A Favorite Tool While Reporting on Start-Ups: Paper?

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Erin Griffith, a start-ups and venture capital reporter in San Francisco, discussed the tech she’s using.

You focus on start-ups. Do any of the tech products you use come from start-ups?

If very old, highly valued pre-I.P.O. companies like Slack, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and Pinterest still count as start-ups, then yes, every day. Every few minutes! I’m Slacking in between each sentence I write.

We’re no longer in an era when hot new social media apps are bubbling up every few months, and if they are, I’ve aged out of the early-adopter demographic. Now whenever I stumble upon a new social media app, my only “friends” using it are the venture capitalists I write about. (Even those apps tend to be copied or bought by Facebook.)

I use Nuzzel, which sends alerts for stories my Twitter friends are talking about. This is a good way to catch things that elude push notifications and newsletters, including whatever hate-read everyone is angry about.

Pocket, an app for saving articles, lets me feel better about not finishing all the Important Long Reads I encounter throughout the day. I can tell myself I’ll get to them later. (I probably won’t.)

Giphy, a search engine for GIFs, allows me to express myself when words, emojis or Bitmojis are not enough.

I also use a combination of Swarm, the check-in app that grew out of Foursquare; an IFTTT (If This, Then That) recipe; and Google Calendar to record my whereabouts. It’s helpful for doing expenses or remembering the name of a restaurant I went to last month.

And Strava, an app for workouts, lets me track my bike rides and jogs. A lot of this creates a privacy mess, I know.

What tech tools do you rely on the most for work?

This is least techie answer possible, but aside from email and my phone’s voice recorder, it’s probably paper. (Sorry, trees, including the one this article will be printed on.) For every big story I do, I print out huge stacks of background reading on the executives and industry. They’re good for flights since there’s no danger of bad Wi-Fi or no outlets.

When I’m writing a longer story, I print out all my interview notes and spread the pages across my kitchen table (or floor), in the manner of a chef’s mise en place. This helps me organize my thoughts before I dive into the writing. I don’t understand how people can work off 30 different documents on one tiny laptop screen.

I also find it very comforting to constantly make and remake to-do lists on whatever paper I can find — old envelopes and junk mail, receipts, notepads shaped like my first initial, Post-its. I leave a trail of these everywhere I go, like the Johnny Appleseed of productivity.

Anything that doesn’t contribute to deforestation?

To transcribe interviews, I use Temi, a service that relies on artificial intelligence. The quality is not great, but it is very cheap and gets me over the impossible procrastination hump of not starting the article because I don’t want to listen to my own voice. And it presents the messy interview transcript in a way that I can find what I want and easily play it back, sometimes without having to endure any of my stammering.

Like every other reporter, I use Signal and way too much Twitter. I also use some of the data services the venture capitalists use to identify and track up-and-coming start-ups: App Annie, Crunchbase, CB Insights, Pitchbook, LinkedIn.

The most crucial reporting tool I have is probably a gigantic purse that fits my entire life: laptop, tangled masses of chargers and headphones, numerous snacks and water bottles, a dozen pens, a bunch of notebooks, and at least three half-read New Yorkers that have traveled across the country with me so many times they’re basically my emotional support animals.

What trends do you see emerging in the start-up scene? Which of them do you think have potential to be successful, and which ones will be a flash in a pan?

Being new to San Francisco (I moved from New York last year), I felt it was important to go full native. I acquired AirPods, downloaded the Mr. Chilly weather app for the city’s “microclimates” and briefly embraced scooters. I have not yet bought a vest from the vending machine at San Francisco International Airport, but given the aforementioned microclimates, I see their appeal.

The scooter services rode a wave of hype, and I suspect the severity of the backlash to scooter debris — and the vandalism — was greater than the companies and their investors expected. Between injuries, regulatory scrutiny, higher-than-anticipated replacement costs, potential tariffs and the wearing off of the initial novelty, the companies seem to be experiencing a trough of disillusionment just in time for spring.

I stopped riding the scooters because I was spending every scooting second thinking about how this would be an especially embarrassing way for a tech reporter to die. Even imagining myself explaining to strangers that, heavy sigh, yes, these crutches are from a scooter accident was enough to convert me back to a boring old analog bike.

You’ve written about hustle culture and toil glamour. Is the idea of work-life balance dead?

Unfortunately, a lot of the companies that outwardly promote the concept of work-life balance are the ones with the worst cultures of overwork. Over time, I imagine, hypocrisy will turn people off working at those places. Until then, it’s up to the workers to draw their own boundaries.

One way to do that is to understand the difference between taking pride in their work and defining their self-worth by their jobs. And maybe lowering sky-high expectations about their company’s do-gooder missions, and being realistic about how fulfilling their jobs will actually be.

Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with in your daily life?

I have exactly one useful product endorsement: Everyone should abandon the tyranny of bulky, uncomfortable U-shaped neck pillows for the Trtl sleep pillow.

When I covered the tech industry from New York, I traveled to San Francisco all the time, and the Trtl saved me on countless red-eyes. It’s basically a plastic neck brace attached to a Velcro scarf. It looks absurd. It easily fits into a purse. It’s glorious.

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