Ben Smith, New York Times:
After Mark Zuckerberg announced, in a goofy video on Thursday, that he was changing his company’s name to Meta and shifting its focus to the creation of a digital space called the metaverse, he granted interviews to just four media outlets, including exactly zero of the great American legacy publications.
For the outlets receiving a golden ticket, it was a big get. It was also a little embarrassing: What did you do to ingratiate yourself to one of journalism’s biggest targets, just as your competitors were feasting on a leak of thousands of internal company documents?
Only one outlet with access to the Facebook documents — the tech site The Verge — got an interview with Zuck. The other three were The Information, a tech news site, and a pair of relatively sympathetic newsletter-ers, Ben Thompson and Dylan Byers.
This article is about the intersectional point that Jessica Lessin finds herself in: on the one hand, founder and reporter at the Information; on the other, the partner of someone who used to work for Facebook and is a good friend of Mark Zuckerberg. But these opening paragraphs reminded me of just how unique a spot Ben Thompson found himself in when he got to interview Zuckerberg and, in his words, chose to “focus on the company’s new vision and not the current controversies about Facebook”.
I cannot read either Byers’ piece or the interview by Mathew Olson at the Information because both are hard paywalled and I have a subscription to neither. But both Thompson and Alex Heath at the Verge tried to ask about the timing of last week’s announcements. I think Zuckerberg gave more interesting answers to Thompson, but he was pretty guarded in both — as you would expect of a media-trained CEO. And I think that Thompson had good reasons for not pushing back more.
But all of this underscores that these four interviews were carefully chosen to pair a confirming narrative with the Facebook Connect keynote video. In the two interviews I can see, Zuckerberg got to respond with similar talking points that enriched the story of Meta and its still-conceptual metaverse products. He faced surface-level skepticism — what more could be expected when nearly everything shown was a rendering or a hypothetical?
That is not an inherently negative thing, but I think we need to treat these interviews as an element of Facebook’s narrative development, not press coverage.
We only know two things right now: what Facebook is telling the world about how great the future is in theory, and what the company has been like for the last fifteen years in reality. Zuckerberg may want to focus on how much the company has changed in the past five years, but Facebook’s problems have roots far older than when the New York Times became more critical. That does not go away — it cannot go away — because of a new name and some augmented reality glasses.