2013-06-27

Dear Sean Parker: Alright, You Nailed Us

When I started in journalism seven years ago, I hated telling people I was a technology journalist—they thought I reviewed products. As modern storytellers and modern readers, we have amnesia about the core of our art form: Telling stories about people. And your epic rant about your wedding ish? That's exactly the elixir we need.



Dear Sean,

You've misdiagnosed the problem in your screed about journalism. What happened to you isn't a result of the downfall of "media" or "news" or "journalism." The problem is that our sense of storytelling has become totally warped by old media: 20 years of bullshit blockbusters made of pablum and crammed into peoples' brains with heavy doses of advertising. Seriously, thank you for helping undermine that system. But those of us in this industry are still cleaning up the mess, and some of us are clearly a little confused about what to do next.

Your wedding should not be a story to us—at least those of us outside the bridal mags. A "story" has a protagonist, and sometimes an antagonist. It involves a challenge or quest. It has a climax and a denouement. This is simple stuff—the myth format—and it's consistent across the best journalism you'll find anywhere. It's how our human brains are best equipped to learn. Stories are what keep our attention. Knowing people through writing can be intimate.

But for a long time, we (the editorial "we") forgot about the first item in the recipe: The person. Everyone got caught up in advertising the story, funneling eyeballs to the content itself, and in web journalism, the reporters are the same people charged with doing that advertising and distribution. That's not what reporters are best at—and it compromises their editorial choices. They're salivating over the potential sale before they have something firm to sell to readers.

When I started in journalism seven years ago, I hated telling people I was a technology journalist—they thought I reviewed products. Is that what journalism is about? Products? Here's a secret: I fucking hate products. I hate sitting in front of a computer all day, even if it's the newest stupid Apple thing. I'd prefer sitting on a bench looking out at the Hudson River. Many days I ponder throwing my phone into it. But software tools (and the people who build them) are freeing people from the old drudgery of work—and that's why I am passionate about telling stories of the geniuses who innovate in this sector. I begrudgingly put you in this category. Eco-terrorist-wedding or not.

All the reporters and editors you call out deserve all the counter-invective you can muster. You could easily write another 10,000 words on this topic—in fact, I'm restraining myself from doing it right now. But being prolific is easy and sloppy, as you observed about the journalists who slammed you.

Restraint is the consummate virtue now that publishing (on the web) has an overhead cost of roughly zero. Your piece would have been more powerful if it had been shorter—and if you had written it a few weeks before your wedding, not after. That's a journalistic tip for you, now that we're "all journalists." When you decided to change the world and become a public figure, you tacitly agreed to learn the One Rule of Media. That is: Control the conversation. When you do something high-profile, mount a pre-event campaign to tell the real story first. This is what publicists are for. Hire one.

Luckily for you and me, the Internet is changing to become people-centric, and posts like yours can now cut through the other noise. On the social web, people are the nodes on the network, not groups or companies or bots—the things that we used to organize our information around, the system of organization that caused us to forget the primacy of individual voices. Eventually, people will realize once again that people are the vital element of every story. (That's why you'll never see a gadget or inanimate thing on the cover of our print magazine.)

When you begin a story with a person, it necessitates you doing your homework. It's very hard to write a smear piece (like the ones that were written about you) if you start with the protagonist. The first question becomes: Who is this guy Sean Parker? A moment of Googling on that topic would uncover lots of the preservation work you've done. If it had been one of our reporters assigned this event—we wouldn't cover it, but if we had—it would be five minutes of digging before the story would take a new direction, far away from smearsville.

I didn't go to journalism school and neither did many of the best writers and reporters I know—people like Austin Carr, whose Instagram story in our print issue this month is prototypical of how deep storytelling comes naturally when you follow the person who is central to the story.

But don't indict a whole group of professionals just because some of them forgot the basics. Instead, clean up the glorious mess you helped create. Get out there and tell more stories about the people that are important to you. Keep writing about your post-wedding frustrations. You are the narrator in your own story, and everything you've written so far has been more interesting (and probably more trafficked) than the hit pieces you're defending against. Keep complaining. It's the future (and the noble past) of this business.

[Nail: Sielemann via Shutterstock]






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7 Comments

  • Martha Garvey

    "Economically speaking, I profited handsomely from the destruction of the media as we knew it ."--Sean Parker. I am sorry about what happened to him, but far more sorry about this media mistake: http://www.onthemedia.org/tags...

    From On the Media: "In the summer of 2009, Neda Agha-Soltan became the face of the Iranian Green Revolution after her tragic death by gunshot was caught on cell phone camera and uploaded online for the whole world to see. The international media rushed to put a face to the victim--but the face they used was that of another Iranian woman by the name of Neda Soltani, who was still very much alive."

    I would much rather that Neda Soltani get HER 10,000 words in TechCrunch than Sean Parker. Please don't assume that everyone who should be telling their story has access or bandwidth to do so. She didn't, and she almost died because of it. Sean Parker was just embarrassed.

  • Jessica Joyce

    This article, or "open letter," is exactly what was needed in journalism. 

  • nell

    Oh please. If you're a grown man who is way too into throwing yourself an insane fantasyland dress-up wedding, you better be ready for bloggers to make fun of you for it...and that they'll be excited when they find something else to smear you for.  Sean Parker's hissy fit was not about the state of journalism, it was about an absurdly rich guy (momentarily!) not getting his way. 

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Who's Sean Parker?

    Why did he pay for a 20,000-word screed? A $2MM wedding?

    Who cares?

  • Paul

    the only issue here is the failure of Parker to obtain the necessary permits for his wedding, which is what really rich guys do when they feel like it.  just ask arran stephens of nature's path cereal...