubhouse Sunday night for a chat with Musk.)

Journalism asks hard questions, fosters critical debate and, ultimately, works to strengthen society’s fabric by creating more tension and complexity. If you’re the person in front of the camera or the microphone, think of it like going to the gym for a workout: it’s uncomfortable, sometimes strains the muscles, and maybe even hurts the next day—but it’s guaranteed to make you healthier.  

So, what can companies do? Lead by example. Have the confidence to see the value in responding to a reporter even if you don’t have answers. You’ll build a more honest and congruent organization if you’re willing to wrestle publicly with the hard questions. You’ll also have less to complain about in the reporting: it’s easier for readers to understand the complexity in your decision-making process when your voice is included in our stories. If we can’t talk to you, how can we be expected to understand where you’re coming from?

At The Logic, our job is to get at the facts and the truth. It all comes down to plain old reporting that’s not only great for our business, but also great for the business ecosystem and society writ large.

In that vein, I’m pleased to welcome two new additions to the team: April Fong and Claire Brownell. Both are experienced journalists who will add to our already impressive newsroom. April joins us from BNN Bloomberg, while Claire was most recently at Maclean’s. We’re thrilled to have them.

Finally, as part of our commitment to supporting Canadian journalism and promoting the Canadian tech ecosystem, I’m also excited to announce that The Logic has made an angel investment in Canadian business newsletter The Peak.  

Launched in August 2020, The Peak is a free newsletter catering to millennials. It bills itself as “the Morning Brew of Canada”—an easily digestible one-stop shop for all the latest business news, in an easy-to-read tone and format.

I encourage you to sign up for their free newsletter here. And, from one entrepreneur to another, a heartfelt congratulations to the team at The Peak on closing your seed round.