Andreessen Horowitz doesn’t have a ‘media empire’, call it what it actually is… a propaganda factory
A new interview with the venture capital firm’s ‘Editor-in-Chief’ soft soaps the reality of a media operation run by one of the world’s most powerful Venture Capital (VC) firms.
Andreessen Horowitz (aka A16z) is a hugely influential VC outfit. Its funds have backed Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter, Stripe, Roblox and Medium, the very platform where I’m writing this criticism of the company. There are not many Silicon Valley success stories that are not touched by A16z’s influence, either directly or indirectly.
While it is already influential and powerful, A16z understands that it must maintain that power and influence. That’s why — 6 years ago — the company plucked Sonal Chokshi, then a senior editor at Wired running the magazine’s op-ed section, to become editor-in-chief of the VC firm’s own in-house media shop. Since then A16z has pumped out over 500 podcasts along with reams of other ‘content’.
The A16z editorial team is comprised of 8 people, 5 of whom are editors in charge of verticals dedicated to the markets that the VCs are focused upon — fintech, crypto, consumer technology, enterprise technology, and bio-sciences. Pushing editorial in those areas means A16z can increase its influence on them and present its people as well-connected ‘thought-leaders’.
In a profile of Chokshi published this week in the Monday Note newsletter by its editor Frederic Filloux, she is described like this:
“Between her past connections at Wired (and before that at PARC) and A16z’s network, she has access to nearly anyone in the industry.
Sonal navigates a narrow path between traditional journalism and the fact that she works for a financial institution, which brings with it natural boundaries like SEC regulations when it comes to communicating about an investment portfolio.
While the firm’s partners never look or intervene in her editorial work, she also needs to stay clear of sensitive subjects like the endless controversies surrounding Facebook, whose board includes Marc Andreessen, the firm’s namesake…”
As Filoux goes on to admit — despite providing so much soft soap that he could be washing a large dog — what Chokshi produces is not journalism, it is ersatz journalism with the shape and approximate taste of journalism but none of the real flavour or bite.
“… do not expect the firm’s editorial production to break any news or spark a fuss of any kind. That’s not what the firm’s media operation is about.”
That’s true. What A16z wants from its editorial output is PR, marketing, and the sheen of ‘prestige’ journalism. That’s why it hired Chokshi from Wired and is so gleeful about her network of contacts.
Filoux believes there is…
“something more precious in A16z’s regular stream of podcasts than in many tech outlets. Being free from the news cycle, its harsh economics, and the need for social buzz actually gives another form of freedom…”
His argument is that A16z’s editors can think longer than actual journalists who live out in the harsh reality of the real world rather than within the economically lush bubble of the VC world. It’s horseshit.
We’re told that A16z’s library of 800 books — 800 isn’t that many books, I have more than that and I’m one poor freelance writer — is the inspiration for its editorial operation.
Filoux, reporting from deep within the dark recesses of Mark Andreessen’s butthole, says the shelves represent the VC’s “gargantuan reading appetite” and that their “scope, diversity of topics and depth have undoubtedly had a profound effect on the rest of the company…”
He goes on to salivate over Andressen’s own essays, including the over-quoted Software is Eating the World (2011). A16z’s other name partner, Ben Horowitz, is also keen on writing having published The Hard Thing About Hard Things, a painful tome on entrepreneurship.
Being as he is a man who falls head over heels for buzzwords and bullshit, Filoux reports excitedly that “Sonal Chokshi likes to sum up her editorial axis as creating ‘the go-to place to understand the future’, fed by ‘informed-optimism’ and aimed at contributing to the ‘innovation-brand’ positioning of Andreessen Horowitz.”
I’ve read that last sentence a few times now and I think I can boil it down to these 12 words: A16z wants to seem cool and connected. Also no questions about downsides.
Like so many people in tech today — and especially the grumbling rich of Silicon Valley — Filoux is very tired of things like accountability, investigative instinct, and scepticism in journalism.
In continuing his sloppy word wank for A16z, Filoux says the company’s podcasts “unlike commercial podcasts [have] not mandatory clickbait or catchy headlines… [and] nothing to do with the self-serving vitriolic/introspective performances that often afflict the sector.”
Quite how he thinks a podcast series bankrolled by venture capitalists to promote their firm is not self-serving is baffling.
Filoux also finds time to slag off Pivot, from Vox Media, which is presented by Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway. He declares their show — which actually subjects Silicon Valley and the wider tech world to a degree of scrutiny and criticism — as “barely listenable… [diluting] their vast knowledge in favour of the endless expression of their own neuroses and family obsessions.” Funny, that sounds like Filoux is… expressing his own neuroses.
He argues “the hosts of A16z podcasts can also yield to a pleasant enthusiasm for a conversation that would not be permissible in legit media, where corrosiveness is a presumed attribute of credibility.”
This is so full of shit you could mistake it for a broken toilet. What Filoux dubs corrosiveness might also be referred to as scrutiny. He simply wants the media to be more pally. Frankly, many in tech journalism are already too taken with access journalism and sucking up to CEOs. Thank god for Swisher who is not.
Filoux himself comes over as so credulous in his piece that even basic audio editing techniques sound like magic to him. He writes:
The A16z podcasts are edited like a great plastic surgery, you can’t see the nip and tuck. Montage and structure are key elements to deliver the highest value to the listeners…
So… like any good podcast then, only with presenters who must avoid any sort of controversial topic and maintain, at all times, an awareness of the business interests of their bosses, the venture capital masters of the universe.
Filoux is at least honest enough to discuss at the end of his article why he wrote it:
I wanted to write about A16z podcasts for two reasons. First, for a long time, I have thought this show provides invaluable insights into the tech industry and the innovations and sciences that fuel it. Two, I want to explore high-quality editorial content produced by non-news organizations further.. I’m certain that many corporations harbour a trove of knowledge and expertise on their ecosystem. The majority are simply too coy to exploit it, which is an incredible missed opportunity.
I’ve ghost-written for venture capital firms and done copywriting for a broad range of companies from what Americans would call ‘mom and pop shops’ to blue chips. I’ve no issue with companies producing their own content, podcasts, and other materials. That’s grand.
Just don’t pretend it’s journalism. It is not. It is marketing with better publicity, PR written by someone who can actually string a sentence together.
Orwell often gets the credit but it was the American press baron and billionaire, William Randolph Hearst who said: “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” Chokshi’s bosses don’t need to tell her what not to say, she already knows, and her salary depends on it.