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My whole life I’ve devoured mystery novels by golden age authors: Dorothy Sayers, GK Chesterton, Agatha Christie. Even more so, impossible crime stories by writers like John Dixon Carr and Edmund Crispin.

Hardly surprising, then, that I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery of my own.

Quite separately, I’ve been longing to write a non-fiction book about the underbelly of Silicon Valley, telling the real story of how gross and dangerous and sociopathic tech moguls have become, based on my 20 years covering these powerful monsters. A  book, in other words, that no lawyer-fearing publisher would touch with a ten foot pole.

It took me a long time to realize the obvious way to scratch both of these itches: To write about the true awfulness of tech brociopaths through the plausible deniable lens of crime fiction.  All I needed was the right story hook.

Then, in 2014, Uber infamously threatened to spend a million dollars to hire a team of journalists to “go after” (their phrase!) Sarah and our family after she dared to write about the company’s treatment of women.

While most commentators wondered out loud how a company could be so nakedly evil, I became obsessed with another question: How f*cked up would a journalist’s life have to be from them to actually take that gig?

With that simple question, my protagonist snapped into life: A journalist forced to take a job at the worst company on earth in order to save her own life, and that of her family. A few days later, I had my first murder victim. I was off to the races.

It was a long race.

Seven years later, the resulting novel – 1414º – is about to land on bookshelves. Here’s the blurb, ripped from the back cover (a blog exclusive!)…

Read on…
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Good riddance


You know that old joke about how you need to buy two Jaguars so you’ll always have one to drive while the other is in the shop?

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Blurgh.


This time last week I finally bit the bullet and went back to Orange Theory Fitness for the first time in 14 months.

For the first few months of the pandemic I tried to stay in shape – I ran three miles a day, kept up my Peloton-ing, and even bought some TRX things for the house. By last April, though, I was fucked. Too much work, both on Chairman Mom and NeedHop, and on finishing my book. Too much junk food. Too much anxiety about crowded parks. Too much driving back and forth to Palm Springs. End result: I’m about 20lbs heavier than I was this time last year, and none of it’s muscle.

So, yes, time to get back on the horse. And of course I would choose “Mayhem Week” for my first time back.

My fucking god. After just one hour of treads, rowing and “core blasts” my legs and arms were shaking to the point where I almost couldn’t make it back to my car. The next morning I woke up and couldn’t move my neck more than a few degrees in any direction – a side effect of my terrible core form and atrophied stomach muscles. It took FOUR DAYS for my muscle soreness to fade.

This from someone who – just 14 months ago – would think nothing of jogging from OTF up 4th street to Soul Cycle for a 45 minute post-workout workout. Just for a lark!

So, yeah, turns out I’m totally fucked. Not just physically but mentally – finishing the book really took it out of me, especially combined with 14 months of health anxiety over COVID and having to completely retool two companies to survive the pandemic. The link between body and brain health is real.

So, consider this my accountability post. I’m getting back on that treadmill again tomorrow if it kills me and I swear to god today is my last day of junk food.

Oh, and I’ve decided to start updating the blog again. It’s been almost 20 years since I started it, so why stop now?

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Page turning


“Oh goody, Paul has a newsletter now! He must have a book coming out.”

In fact, Dirt Channel is less about self promotion than about scratching an itch. Or maybe several itches. An outlet for thoughts and ideas that aren’t quite ready for prime time, and for me to try out ideas for future books and other projects.

Here’s what it decidedly won’t be: A weekly stream of polemics about the hideousness of latter day Silicon Valley. This is not (and here I adopt the deftly sneering tone of a French maître d’) a Substack.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’ve run out of things to say about the tech world, nor am I any less angry about the horrors Silicon Valley has wrought. It’s just that tech journalism and commentary – at least the kind that hopes to make A Difference (TM) – is over.

Done.

Dead.

There was a time – one that lasted through the early days of Web 2.0 and into the dawn of the cult of disruption – where reporting critically on startups and venture capital could still change minds and behavior – of users, founders, and investors. An era when a series of well-reported articles about Uber accessing the medical records of rape victims, or Secret causing teens to kill themselves, or Amazon workers boiling to death in warehouses, or Facebook board members funding white supremacists could pose an existential threat to those behaviors, if not to the companies themselves.

Today, that era is so far in the rear view mirror that it might as well be a different planet.

Today, even your grandpa knows the names of the baddies: Uber, Amazon, Facebook; Thiel, Bezos, Kalanick, Zuckerberg – and your grandma understands perfectly well the moral calculus implicit in using their products. We’ve all – as a society – made our peace with the loss of privacy and the willing complicity required to shop online or share photos with our friends.

Every day brings a new book promising to reveal the horrible truth about a tech behemoth – a new author hoping their non-fiction masterpiece will be the one to make a dent, and destined to be disappointed. In 2021, the best a tech reporter can hope to achieve is a guest appearance on Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson and – if they’re very lucky – for a milquetoast bullshit artist like Tristan Harris to co-opt their work and pass it off as his own.

Sorry. That last paragraph came perilously close to polemic. It’s easy to get sucked back in, even though I know it’s just empty catharsis.

Polemic is a young man’s game, and I’m 41 now. The age where you stop trying to use words to change reality, and instead start trying to make sense of it.

That’s why recently I’ve been devouring novels about tech. Not technothrillers or sci-fi, but mainstream popular fiction like Kiss Me First, People Like Her, The Circle, and The Herd. I just started listening to the audiobook of One by One, by Ruth Ware, an enormously fun whodunnit based in the Swiss Alps in which the founders of a Euro music startup (think Spotify meets Last.fm) are already dropping like flies.

If you prefer your fiction a little older, or a fraction more nerdy, I’ve also torn back through The First Twenty Million is Always The Hardest (which predicted the Chromebook way back in 1997), The Minority Report (which predicted Palantir), Supertoys Last All Summer Long (Alexa, Google Assistant), and of course 1984 and Brave New World.

These are books with one thing in common: They don’t try to change a reader’s relationship with tech or social media or startups, but simply reflect it back as entertainment, like Charlie Brooker (another man who aged out of journalism) did so brilliantly with Black Mirror. And yet somehow (like Black Mirror) these entertainments manage to affect us more deeply than journalism ever could.

As Lisa Cron explains in her brilliant book, Wired For Story, storytelling is as primal an urge as sex and food. Why? Because to read a novel (or hear a story) is to participate in a kind of immersive organic virtual reality: A book-shaped holodeck that lets us experience an endless number of “what if” scenarios, to better prepare ourselves for the day when fiction might become our own reality (there’s a reason Contagion was a pre-pandemic hit, and why our cavemen ancestors sat around telling tales of hunting dangerous beasts).

Unlike journalism – which demands that we take a real position on a real ethical issue, and judges us when we fall short – fiction gives us plausible deniability. It lulls us in by masquerading as entertainment, it shows not tells, understands that life is complicated.

And best of all, unlike in tech journalism, the bad guys in tech fiction are actually likeable.

Which brings me neatly to my “ask,” as venture capitalists like to say: My Bookshop.org cart is empty and there’s a sliver of room on by “to read” shelf. I’d love your recommendations of tech-related or Valley-adjacent novels – any genre, and age, so long as they’re fiction.

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Phew.


May the next four years be boring.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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41


A little late to post this – a whole month in fact – but in my defense I was finishing a book and watching a coup d’etat.

So, yes, on December 7th I turned 41. Forty fucking one. I’ve been writing this blog – on one platform or another – for almost two decades. It’s incredible, looking back at those early posts, at how much abuse I habitually subjected my body to. The drinking, obviously, but also the constantly shifting sleep schedule, the junk food, the lack of exercise. Even thinking about it today gives me acid reflux.

Luckily I spent most of my 39th year – the year before the pandemic ruined everything – getting into shape. As I’ve written here before, I started going to Orange Theory and re-discovered Soul Cycle. I started eating better and doing yoga. As a result, I entered lockdown feeling pretty great, and it took a full three months for it to all go completely to shit.

Earlier this week I went for a run for the first time in months and it nearly killed me. I’m about 14lbs fatter than I should be, and my daily calorie consumption is a joke. We’re all in the same boat, of course — in fact many are in a far, far worse boat.

Still, I’ve set myself the (arbitrary) target of March 30th to lose those 14lbs and get back into a healthy eating and exercise routine.

It took me until my 30s to realize this obvious thing: There’s a direct correlation between my mental and physical health. And given everything happening in the world right now, I need all the sanity I can get.

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Introducing Techworker.com!


Business Insider just published an exclusive(!) story about something very exciting that I’ve been working on for a few months.

The article is behind a paywall but here’s the headline and nutgraf…

EXCLUSIVE: Former TechCrunch and Pando journalist Paul Carr is starting a new publication to keep tech CEOs ‘awake at night’

In the months after [Carr] left Pando, he saw Palantir’s CEO admit to helping ICE deport undocumented immigrants, and Hootsuite terminate its contract with the same government agency amidst intense public scrutiny. Susan Fowler published her book detailing Uber’s toxic culture in February, and, a few months later, Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout protesting their company’s decision to not regulate President Trump’s posts on the platform.

This “relentless drumbeat” of events, as Carr described it, was what pushed him back into journalism—this time as the creator of a new tech publication called Tech Worker

It’s true!

Techworker is a passion project – assembled during the tiny amount of free time I have while working on NeedHop – to provide a platform for stories for and about tech workers, aka the most powerful workforce on earth.

I’m beyond excited to be working on the project with a who’s who of whistleblowers, activists, journalists, organizers and general badasses, many of whom are already legendary for their work in holding big tech ceos and companies accountable for their behavior.

To again quote Business Insider…

While the publication has yet to publish its first piece, there are now over a dozen people who have committed to be contributors to Tech Worker.

Those include Ray Holgado, a former employee of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative who is suing the organization for racial discrimination; Yael Eisenstat, the ex-CIA officer who left her role at Facebook in protest of its policies regulating misinformation; and Claire Stapleton, a Google Walkout organizer. Another contributor is Pando founder Sarah Lacy, whose outspoken criticism of Uber’s sexist and misogynistic company culture prompted an Uber executive to suggest that his company dig up dirt against Lacy in 2014.

(To that list, add Susan Fowler, Veena Dubal, Adam Penenberg, and maybe a dozen others. Acting as editor is my old Pando colleague Dan Raile.)

The site is entirely reader supported, and completely independent. Here’s the launch announcement page…

www.techworker.com

Techworker will live or die based on how many people sign up as founding subscribers, so I’d be eternally grateful if you did!

Ok, that’s the short version. Here’s the longer explanation…

When Sarah and I sold Pando last year I swore off tech journalism for good. Two decades of daily fights and legal threats and angry tech billionaires threatening to “go after” my loved ones had taken its toll. I readily admit it’s been nice to open my personal mailbox every day and find mostly spam, Amazon delivery notifications and notes from my mom. `

My professional time, meanwhile, has been focused on building NeedHop, a platform to help people share their life experience to help others solve mutual problems. Again, it’s been wonderful to hear so much kind and constructive feedback from users – a contrast to journalism where the clearest sign you’re doing your job right is if 20% of your readership is furious with you. 

Still, much as I’ve enjoyed being outside of the “big tech” fray, it’s been hard to ignore the quiet (then not so quiet) revolution that’s been building inside Silicon Valley. 

The past year has been rough for the world’s most powerful tech CEOs and investors.

Privacy, election interference, harassment, diversity, gig worker pay and benefits, ICE and DOD contracts… the new masters of the universe have suddenly found themselves being held to account for a dizzying array of indefensible policies and ethical scandals.

But this revolution isn’t being led by lawmakers, or activists, or journalists. It driven by their own workers.

Whether through organized walkouts, or lawsuits, or whistleblowing blog posts, or tumultuous all-hands meetings, tech workers are standing up and speaking out. And when tech workers speak, their CEOs panic. 

As someone who has covered the tech industry for twenty years, I watched this reckoning-from-within with a mixture of excitement and frustration.

Excitement at seeing the bravery of these workers calling out their insanely powerful bosses, despite fear of retaliation… and then watching the bosses backtrack or back down.

But frustration that my own “former” industry – media – isn’t doing enough to amplify their efforts, and voices. While the real story of the tech industry is being written – and rewritten – by this new generation of workers, too much reporting is still aimed at either the end users or the CEO/investor class.  Perhaps for that reason, so much journalism about Silicon Valley falls into one of two neat storylines: Tech is evil or greed is good.

From the senior engineer at Facebook to the Amazon warehouse contractor… Tech, as any worker will tell you, is complicated.  And it’s made of people.

So why isn’t there isn’t there a publication dedicated entirely to tech workers? (Or, frankly, why aren’t there several?)

I couldn’t help myself. As each day brought forward a new story about tech workers taking on their own industry, I started to imagine what such a publication might look like. 

In the few snatches of downtime I had away from NeedHop, I spoke to some of those whistleblowers and protest organizers, to those plaintiffs and to those who had quit their jobs in protest. But I also spoke to plenty of workers who felt that much of the existing coverage of tech workers was too focused on the negatives. Sure there were big problems, but the tech industry was also building the goddamned future.

A publication for tech workers, everyone seemed to agree, should cover the industry in all its messiness. The good and the bad. It would be first and foremost a journalistic enterprise: Sources would be aggressively protected, stories pursued relentlessly and baseless legal threats from angry tech billionaires given short shrift. It would be reader funded with no external investors to influence coverage. It would feature reporting from experienced journalists and also provide a platform for workers to tell their own stories. It would have a sense of humor, and probably t-shirts.

And yet.

Important and exciting as the idea seemed, and wide as the market hole clearly was, did I mention I have a day job building NeedHop? I barely have the bandwidth to think about the work of starting and running a blog, let alone doing it.

So next I called my friend and ex-Pando colleague Dan Raile. Dan, as Pando readers will know, is an amazing reporter and also a fantastic editor. More importantly he hasn’t lost any of his hunger for journalism and taking on the tech elites. He is, in other words, is exactly the person who should be editor of such a site.

Dan said he’d love to do it.

The next challenge was money. I have a little – maybe enough to pay some pre-launch contributors and a hosting bill or two. But definitely not enough to build a full-blown media property (at NSFWCORP we spent maybe 25% of our early funding on tech and design). So that was the end of that. Even if I didn’t have a full-time day job, I’m never going to raise another dime of venture capital for a media company ever again.

But then I read about the launch of Defector, the new independent sports blog from the former writers and editors of Deadspin. After quitting G/O media en masse (another great tech worker story!), the team had partnered with an agency in New York called Lede who had agreed to design and build them a fully-fledged website in return for a small cut of their revenue.

Mostly on a whim, I emailed Lede’s CEO Austin Smith and asked if he might be interested in helping build a site for tech workers. A half hour later he replied with a resounding yes.

Shit.

And so to today. After months of plotting and planning, I am beyond proud to announce the imminent launch of Techworker.com, an independent, reader-supported site for, about, and by the most powerful workforce on earth.

The roster of reporters, contributors and advisors  involved in this thing is, frankly, insane….

…and that’s just the starting line-up.  If you’re a tech worker – at any level, for any company, anywhere in the world – we’d love to hear from you: Story ideas, anonymous tips, pitches for guest essays… we want them all. Send to dan@techworker.com and we’ll get right back to you!

Whether you’re a tech worker or not, I’d love for you to check out our announcement page…

https://www.techworker.com

Along with a full list of contributors and advisers, the page also includes the option to become a founding supporter. Techworker is 100% reader funded so it needs your help to pay contributors, develop the site and (inevitably) cover legal bills. In return you’ll have full access to every article, plus a host of fun/exclusive supporter-only perks.

Again, there’s no venture capital money here – no trust funds or shady government backers. Techworker will live or die on reader contributions. It may be the shortest lived project I’ve ever been involved in. 

Either way, I’m really excited that what started out as an idea, then became a passion project, is now a reality.

Welcome to Techworker.

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I heard the news about Tony Hsieh last night by text message. The latest in a years-long string of texts about Tony, sent by various mutual friends in Las Vegas.

Tony just bought the Ferguson Hotel.

Tony is turning Zappos into a Holacracy.

Tony is starting an airline.

Tony just turned Ferguson into a Airstream trailer park.

Tony is leaving the Ogden.

Tony just invested in the Las Vegas Knights.

Tony has a pet alpaca now.

Tony is moving into his trailer park.

Zappos is abandoning Holacracy.

I think Tony just bought a mountain.

Tony just quit Zappos!

Tony is apparently buying up half of Park City.

And then last night…

Tony Hsieh is dead.

I went straight to Twitter. Of course I did. And already my feed was packed with tributes to Tony. Everyone – everyone – had a Tony story to share. How he’d backed their company when no-one else would, how he’d helped them find a vegan restaurant during a trip to Vegas, or stayed up all night to give them a ride to the airport, or sent a delightful email about some missing shoes.

Read on…
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