Chats

Mark Wilson

@ctrlzee

Just sat down at a coffee shop to learn their wifi is out! Giving then a min to figure it out otherwise I'll need to relocate

Lol k

ok!

Back on the grid?

i'm on very tenuous wifi! it was down at both the coffee shop and local dunkin donuts

the world may be ending not sure

Haha

I feel like all these presidential candidates have to do is promise better wifi and they'll get our votes

haha

what's weird about wifi is, i thought it was figured out!

i never imagined id spend 20-30 minutes today hopping around, arguing with baristas, etc

anyway! yes!

Haha cool

How ya been man?

Aside from the apocalyptic lack of wifi

haha good, summer is in full swing here

you?

Pretty good. It's always spring over here but good nonetheless

spring is the best season! other than fall. and maybe summer

sometimes winter

Haha

So last time we chatted you touched on a few things that I'm really interested by

And it's this whole relationship between the press and the 'makers'

I don't know many journalists so I'd love to get your perspective

ha ok, that's a big question

so let me start, maybe, with that idea of "relationship"

it's an interesting word only because you hear PR people use the word "relationship" or companies use the word "relationship"--and just the fact that it's used at all is incredibly loaded. it's like, "wait, we have a RELATIONSHIP?" it's a remarkably, subliminal way to plant expectations in a dialog between press and person/entity being covered

basically, of course you'll be more sensitive to an Apple or GE of the world if you have a "relationship" with it

but, that said, there is some truth to this idea of relationships

starting with the idea that the entire journalism industry, i swear, is like a dozen cool kids who live in brooklyn. that's a scaffolding of relationships

and then, anyone who covers companies as much as I do, I do cover the same people over and over when I look at the span of the 4 years I've worked at Fast Company/Co.Design alone

whether that's PR, or the creators themselves

and so you inherently build these relationships. it's longitudinal intimacy, maybe? you know what i mean)

like someone you might see once, twice a year

but you've seen them for 10 years!

this is so many tangents i'm tackling in one here, and i blame your scattershot question

Haha no I love it

anyway, to wrap this idea up:

a lot of people criticize access journalism--the sorts of stories you cover only because you can, right? continuing the metaphor of Apple, they let me into the design lab, that'd be some level of access journalism

stories broken BY RELATIONSHIP essentially
and a few things:

1. i think good journalism can and does stem largely from such access, at least when you cover companies in the way I do--talking about why products are designed as they are, etc

but 2. many accuse access journalism of pulling punches because of the idea of access

"if I write something mean about Apple, I'll never get Apple access again!"

I'd argue the harder thing for me, day to day

Is the fact that I have so many relationships. I know the creator I'm writing about has worked SO HARD on this one thing

and how can I write 30 words destroying it when I have the empathy of a relationship at that story's core?

Totally

when i started my career, at gizmodo, i'd do that all the time! just rip stuff blindly

and that candidness is fantastic in many contexts

but, now that i've matured as a writer/person, I also look back at some of that like, fuck. did I need to be a dick about it?

was THAT story worth being a dick

worth destroying a person's hard work

and so in that sense, i've been profoundly impacted by developing more relationships, talking to more people, etc

i'd also say, great scoops and non-access journalism are also largely born from relationships, just to close that thread

Is any story worth being a dick?

oh sure

lots of stories are worth being a dick.

So I write about design--but really, that means I write about the world through the lens of design

and when you look at bad things in the world, so many things are bad because they've been designed that way

you recognize so much thought and malice has gone into making the world WORSE

(the processed food industry, for instance?)

but yeah, I think getting angry is key to this job

whether or not you always verbalize it, it drives good stories and empathy for your audience

Ooh that's super interesting

That implies that you're employing a set of values and condemning others

Aka bias

Is that a concern? Or just the nature of the beast?

WHAT IM BIASED?!?!?!

yeah of COURSE i'm biased

you know what a lack of bias does in journalism?

it gives us 40 years of "balanced" articles on global warming

despite scientific consensus

like, reasoned bias is key to journalism

and i'd also say, i don't hide my opinions in my work

most articles, not news articles, but articles of all other sorts

are written around a central thesis

a thesis is just an argument

an argument is inherently biased, or at least steered, in one direction

you know, on this topic, I feel like documentary makers have it hard

i always see documentaries condemned for bias

and it's like, no, that's the WHOLE IDEA

they're showing you a perspective on an event that, having been in it, they believe to be true

do you fear "media bias"?

Me? Yeah totally

It's paralizing

how so

Like it makes consuming the press exhausting. I have to constantly scan for hidden agendas

To a degree where I end up giving up

right.

And consuming a weird amalgamation of dozens of headlines for any given topic

i will say that CNN's coverage of Bernie Sanders was a depressing bit of bias, imho

even when he was polling very competitively, the headlines had written him off

(and when you consider that the editors of CNN are probably a bit older than Bernie's target demo was...it's easy to imagine how that treatment occurred)

Ugh yeah politics are just unbearable for me

i mean, you're also talking about spin

and angling

which i think is different than bias?

What's the difference?

i think angling stories, of course bias can occur

but the way you headline and lede a story should distill why it's important, and why you're writing about it

often there are half a dozen ways you could angle a story

you choose the one you hope is relevant

(relevance, more and more, being determined by those social media clicks!)

but also, relevance might shift by readership

co.design might headline a story differently than fast company proper, for instance

just because the readers might have slightly different interests, etc

Sure

So on the topic of bias:

In a social media world, where everyone has a mic to express their opinions

What makes journalism any different?

Access?

Eloquence?

Hey man I've TRIED to keep Facebook out of this

Lol!

but seriously, to answer this question, I think I have to first say, I don't like the word "journalism"

i barely use it

i almost never refer to myself as a journalist

im shocked ive typed it so may times in this interview

what's wrong with the word?

the problem being, everyone has an expectation of what "journalism" is, and this saintly "journalist" who is supposed to have unlimited resources and objectivity to deliver whatever take, you, the reader, wanted that day

so what's different between my work and someone posting on Facebook or Medium?

i do it more, right? i've written thousands of articles. it's like any job, you become a pro athlete of that thing

and id like to think that, yes, i'm talking to experts in the field constantly, and my viewpoint, whatever it is, is informed by some level of reporting

but the internet has been democratic for voices, and that's great. and frankly, people publish amazing stuff on medium, etc

and i don't necessarily see an inherent line in the sand between a lot of that content and stuff we might publish on co.design

we're all just content machines, gabriel

some of us make more of it than others

preach!

do you see a difference?

Well, I don't think I'm qualified to make an assessment

I gotta say though, I really appreciate highly produced journalism

what's your definition of that?

Idk, something like Radiolab, or Last Week Tonight, or a multi-part series analysis of something

longform, for instance? people LOVE longform

(though im not sure how many people actually sit down and read it)

yeah, I'm not sure but I certainly do from time to time

NETFLIX TRUE CRIME

I guess for me, the difference there is that I can see a huge delta between the way the journalist expressed their opinion and the way I would

where sometimes the articles are "Zuck sneezed today"

and I'm like ????????

haha wait, you're saying, what then--

that a journalist can't do the high brow and the low brow?

shakespeare made intellectual allusions while making cock jokes

haha, low brow is fine -- I appreciate a good cock joke

but idk, I've had a bit of a turning point lately

you're trained to look at journalists as authority figures

at least I was

people on a figurative stage, with a huge megaphone

it implies some sort of qualifications

in 2013 I launched a startup and that got a bit of press love

and that was the first time I was able to notice what the press commented on, versus what really happened behind the scenes

it really kinda opened my eyes at the process behind it

needless to say, since joining Facebook I see that all the time

an article is so often just an interpretation of what really happened

like playing broken telephone

but it's presented as gospel

at least it was for me from the outside

I think that view, of journalist as authority figures, is mostly gone, honestly. no reader has ever referred to me as a journalist as a complimentary way. It's always, "and you CALL YOURSELF A JOURNALIST." Furthermore, the microphone journalists have? it's evaporated in the age of the internet! it's well documented that homepages are down across the industry. our stories are discovered largely on social. and so the microphone is Facebook, and it's Twitter, and it's LinkedIn. This is my point about journalism. There's still this assumption that we're all powerful. But especially at a publication like Fast Co, which is well known and well read but not MASSIVE, my ideas only spread as far as people share them

(so if you guys at facebook could stop messing around with whether or not you're actually going to repair the new economics of my industry, that'd be great)

haha, I'll get right on that!

so, you don't like the world journalist

I was speaking with my friend about this, and the fact that he doesn't think of himself as a designer and rather, "a guy who designs"

because "designer" has an implicit identity that he feels is not healthy. Like you shouldn't get your identity from what you do

at least not entirely

right. "designers" especially have this sort of aura to them, right? like "journalists" I guess

i could understand that. my own experience is that designers seem to love owning that title maybe more than some other professions?

but yes, i mean, i'm irked all the time by stories i read. biased or not, the treatments I often won't like. i wish i could turn that side of me off

much like, id bet, your friend wishes he could turn the designer in himself off

although maybe he can!

and that's his problem with the title

but yes, we're all so multi-modal now, right? single occupation titles might not make sense

I suppose that's the problem with labels in general

we should all be on a spectrum

"I'm on the journalism spectrum"

"I'm on the designer spectrum"

hahaha

to continue that analogy, we designers have this grandiose delusion that we want to "put a dent in the universe" and change the world by making weather apps

What's the delusion journalists have?

Why do you do what you do?

ha!

you know, I like to write, I think. that's how i got into this field

in college i wrote screenplays and short stories

(I also did a lot of video work)

i got an agent out of school, he never sold my screenplay, i began doing video professionally, i got a job at kotaku doing it, then I rolled that right into writing, and as you can imagine, blogging in 2006 was the greatest job to a young writer in the world

i could write anything and have it beam to a bajillion people

i was immediately hooked

though even writing at gizmodo, about stuff like hard drives, i viewed it as a creative writing exercise

(how many cock jokes can I fit into this)

"to hard or not to hard, that is the question"

eventually, i grew up a bit? i wanted to tackle more complicated things

haha

so i guess that's why i do what i do

that journey that's obvious only in retrospect

my delusion

id like to think i have less now than I used to?

maybe it's that people actually read what i write when it's over 100 words !

maybe it's that a particular story really matters at all to anyone

so simple, love it

funny how the more we do something the simpler our aspirations become "I want to change the way all of mankind likes to sit!" ~*10 years later*~ "I just wanna make a comfy chair"

ha yes, totally

"i want to be the best writer in the world"

"i want to file this before 5pm"

"i need that freelance check"

haha

is that sad? or liberating? or both?

ha you know, on this topic, the biggest shift to my writing, and view toward my writing, probably came through editing

i never used to be edited

now I'm edited a lot

making that transition to being edited was very very hard for me

it was like, "i'm an artist!"

but, now it's liberating

i have two editors who help me hone my thoughts when I can't

and who watch my back, making sure I don't post something unintentionally idiotic or offensive

so my transition has been liberating in a way I didn't expect, even though I technically have less freedom over what I publish than I did a decade ago

do you still write screenplays?

i don't. you know, that died when i took a job out of college where i worked morning news graphics--the chyron machine--and I started my day at 3:30. i was sleeping in two cycles, id nap when I came home in the afternoon, pull myself up, try to write for a bit, then crash, then go back to work. i was in a fog. i don't remember much of that 9 months tbh. i looked back at my work when i had a bit more sleep at a new job a few months later, and i realized what garbage it was

unusable

then i started blogging

which took all my creative energy

that said, im kind of? seriously? very seriously? working on a book now

a book proposal at this stage

and it requires me to turn back on my writer self after my son is in bed at night

i dont want to overwork those mental muscles

so we'll see how it goes

What's the book about? Can you say?

Or is it on a stealth mode?

hahahaa

god i wish, ive realized the most exciting part of writing a book is saying it

and i said it a lot

to too many people

Hahaha

so my book would be called Designing Happiness

and basically, it takes the stance that, rather than telling people that personal happiness is completely on them, we can actually design the world to induce more happiness

(and in fact, to some extent, culture has designed the world in this way for thousands of years)

so will you buy my book?

Can you get Samuel L. Jackson to narrate he audio book though?

that's the dream

Haha deal!

Read by 20,398 others

Mark Wilson

@ctrlzee

Senior Writer at FastCoDesign. Person who posts pictures of food.

About This Site

Talk Turkey is an attempt to have authentic conversations in public. Gabriel Valdivia interviews people over instant message and posts the conversations insitu on this site. Charlie Deets writes the code.

This website is not affiliated with, maintained, authorized, endorsed or sponsored by any real messaging service.