One of the most important trends in American politics and media is the concentrated attention that national politics gets from voters and journalists. In book’s like The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized by Daniel J. Hopkins, there is overwhelming evidence that American voters are increasingly choosing their votes based exclusively on national issues, rather than local ones.
One thing that struck me as I checked out Vance’s campaign events was how rarely voters wanted to talk about topics of local relevance. … Yet nobody in the room — or any other event I went to — asked about drug addiction. It’s not that voters didn’t grill Vance. They just preferred to ask about his past anti-Trumpism, or his relationship with Thiel, or any number of more unexpected national concerns, such as term limits.
There are a myriad of causes for this “nationalization,” the largest of which is shifting media coverage. As local news has dried up and so-called “news deserts” have become widespread, the only sources for political and civic news is often national-focused publications or broadcasts.
While causality is often assumed here, I find it quite complicated. It’s assumed that because local news has disappeared, voters have migrated to national voices and that’s influencing their vote and behavior. The opposite though could be true: voters have lost interest in local issues, stopped reading and watching local media, and therefore local media has lost its audience and therefore profits over time?
Hello! This weekly newsletter was last sent out according to MailChimp on Thursday, Dec 31, 2020 at 4:40 pm ET. Well, 53 weeks later, it’s now Jan 8th, 2022, and that means it’s time for another weekly edition of this annual report (I believe the British call this a fortnight or something).
The personal news from me: I departed TechCrunch as managing editor in November to become head of editorial at Lux Capital, a multi-stage, deep-tech venture firm based in New York City and Menlo Park, CA. I’m mostly writing on the same subjects, but they’re now on the Lux Capital homepage and our new newsletter “Securities.”
But with another year down, here’s my annual wrap-up of the best articles I wrote and read as well as my favorite books from 2021. As always, feel free to reach out anytime!
Another year, and another extraordinary period of in-depth journalism, voluptuous profiles, and incisive analysis. The news media is under constant vituperative attack, so I’m always astonished at the immense quality and erudition writers bring to bear on their work. Writers might suffer from economic percarity, but we live in an era of bold and limitless imagination.
Every year, I go over all the articles I saved and read (this year, a bit more than 1,600 essays and pieces) and pick my favorites. Unlike my slightly plangent note last year, I found that writing in 2021 returned to some semblance of “normal” — the daily history being made has become quotidian, and writers ventured outside the news obvious beats to explore interesting subjects.
All choices here are capricious and arbitrary. As always, New Yorker pieces (which there are many great ones this past year) aren’t included since I read it entirely on paper and never save the links.
This was a gorgeous and original piece on well-trodden territory. Swanson travels as a “foreign correspondent” to Los Angeles in order to explore the rise of hype houses and the influencer world, running into a cast of teenagers whose antics and psychologies become enmeshed with those of our society at large.
It’s not just a good yarn, delightfully told. It’s also the kind of deeply-layered piece that allows for re-reading and pondering over many months. It’s about individuals and the pursuit of happiness and wealth. It’s about the clash of personalities between kids as well as kids and their parents, the latter of whom are often the driving force behind some of these influencer careers. It’s a comment on culture, marketing, narcissism and the exchange of “high”
I wrote a lot in 2021: 194 articles (including TechCrunch: Equity podcast episodes), one major think tank report, and a grand total of about 125,000 words. That’s pretty much half of what I wrote in 2020, a function of both changing jobs (I didn’t write anything the past two months) as well as a focus on more researched, longer-form projects as opposed to straight news.
Last year, I slowed my pursuit of U.S.-China supply chains and enterprise infrastructure to spend more time on climate change, disastertech, existential risk, and geospatial startups. These themes are increasingly percolating across all of my conversations in the tech industry, as more and more people come to grips with the harsh dangers our world intends to throw at us in the coming years.
First Place: The Future of Technology and Disaster Response series
One of my biggest projects this year was around building a community and beat around “disastertech” or startups working on the global response to natural disasters. Once a bit of a fringe topic (like all great new tech trends), now several dozen startups have gotten underway in the market, with several getting serious funding from top firms. From wildfires and flood simulations to geospatial mapping platforms to satellite systems, there are all kinds of approaches to this nascent market.
After dozens of interviews with founders, investors and emergency management officials, I brought the subject together in a series of analyses that I dubbed The Future of Technology and Disaster Response series. It covers the challenges of selling into emergency management agencies (among the worst sales cycles you can imagine), the rise of AI in response to disasters, internet connectivity, and how humans are being organized to respond.
As with all good reporting projects, even after conducting several
This year, I read 52 books or so, including 14 novels with the balance non-fiction. This metric has gotten more complicated to compute over the years — I have deliberately attempted to re-read some books and ditch others faster, so a true census is infeasible.
There were two recurring intellectual themes across my reading. The first was around climate change and natural disasters, which I was heavily reporting on at TechCrunch before decamping to Lux Capital. The second theme centered around the future of truth and reason (and by extension, democracy). The two actually have a lot of overlap, and it was enjoyable to juxtapose them together.
While I was fortunate to read many amazing books, there were also several that didn’t meet my admittedly high expectations for them. I don’t generally highlight things I don’t like (why bring attention to them in the first place), but they were sufficiently interesting to ponder on their flaws that I felt it right to include them at the end.
First Place: A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne
This was a surprisingly staggering work from the late 1970s on the history of the French-Algerian War. Over the past two years, I have been reading most of Albert Camus’ bibliography, and I wanted to get a broader understanding of the milieu in which he lived. This is one of the canonical books on the conflict in English, and so I purchased it without much expectation. What I got was a masterpiece of historical writing, and a paragon of what great narrative history can offer.
Horne has a critical advantage compared to most historians in covering a contemporary war: access to nearly every player on all sides of the conflict who are remarkably open about their motivations and actions during the
Every year for a while (last year’s edition is here), I have compiled a list of the “best articles” I read in that calendar year. Typically, I choose a top five, and then a long, long list of honorable mentions (last year’s list came out to 26 honorable mentions!)
This year, I read just as much if not more than usual. And yet, scanning through the hundreds of feature pieces and profiles I read this year, I can’t help but feel that the collective corpus of our cultural creative energies was wanting. So much of the in-depth coverage this year was directed to the major topics of the day: coronavirus, the summer of police brutality and civil rights protests, the 2020 presidential election, and more. History is happening in the moment, and journalists and essayists covered these events with alacrity and heart.
And yet. I read profiles from April that might as well not have been read in the first place. Coronavirus articles that were the best in their genre just a few months ago have all but expired. The incredible reporting from the frontlines of protests this summer feel like a distant memory. And the election analyses were mostly wrong before the election, and still feel completely wrong after it.
Part of my goal with these lists is to highlight pieces that have staying power, and if I am being honest, there just didn’t seem to be all too many pieces this year that fit that bill. So it’s a slimmer year, and let’s hope for a quieter 2021 where everyone can write pieces without the gush of deadline pressure.
This year, I read 42 books give or take, including 13 fiction novels and short story collections as well as 29 non-fiction books. I’m currently reading Albert Camus’ The Rebel, along with the original Korean edition of The Plotters (설계자들), whose English translation I put on my top three book list last year.
One pattern I noticed this year is that I did start and quit reading more books than I have in the past. Growth by Vaclav Smil, for instance, is extremely ambitious and elucidating, but my god, I don’t have the patience for that kind of turgid academic writing no matter how many accolades the book has garnered.
I also filtered much more aggressively this year than in the past — heading toward enduring classics and award winners, where I used to want to be more on the edge. Maybe given the sheer amount of news coverage I had to read for work — there was something enticing about having the ability to just return to works of trans-generational quality.
That makes choosing “ the best books of the year” a bit of an obnoxious exercise. At least twenty of the books I read this year were amazing and deserve all the accolades and status they have received. Others were fine, although by no means bad. I do believe in forcing choice and filtering though, so here are three ranked books plus honorable mentions on what I thought were the best from the bookshelf this year.
First Place: Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
This is undoubtedly a major classic of American history, a powerful narrative and synthesis to comprehend America’s peculiar intellectual politics. I expected it to be much more polemical, and was instead deeply enamored with the way that America’s particular development created the
Over 2020, I wrote 308 articles, including Equity podcast episodes. According to a quick command line check, I wrote about 250,000 words this year in published form across TechCrunch, my blog here, City Journal, and elsewhere, or about five business books in 12 months.
I don’t know how to process my work, since so much of it ended up being on autopilot this year. But here are a couple of stabs at picking out the gems from the rubble.
On the scoop side: Palantir’s IPO
In terms of just raw reporting power, my best story series of the year was a set of 12 articles covering Palantir’s IPO. First, I secured the company’s entire S-1 SEC filing before the company filed and made it public, garnering a nice series of mentions in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg.
Formerly, I was managing editor at TechCrunch and a venture capitalist at Charles River Ventures and General Catalyst. I'm a Harvard PhD dropout and a graduate of Stanford in Mathematical and Computational Sciences.
The things I think about every day:
The Rise of China
Data Sovereignty and the fracturing of the internet