New York – How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Jenna Wortham, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and co-host of the “Still Processing” podcast, discussed the tech she is using.
*As the host of a podcast, are there any special tools that you really like?
Luckily, my only responsibility for “Still Processing” is to show up and talk. All the alchemy required to turn our babbling into a coherent weekly show is handled by the geniuses at Pineapple Street Media.
But I would say that keeping a dedicated notebook and pen on my person at all times, to jot down ideas, theories, reference points and jokes to share with my co-host, Wesley Morris, is an essential tool for that job. I’m partial to a Muji recycled paper sketch book and a Sharpie ultrafine marker. I also really like any messaging app that lets me record and send voice notes — they’re super helpful for bombarding Wesley with complex ideas, and also for sending myself thoughts that are too abstract to write down.
*You recently wrote a column criticizing Silicon Valley for lacking tools to combat online harassment. As someone with 661,000 Twitter followers, you must face this problem from time to time. What’s your advice for readers who want to protect themselves from online bullies?
Familiarize yourself with the resources at hand to combat online bullying, and report offenders as often as you need to. Don’t hesitate to report and block. There are a few organizations devoted to helping people at risk: The Crash Override Network and Hack Blossom are the two that immediately come to mind, though I’m sure there are more.
Have a good support system offline of people who can calm you down after a vicious attack. And read inspirational stories of people you admire who dealt with bullying (my personal icons include the writer and activist Janet Mock; Katherine Johnson, the NASA scientist whose life was featured in “Hidden Figures”; and even Rihanna. Yes, RIHANNA!) — and remember that most exceptional humans weren’t always widely understood in their lifetime, either.
*What do you like about Twitter?
I like the lazy river aimlessness of it, the way you can get caught up in a current, and an emotion, a feeling, the spirit of a television show. I am in awe at the communal collectivity that exists there, the way we now gather online to celebrate wins, like “Moonlight” at the Oscars, and grieve and share anger over unnecessary deaths like that of Jordan Edwards, and express outrage over policies like the Muslim travel ban.
I have to credit “Black Twitter” with my sanity. The way BT takes a news story or a meme and runs with it is my all-time favorite thing online these days. It’s the best real-time commentary we have, outside of something like “Saturday Night Live.”
But it’s not one day a week, or limited to what a handful of writers thinks is relevant. It’s 24/7, whimsical, cutting and sharp.
*How does Twitter help you do your job? Does it create ideas?
Years ago, Twitter used to be a major tip line for story ideas. It was a great way to see what start-ups were trending, and glean insights into companies and scoop up the occasional scrap of venture-capital gossip. But now it’s too much — everyone’s id is on overdrive and not always in a good way. It oscillates between being a delight and a stress inducer.
Recently, someone who goes by @Blaqueer gave us a good idea for the podcast, suggesting we talk about our cultural memory of Whitney Houston. We did, and people loved it! If anything, Twitter helps me read about perspectives outside of mainstream media and learn about new authors, artists and ideas that I don’t always get exposed to in my regular media diet.
Twitter is also responsible for one of the most fulfilling creative collaborations in my life. A year or so ago, I struck up a direct message exchange on Twitter with Kimberly Drew, who runs the Instagram account @museummammy. We became close friends and started working together on a book project that is currently called “The Black Futures Project.” It concerns itself with cataloging and archiving this particular moment in contemporary blackness in the postdigital era, and was acquired by Christopher Jackson’s One World imprint late last year.
*Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life?
The app Filmic Pro is high on that list. I’m taking filmmaking classes and I mostly shoot footage on my iPhone, so having a way to film in high definition is fantastic.
*What are your thoughts on Juicero, the $400 Silicon Valley system for squeezing juice that raised bucketloads of venture money but has faced questions over its effectiveness?
It’s up there with the greatest Ponzi schemes of our lifetime. Part of me low-key respects their hustle. But a bigger part of me is dismayed about what their existence means about the types of ideas and entrepreneurs that get funding in Silicon Valley. That company got around $120 million to sell an internet-connected juicer that seems to be no better than a packet of Go-Gurt.
A recent report from Kathryn Finney’s phenomenal organization Digital Undivided found that venture firms lend white men $1.3 million on average, even if their start-up fails. Black women get a paltry $36,000 on average. It’s infuriating, and it frustrates me to no end.
The New York Times