Why Politics, Why Now? 


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Last week an email hit my inbox with a simple powerful sentiment. “I miss your writing,” it said. The person who sent it was a longtime reader of this site.

I miss writing too. But there’s a reason I’ve been quiet here and on other platforms – I wrote a very short post about that earlier this summer. To summarize, last year I decided to take the leap, for the seventh time, and start a company with my dear friend and frequent co-conspirator John Heilemann. John and I have worked on projects for the better part of three decades, but we’d never started a company together. Now we have: Recount Media is an entirely new approach to video about politics. And the truth is, Recount Media not only requires all of my time, it’s also in fields that seem pretty orthogonal to my previous career trajectory.

That reader’s email reminded me: I’ve not really explained the connection between what I “used to do” – write about the impact of tech on society, advise startups, work on boards, start or run tech-related media companies – and what it is I’m doing now. Turns out, the two are deeply connected. Explaining why takes a bit of exposition – hence this longish post. But in short, the idea is this: The tech story is now a political story, and the political story is, well, a mess. I’m motivated by creating companies and media around consequential, messy stories. Tech used to be the biggest and most poorly covered of the bunch. But now, I’m convinced politics holds that honor.

This post is my attempt to tie together my past, rooted mostly in the West Coast technology culture, with my present, now based in New York and focused almost entirely on politics and video. I hope by thinking out loud here, I might help make it make sense for not only you, my readers, but also for myself as I continue on this journey.

On its face it doesn’t make much sense. A guy who has made his living writing – either coding words into posts, or starting companies that, in essence, were word factories (Wired, The Standard, Federated Media, etc.) – is now co-founder of a company that makes only video. A guy who has specialized in reporting on and sense making around technology is now deep in the utterly foreign world (for me, anyway) of politics. What gives?

I realized that the tech story had morphed into something else back in 2015, when I was running an events business called NewCo. To support that business, I decided to create a small publication focused on the intersection of technology, policy, and business. We called it Shift. To launch that brand, I wrote “The Tech Story Is Over,” a framework of sorts for why I thought the biggest story in our economy had moved from “tech” to the wholesale reinvention of capitalism. From that piece:

Tech hasn’t gone mainstream — it is the mainstream. It’s our cultural dowser, our lens for interpreting an increasingly complex society.Our new cultural heroes are Internet billionaires; our newly minted college graduates all want to start tech companies.

All of which leaves me wondering : What’s the next big story on the horizon, the narrative most people are missing that will shape our future just as technology did for the past 30 years?

I think the answer lies in the reinvention of capitalism. 

While tech had been the defining story of the past few decades, I argued that the story of the next few would be how our society rethought the rules governing corporations. And once you start thinking about the way corporations were governed, your attention naturally turns to politics. Politics, after all, is how we collectively determine the rules of the road.

At the same time we launched Shift, we also started a new conference of the same name, dedicated to convening a fresh conversation about business and politics. I asked Heilemann to bring his deep understanding of Washington to the stage each year. John curated the political piece, I ran the business programming. The event was very well received, and we both noticed how engaged folks were around the political conversation in particular. The first Shift event was one week after Trump’s inauguration, and nearly every business and tech leader was leaning into issues they had previously ignored or, in some cases, actively ducked. It was clear: Politics was on its way to permeating every aspect of our society, and business was a leading indicator of that trend.

We increased the amount of political programming in the second Shift event, and once again, folks loved it. By now I was certain that the tech and business narrative I’d been chasing for so many years had grown stale – the changes wrought by tech were no longer the story – now the story was how we as a society would respond. And just as with business, that response requires wading directly into the world of politics.

It was after the second Shift conference that I decided to move to New York. The Bay area is a lovely, inspirational place, but the conversation was dominated by entrepreneurship, and it was beginning to feel like a monoculture. I wanted to live in a place where the conversation had more hybrid vigor. I called my friend John to let him know about the move, and, turns out, he had an idea about starting a political platform devoted to covering US politics in a new way. We spent a week talking about it over the summer, got pretty excited about where it might go, and … well, that’s how we got to now.

In the past year, I’ve come to realize that while I thought I was pretty well informed about how our political system worked, I was in fact wandering in the dark. I had spent nearly my entire career in media and tech in the Bay area, but I had managed to fundamentally avoid engaging in the national political discourse. I don’t think I’m alone – the past few years have delivered a crash course in political realities for the entire technology industry – and for business overall. When hundreds of leading CEOs sign a letter claiming profit will no longer be the true north of their firms, something pretty fundamental has shifted.

We announced Recount Media’s public beta this past July, and we’ll have a lot more to announce later this Fall, including dates for two new Shift events, which are now part of our new company. I’m excited about the work we’re doing, and I hope those of you who’ve followed my journey from Wired through to NewCo will come along for the ride with The Recount. You can sign up for our beta newsletter here. Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your comments and encouragement along the way.