Category Archives: Rough Drafts

Prose that hasn’t been published elsewhere

Why I’m using blind auditions to recruit journalists for VentureBeat

Orchestras in the U.S. used to be 95% to 100% male.

But after instituting blind auditions, with the applicants performing their music behind a screen so they can only be heard, not seen, that ratio changed dramatically.

According to one study, the number of women in top orchestras rose from less than 5% to 25% after those orchestras implemented blind auditions starting in the 1970s and 1980s. One quarter to one-half of that change, the study found, is attributable to the blind auditions, which force auditors to focus on what they’re actually hearing, not what they see.

Recently, people have started suggesting that Silicon Valley needs to make a similar change. Startup guru Eric Ries made a similar experiment by removing names, gender, and ethnicity from resumes.

So I thought we’d try an experiment: Conduct blind auditions for job openings at VentureBeat.

We have several openings for ambitious, motivated tech journalists. (Plus we’re looking for a copy editor.)

If you want to apply, fill out our online applicationIt might feel a bit impersonal but this gives us the ability to review all applicants based on the quality of their content — not their name, gender, race/ethnicity, or how well-designed their portfolio site is.

We’ll take all the applications, reformat them from an unreadable Google Spreadsheet into a clean-looking Google Doc (using this handy script), remove the names, and evaluate them that way.

For URLs of published clips, we’ll use Instapaper to reformat the articles into a neutral, readable design and paste them into Google docs, minus their bylines and publication names.

Will this make a difference? I don’t know. Ultimately my goal is to make hiring decisions based on excellence and ability. Anything that lets us focus on the quality of an applicant’s writing and reporting — not his or her background, name, or face — seems like a good start.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is looking at something pretty amazing.
Image Credit: James Duncan Davidson/Flickr

Amazon’s Fire phone — and what it means

Hello everyone!

I wrote this post about the Amazon Fire phone yesterday morning.

At the time I wrote it, I didn’t yet know what the phone was called or any of its exact details — that came later in the day, with Amazon’s official unveiling. But, thanks to excellent reporting by VB writer Mark Sullivan and solid context from the rest of the VB team, I was able to put together a pretty good picture of what it would likely mean.

What Amazon’s ‘Fire Phone’ means — and why it could be a real contender

Why does a company that started as a bookseller, evolved into an e-commerce giant, and has seen some success selling Android tablets think that it can take on the ruthless market of smartphones?

What we have, in Amazon’s Fire phone, is a first draft of a smartphone from a company that has all the advantages of an Apple or a Google — and then some.

Amazon, in my opinion, is one of the few companies with a “full stack” of technology to back up a consumer electronics business: cloud services, software, an app store, content. In addition, it has an enormously efficient retail operation and it has credit card details for millions of consumers, making its phone a powerful potential digital wallet.

What we didn’t know is the extent to which Amazon would try to use its product knowledge — via its “Firefly” image recognition feature — to insert a wedge between its customers and the retail outlets they usually frequent. Imagine standing in the aisle at Walgreens, picking up a bottle of Excedrin, and pointing your phone at it. The phone recognizes the bottle, gives you details on what it contains — perhaps more than you can easily get from the label — and offers to ship you the bottle for substantially less. Because it has text recognition capabilities, the phone knows exactly what price Walgreens is selling it for, so Amazon can always undercut that price.

So far, nobody seems excited enough about this phone to actually buy it. But this is just the first version. I will say this, I’m getting a little scared of Amazon.

I’d like to hear what you think!

Some more coverage of the Amazon Fire phone from VB’s team:

 

 

In other news, I went to Paris last week to learn about the French tech economy. (I had some pretty good meals too.) What I saw was substantially different from what I expected. Here are some of the highlights:

 

 

The surfers v. the VC

Martins Beach photo from Yelp.

Martins Beach photo from Yelp.

So I’m on jury duty this week, and as I walk out of the courthouse on our lunch recess, I happen to see an older bearded gentleman in a suit, surrounded by some other suits, holding forth to a small pack of reporters.

“Oh, a courthouse steps interview,” I thought, so I sidled up to hear what was going on.

I quickly learned that the bearded gentleman was renowned California lawyer Joe Cotchett, and that he was there representing the Surfrider Foundation in a lawsuit against venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.

Khosla, you see, bought a bunch of land south of Half Moon Bay back in 2008 and promptly closed off the access road to a popular beach that ran through the land. Called Martin’s Beach, it became a rallying point for locals who had been accustomed to using that beach — via this road — for decades.

It seems that Khosla’s lawyers had resisted bringing Khosla himself into court, but this morning, the judge ruled that he would have to appear, which was the occasion of Cotchett’s impromptu press conference. I hung around, pulled out a notebook, and got a few words with both Cotchett and former U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey, himself a partner in Cotchett’s firm. I also heard them tell the story of how the firm sent McCloskey down to Martin’s Beach to jump the gate and trespass on Khosla’s land, which he did — though the sheriffs declined to arrest him for that, much as I’m sure the lawyers would have loved that.

So I banged out a couple hundred words after lunch, and filed my quick little story before going back into my (totally unrelated) trial.

All in all, it was a pretty classic moment in courthouse reporting, and almost made me wish I was on that beat.

Here’s my story, for what it’s worth:

Surfers to VC Vinod Khosla: We’ll see you in court

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning,” said Mark Twain.

An editor’s job, at its best, is about turning lightning bugs into lightning.