These days, it's not uncommon to see public rifts form between Silicon Valley's elite and the press that covers them. Arguments about "bad faith" reporting or an "unfair" depiction spark on Twitter, lengthy diatribes are published to Medium, venture capitalists and founders rage-post on Facebook. But making a journalist's life harder for the simple act of reporting is frankly unhinged — and a gross violation of a reporter's safety and privacy.
The most recent example of this newfound power struggle between VCs and the news media involves New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz and former Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasan. Srinivasan went on the attack on Twitter when Lorenz shared and commented on a public Instagram story from the former CEO of luggage company Away, Steph Korey (who came under fire for how her employees were reportedly treated, and stepped down on Thursday after complaining about media).
Following the initial exchanges, several big names on VC Twitter including Paul Graham, Jason Calacanis, and others chimed in to rattle off complaints about "the media" and "journalism," using the pile-on tactics of Gamergate and echoing the baseless attacks aimed at the press spouted regularly by Donald Trump.
That vitriol was ratcheted up when the argument between Srinivasan and Lorenz became a party-line topic ("bashing" as Lorenz describes it) on new Silicon Valley darling startup Clubhouse. Clubhouse — a voice service that lets users host chat rooms — has been something of a virtual hotspot since launching this past spring. The invite-only digital hangout became a locus for VC rage when Srinivasan took his Twitter arguments to the less structured space — a striking exchange captured by Vice in the audio recording below.
So how did this all begin? — On June 30, Lorenz tweeted about Korey's publicly available Instagram story in which the former Away co-CEO complained about both the business model and editorial selection driving news media. This comes a few months after Korey came under scrutiny for the lengthy and unreasonable hours her employees were made to work, among other workplace issues. In her tweet, Lorenz called Korey's commentary "incoherent" as well as "disappointing." Shortly after that, former CTO of Coinbase Srinivasan retweeted Lorenz and said that the New York Times reporter was "playing victim" and was a member of a group of journalists who are "sociopaths." Other VCs and their defenders quickly jumped on the bandwagon.
Lorenz then claims that she "woke up today to [people] trying to reset my passwords and hack into my accounts" while also receiving "vicious, disgusting threats." She also said that some big names in the VC world were insulting her on Clubhouse, including Srinivasan. Input has contacted both Lorenz and Srinivasan for comment and will update accordingly.
VC versus media — The tussle speaks to the larger fight for power between VCs and journalists. Time's editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas tweeted, "VCs TEDsplain big thoughts about the future, disguising their lobbying for a particular kind of future that would benefit them with the language of prediction."
To that end, he added, "I share this to help explain why some VCs are so terrified of someone like @TaylorLorenz. Someone who actually thinks reveals their intellectual nudity. Someone who pursues the truthful description of the world is incomprehensible to them, because to them ideas are power grabs."
Daylight can be harsh — In recent years, the tech industry and the media that cover it have come to harbor a degree of skepticism toward each other. As technology and startup culture edged its way into the mainstream (and massively increased in value), deeper scrutiny of the corporations and the people behind them directing much of our communication and commerce has become essential journalism. But questioning whether members of the press should enjoy their constitutional freedom — like being able to investigate the operations of a private company — and consequently subjecting those journalists to harassment and cyberattacks is not only counterintuitive to the prospect of any harmony between the tech industry and the press, it's ethically unacceptable.
Journalists are required to investigate and report — not provide glittering PR while looking past possible labor violations and executive transgressions at startups. Instead of battling the press over what right it has to do its job, VCs should be welcoming the opportunity to build more transparent, fair, and accountable companies with their founders. If the venture capitalists really want to do better than the robber baron tycoons of yesteryear (do they?), they'd be smart to take heed of the truth instead of trying to drown it out.
In all likelihood, though, egos and personality wars will trump any interest in fostering a healthy relationship with reality. Unreasonable and disturbing attacks on the press by VCs will go on, as will journalists' begrudging coverage of their behavior. Much to our collective misery.