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‘All the lanes are mine’: Kara Swisher remains tech’s most outspoken watchdog

The venerated journalist is No. 8 on our inaugural Queer 50 list for helping to change the conversation about technology’s influence on our lives.

‘All the lanes are mine’: Kara Swisher remains tech’s most outspoken watchdog
[Photo: Ismael Quintanilla/Getty Images]

This story is part of Fast Company‘s first-ever Queer 50 List. Click here to see the full list.

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Kara Swisher admits that she’s not always right.

But her opinions, now detailed in her New York Times column, on her podcasts Recode Decode and Pivot, and annually at her tech conference Code, are well informed by decades of reporting on an industry that has boomed and busted and boomed again—and have made her one of the most influential technology journalists of our time.

“I know what I’m talking about—on the things I know about more than other people—so I’m going to say what I think,” she says.

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Known as both a no-bullshit straight talker and the ultimate charmer, Swisher has a unique ability to remain friends with sources whom she has eviscerated in print. Her ability to walk the line between these two personas has led to a prolific journalism career. She began reporting at The Washington Post in the 1990s and wrote two books about AOL, one of the first internet giants. After a stint at The Wall Street Journal, she and colleague Walt Mossberg launched a conference called All Things Digital, followed by the blog AllThingsD.com, which lived under the Dow Jones umbrella. In 2014, she and Mossberg started their own standalone tech news site Re/code, which was bought by Vox Media in 2015 (and integrated into Vox’s website in 2019). The All Things Digital conference morphed into the Code Conference.

These days, when she’s not writing her New York Times column, Swisher serves as the editor-at-large at both Recode and New York magazine. She continues to interview high-profile tech executives at Code and on Recode/Decode, which will end a five-year run at the beginning of July. Next up, Swisher is launching a new New York Times podcast that will air twice weekly this fall. She’s also thinking about how to engage more deeply with the fan community for her New York magazine podcast Pivot, which she produces and cohosts with NYU professor Scott Galloway. Plus, she’s pondering writing a book. The topic? It’s “tech-adjacent,” she says.

For Swisher, writing opinion, landing scoops, launching conferences and media companies, and recording podcasts are all what she calls “different instruments” in her orchestra, because each mode is in service of one thing: making good journalism. “I don’t think when you’re a reporter or journalist you need to stay in any lane,” she says. “I think all the lanes are mine.”

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As it has been her entire career, her goal with her work is to examine technology from a position of skepticism, something tech journalism has rarely done. “I wasn’t a fanboy—I was a skeptical woman,” she says. “I think I spent a lot of time shifting people that way.”

Swisher has always been focused on pushing the conversation around tech toward examining its power structures rather than fawning over its latest releases. And while she briefly flirted with the idea of running for mayor of San Francisco a few years back, she’s decided to use her current position to keep pushing for change. “From the perch I’m in now, I have a lot of impact in terms of calling for tech regulation, for example,” she says.

Swisher also aims to use her platform to help lift up other women. She tries to ensure her staff, her conference panelists, and the guests on her podcast represent women and people of color, and she says she goes out of her way to mentor women. “I’m not always successful. I disappoint myself,” she says. “But I’m trying to be intentional in staffing and bringing people on stage. That’s because I’m a boss and I can make those decisions.”

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She hopes to see more women in critical positions of power as well, since they have been historically underrepresented in the tech industry. “The changes of the last couple years have been really great, but still we don’t take our eye off the ball. The real systemic changes have not happened in ways that are important for women,” she says. “It’s really important to tell stories and to get in the room. But we have to be running things in a true way.”

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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