Mind the Tech NYC

Pursuit of Social Media Virality Undermines Journalism, Says Randi Zuckerberg

A keynote speaker at Calcalist’s Mind the Tech conference, Ms. Zuckerberg gives an interview about Israeli startups, the media, and gender in tech

Hagar Ravet 12:2215.03.18
One of the speakers headlining Calcalist’s Mind the Teach conference in New York this week was entrepreneur Randi Zuckerberg. She is is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media and previously held senior roles at Facebook.


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In an interview on the sidelines of the conference, Ms. Zuckerberg touched upon the unique character of Israeli entrepreneurs, the importance of quality journalism and how to get more women involved in tech.


Q You have been advising some Israeli startups. What got you interested in the Israeli tech industry?


A: There’s so much innovation coming out of Israel especially in cybersecurity, mobile, and biotech. I thought that if relationships could be formed between the two countries, there would be so many more collaborations and wonderful things that could happen across borders. That is really the start of my interest in entrepreneurship and tech in Israel and of course, it's only growing.


Q: Do you think Israeli entrepreneurs have a particular set of skills that distinguish them?


A: There’s a more global view of tech. It's easy when you are starting a company in the U.S., because we have so many people living here, to think only about the U.S. When you are in a small country like Israel, if you want to dream big you have to think about a global company and having customers around the world.


Q: Let’s talk a bit about tech and media. You have been at the intersection of the two for a while and you have witnessed quite of a bit change.


When I was first starting in social media it was all about getting as many eyeballs as possible. No one really cared how long someone was staying on a website, it was just how many people can you get. All of a sudden with all the work we were doing at Facebook and a lot of the other companies, we started to see media brands starting to think less about how many people are visiting and more about how much time they are spending on the site.


Now, I think it's shifting a little bit back again towards how many likes you can get, how many followers, how many views. To me that sometimes feels a little dangerous because it's in favor of flashy headlines that don't have much substance.


Q: What can be done?


A: We need to encourage and support journalism sites that go deep, that are focusing on telling stories, that don't have clickbait headlines, and that are really doing good investigative journalism. I think also as consumers we need to be a little more responsible in what we post and what we click on and what we share because our friends and our social circles are very influenced by what each of us shares.


Q: Media companies have relied on tech companies for digital distribution. Do you think they should develop their own technology?


What happened was that a lot of media companies started to share all of their articles through social media platforms and then, suddenly, they realized they don't own or control their own content anymore. If those platforms change their rules tomorrow then they are subject to those rules. There is always this interesting push and pull if you are a media company. You want to get your content out there on social media but you also have to make sure you are owning and controlling the distribution of your content.


We are seeing a rise again of the email newsletter. It's very intimate. And podcasts are just exploding. If you’re in someone’s ear, they can listen for 20 or 30 minutes and you can go much more in detail. People are starting to see that if you want good quality content then you have to pay for it. But that also puts a little of the onus on the media companies to make sure they are creating content that people value, that rises above all the free things out there.


Q: How are women faring in tech?


Unfortunately, we are still in a world where in the tech industry where I worked, women are such a minority in the field. There is a responsibility for women who have achieved success in those industries to be on the lookout to help and mentor other women. That’s the only way we are going to change the game.


I think about STEM fields—about how I can make STEM fields fun and accessible and approachable. I recently started a tech-themed cafe called “Sue’s Tech Kitchen” and we have two locations where you can come and a robot will make you pancakes or you can get 3D-printed chocolate. Even if you are not learning about computers in school or you are not even going to school, having a robot make you pancakes feels fun. It feels approachable. It feels like something you can go home and talk to your family about and learn a little more. And suddenly that opens a door for girls or for minorities who didn't have that access to feel like tech is approachable to them in their lives


Q: You have a new book coming out in May. Could you tell me a bit about it?


A: It’s called “Pick 3” and it’s a new take on work-life balance because I think that for so many of us we are struggling to be great in so many areas of our life. My personal life motto is sleep work family friends fitness. Pick three. Because you don't get to pick all five of those things and be great at all of them in one day.
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