To understand why Alexia Tsotsis, co-editor of TechCrunch, wrote a wild, profane post Sunday about The New York Times putting content on Flipboard, you have to know a couple things about Alexia Tsotsis, co-editor of TechCrunch. First, she hates — hates — blogs that try to act like old media outlets, with editors and prescribed story forms standing between writers and readers.
“For the most part I think the writers in my industry are just crap. Really crap. The worst,” Tsotsis said when reached by telephone Monday. “That’s where the anger in that post came from. They’re trying to emulate old media on a new media news cycle.”
Second, old media giants like The Times, in Tsotsis’ view, should not try to find ways to wedge their stodgy paywalled content into a beautiful, free product like Flipboard. “That provokes a visceral reaction from me,” Tsotsis said. “I don’t like [to] see old values getting in the way of where new media needs to progress.”
Also it was a Sunday night, and she was drinking wine. Not the two bottles she wrote about in the post, “really two-thirds of a bottle.”
Those notes clanged together into a dissonant, classically Tsotsian chord. The post began: “Fuckers I am so sick of reporting on incremental tech news for fucking two years now, so sick I’m pretty much considering reverting full-time to fashion coverage.”
When I first read the post, I figured she was pushing back against an order to write it up: In fact, she said, she viewed publishing the post as very important to TechCrunch’s mission.
“We try to cover everything. No one assigned it to me,” Tsotsis said. “I wouldn’t want to miss a big story of the day because I only read TechCrunch.” I’d submit that’s an atypically quaint view, as is her goal for TechCrunch to be the “most interesting technology site on the planet.”
Tsotsis has been with TechCrunch since July 2010. She studied creative writing and views the Flipboard post as an experiment. “I like the emotional part of the news,” she told me. “I like this part of what I do.”
Over the previous weekend, Tsotsis posted a note to TechCrunch’s writers in the site’s Yammer account, encouraging them to take risks and even get torn apart by other bloggers. The whole point, she said, is to use the freedom TechCrunch allows — posting without going through editors, for instance.
Or maybe it was more of a manifesto: “After AOL purchased us, people stopped taking as many risks as they did before,” she said. “I just wanna keep TechCrunch weird.”
Tsotsis anticipated she might “get torn apart,” for the Flipboard post, but also believed “there will be many many many readers who are delighted to read something that’s real somewhere.”
Tsotsis says the post won her an early morning phone call Monday from Jay Kirsch, the AOL executive who oversees TechCrunch among other properties. Kirsch, she said, told her, “You’re so talented, you’re better than that.”
Reached by phone, Kirsch confirmed the phone call and Tsotsis’ characterization of what he said. They discussed “ways to keep edge and maintain edge while doing it in an effective way,” Kirsch says. He “almost never” comments on individual editorial decisions, he said. Tsotsis’ voice is important: “I think our writers take a disruptive view of the way that they cover” the tech industry, he said.
Eric Eldon, TechCrunch’s other co-editor, writes in an email that TechCrunch “doesn’t have a formal editorial review process like most other publications.” He adds:
I don’t write the same types of articles as her, but I can say that TechCrunch has run some pretty wild posts in the past. This one may be up there, but it’s also not nearly as unusual as people seem to think. The reaction has been the most surprising thing about it all.
Over the course of our conversation, Tsotsis told me she viewed the act of writing the post as a sort of meta-comment on The New York Times’ antiquated editorial structure: “Look what I can do with my dumb little WordPress blog. You guys can’t do this. Watch,” she remembered thinking.
The beauty of Web publishing, and the specific beauty of TechCrunch, is that the only barrier between bloggers’ overflowing brains and readers’ racing hearts is a publish button. And the writer should be the one to click it.
When she told me that she liked getting strong reactions to her writing, I asked if that was the same thing as being a shock jock. Nope, she said, she believes everything she writes.
At TechCrunch, she tries to encourage her colleagues to inject more voice and emotion into their work. She’s pleased with the post and amused by the reaction to it, even if, she says, it didn’t get a lot of Web traffic.
“I still think that post is supergood,” she said. It’s the kind of thing she’s hoping to encourage other TechCrunch writers to let rip now and again. “If one of my writers wrote that, I would let them do anything they wanted for the rest of day.”
In fact, Tsotsis points out, people who are interested in seeing her work stripped of all personality can read her article about the luxury car service Uber in the new issue of Wired: “I haven’t read it because I’m sure it doesn’t sound like what I wrote.”
If there’s an answer to what plagues Internet writing, Tsotsis said, it’s not more people writing like her. It’s more people writing like themselves. “I’m quite sure if every writer were like me, it would suck to read stuff online,” she said. “I wouldn’t want a world full of me.”