Molly Wood is a recognized technology expert who appears on national media regularly. She has has built a strong brand with humor and sarcasm mixed with genuine and often outraged consumer advocacy. With more than 100,000 Twitter followers and more than 500,000 followers on Google Plus, Molly has a loyal and engaged fan base, and communicates with them regularly.
Molly is a host and senior tech correspondent at Marketplace, the public radio show produced and distributed by American Public Media.
Previously, she was a personal technology columnist for the New York Times, where she wrote in print and online about the trends and technologies that are changing the daily lives of real people, and produced a video series to drive the point home.
Prior to the Times, Molly was an executive editor at CNET, where she created, hosted and served as executive producer of Always On with Molly Wood, a broadcast-quality technology reviews and news show. She also authored the always controversial Molly Rants column at CNET News, for which she was a 2012 National Magazine Award finalist for commentary.
Molly is an online media pioneer: she co-created and hosted CNET’s flagship podcast, Buzz Out Loud, which was one of the first well-known tech podcasts on the web. She also created and hosted the Buzz Report, a tech news show that debuted in 2005 and was, for a time, the web’s longest-running weekly video series. Molly has done almost all forms of media, from print to books to magazines to wire services to video, TV and radio.
In the second installment of my interview with Molly, we follow her through her move to the New York Times and land with her in her current position at Marketplace.
EZ: During my stalking I mean research, I remember looking at your blog and noting that the second to last post is “I’M GOING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES!” and then the very next post is “I’M GOING TO MARKETPLACE!”
MW: (Laughing) I don’t blog very often.
EZ: I was so curious about what you had done in the time that you were there that I took a look at your NYT webpage and saw that you had done a considerable number of videos. Was your presence with The Times mainly on line or were you contributing to other forms of media within that company?
MW: My main work was to write a weekly tech column for The Times and it had a video series that went along with it. It was a weekly series for most of my time there and then it moved to every other week just because…I don’t think The Times had any idea how hard that was. It was technically a 1200 word column that had to be reported to New York Times standards every week….(she breathes out audibly) That was a really hard job.
EZ: How did you end up getting to Marketplace?
MW: That was a wonderful series of happy events. I had been doing a weekly appearance on Marketplace Tech Report for…ever, like 6 years or something and the host of that show sent me a job listing that was for a Back Up Host and Correspondent. And I thought, “Well that sounds lovely but it’s in LA and there’s no way they’re going to pay me as much as I want”…and the host went back and acted as a bit of an advocate for me. I also wanted to leave the New York Times but I wasn’t going to jump to just any old thing. I mean….It’s the Times! Every second that you’re there is better for your career even though it was not the right job for me or the right culture. The move took a really long time and when I met the VP of Marketplace we just had such a great rapport and….it’s such a great show and it matches the personality that I think I have! It’s just irreverent and clever and they prize being smart above everything else. It was just such a great fit. It was also just an AMAZING opportunity for me because after doing tech for 15 years…after doing any specific niche thing for a long time, it’s really hard to pivot out of that at your same level. This was a unique opportunity for me to stay in tech but on TOP of that, and for an equal amount of time, to be the back up host. So, when I’m hosting the show, whether it’s the Morning Report or the Weekend Show, I’m doing economics and finance and global politics and that is such a rare, phenomenal opportunity that will just make me so much more well-rounded….Plus I love radio.
EZ: I love radio too. I have to admit, NPR is the only station I listen to.
MW: Really? What do you do doing pledge week?!
EZ: (Sheepishly)…..I pledge?
MW: (Laughing) Good answer!
EZ: In fact, I think I have to re-up my membership….Going back to the blog that you maintain, I was digging around and came across a post that I found fascinating. It was entitled “Mad Molly and Adam Curry.”
MW: Oh right….maintain is a strong word. That post was intended to be the announcement of what I was going to do after abruptly quitting CNET to do…nothing at all. It was basically “I’m going to do this show with Adam! NOPE I’m going to the New York Times! OOHHH I’m going to Marketplace!”
EZ: What struck me about the Mad Molly post was that it was so vulnerable and raw in that you and Adam got into a fairly heated argument about a comment that he made that you found to be sexist. You chose to call him out on it in a public forum. However, you did it in a way that wasn’t mean or aggressive, you presented it as “these are our differences and I don’t agree with your position and we’re going to bring it up.” You said something really great along the lines of “It’s honoring our differences which helps us become better at doing better work.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but I found it amazing that you decided to post about it and I wondered how often you had to deal with those moments in span of your career. I imagine that in the field of journalism, as with any other field of work, one may run up against things like gender stereotyping and discrimination. How often did you run into situations like that and how did that particular interaction change the way you handled those conflicts afterwards?
MW: That incident was terrifying to me because that was the first time I’d ever thrown down as a feminist in public. That was always a conversation that I just kind of avoided because…..it just seemed like a loser. The internet is not really a place for discourse, it is not a place for nuance, or subtlety or understanding. It is a place for black and white, for abuse and for absolutism when it comes to the “rightness” of the people in question. Also, tech tends to lend itself to a certain personality that has to be right all the time. I’m trying not to generalize too much, but there are a bunch of guys in tech who tend to think they are right about everything. It really is, sort of an engineer’s perspective. Engineers are fact driven people who come up with roads and plumbing systems and the standards for science that keep us all from crashing into each other. It’s important stuff that engineers have done throughout history. It doesn’t mean they are right about everything, but a lot of them tend to believe that they are. I also believe that tech can be the great equalizer. I mean, I know that there are fans of mine out there with whom I would agree about nothing else but tech….
…..NOTHING! (We both chuckle)
EZ: ZERO THINGS!
MW: ZERO THINGS! But there they are, and we can have an open and respectful conversation about technology as long as we don’t talk about anything else. And that’s great! That’s actually great because we are all humans who are entitled to our own opinions and we are all using the same technology.
So, that was a big moment for me because I engaged in this social issue in that forum and it was on the cusp of me doing a show with Adam where it felt like I HAD to have that conversation with him. It ended up being a big part of the reason I didn’t do the show with him. I had known the guy a while and it was a pattern I had seen before. I just was not comfortable with that.
In terms of my career, I think when you are young, unless you are out and out harassed which….arguably happened..for sure…there is a point where your young enough that you don’t even realize that it’s happened until somebody calls you and asks “Uhm…this person has been fired and I wanted to know if they ever did anything inappropriate…”and you think…”Oh, he did give me that weird back rub that one time and I told him to “back off,” which turns out was not ok!” There’s that stuff, right? But when you’re young and new, you’re all low level and you don’t realize until you start hitting a wall when you start to go “Oh, Huh! I’m hitting a wall! Oh! This is what institutionalize discrimination looks like! I see it now!” I think every woman gets to a point where she sees that happen. It’s empirically true. The evidence is all around us and journalism is CERTAINLY not immune and the tech world obviously has the worst track record ever. I would certainly be lying if I said I hadn’t encountered it.
EZ: I’ve found it to be true as well, when one is young, you don’t necessarily see it. It may be happening all around you but you are so dead set on your goals that you don’t notice it until, by no reasonable means, can you move forward.
MW: It’s just perspective. Age is just a series of experiences, right? I can’t tell you how many times that I would go to a conference and I’m with a man whose role is..who knows what his role is..but another man comes up and ignores me and starts a conversation with him, and then realizes that I’m a tech columnist for the New York Times or I have my own show on CNET, but they have treated me as though I’m the PR person or the handler for the guy. THAT happens over and over and over and over. At first, I characterized my struggle as “being taken seriously” because I did a funny show and that despite having been cited in amicus briefs by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in lawsuits about net neutrality against the federal government, people just saw me as a girl who breaks stuff. Even though I created, executive produced and wrote the whole show. That was ultimately why I wanted to go back to writing and why I left the New York Times because I didn’t just want to do video. I don’t want to be talent. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be talent, but it became more about perception. If you’re blond and you put on makeup and you make jokes about stuff, you must not be that smart. Don’t get me wrong! I’m in an awesome place! But everybody runs into it in one way or another.
EZ: It just underscores the weird, insidious, systematic nature of discrimination in the whole thing. That we don’t really even notice it at first…
MW: I’ve done it! I have done it! I have done the thing and I can give you an example. I did a presentation in Madrid for the global marketing agency for Samsung. They told me that it was really exciting because the head of marketing for Samsung Americas is going to be there. So I’m giving this presentation and I’m looking at these people, and see this row of four Korean people in front of me and I start looking at these two guys while I’m presenting and I’m thinking “Ok, this is the person I need to impress.” It turned out the head of marketing is the woman sitting next to them. I did it. I had assumed. I had made that ingrained social assumption that it wasn’t the woman.
EZ: That must have been such a weird feeling when you understood what had just happened.
MW: Yep! It was…yeah… no. Wow. I also know that I’m not a victim! It’s a systematic societal entity. It’s an unconscious bias and we all have it, even against each other.
EZ: I’ve found myself in similar situations where I’ve subconsciously made an assumption or behaved in a way that was incongruent to my beliefs. It’s a horrific feeling when you realize what’s happening. It’s ultimately that empathy that strikes out and makes you think “Who are you!? Why are you doing this? You would never want to be treated in this manner, so why are you doing this?”
MW: In that moment, I probably made her feel exactly the same way that some guy had made me feel at a conference when he addressed the man that I was with instead of me. I felt like a total A-hole.
EZ: That’s rough.
MW: But I feel like it’s really important to acknowledge.
EZ: It’s self awareness! We have to understand how we are behaving and how we are perceiving and what assumptions we are making before we can actually see what needs to be changed.
MW: Yeah, in that way I’m glad that it happened and I’m glad I was aware of it so that I could use it as a teaching moment.
EZ: I’m curious to know, I know you really enjoy working at Marketplace, if there was a job that would make you say “I could do this job for the rest of my life until I die,” what would that be?
MW: In a way that’s how I feel about radio, so I hope that I don’t suck at it. I hope to have other careers. I’m excited to branch out of tech and try economics and finance. When I was taking a journalism class in high school I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I thought that that would be the shit! I also took french because, for a time, I wanted to be a translator for the UN. In high school we had to write an obituary for ourselves in our journalism class, which is a REALLY intense exercise and I wrote this obituary that says that I was killed during a demonstration as a foreign correspondent in some faraway land.
EZ: That’s so intense!
MW: I know! I look at that now and I’m like, “What the…?” and at the time it just came out. I was like “There I was at the Arab Spring and I was tragically shot on the steps of the capitol building.”
But really, how cool would that be, if when my son goes away to college, I become a foreign correspondent at the age of 60? I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life, but I think there is so much more. I just love news in all its forms and I love the change that comes along with it. I think, and this is very much informed by being a single mom, but also believing that one has to own one’s own life. Your company doesn’t love you back. They will fire you eventually if they feel the need to. It has to be a partnership and not a sacrifice. So, my goal ultimately is to own my own time.
EZ: That’s an amazing goal.
MW: It’s a pretty simple one.
EZ: It’s simple but not easy.
MW: Especially because I’m not that entrepreneurial. Aside from enjoying setting up my own little empire within a structure. I do like to hack my companies, that’s for sure.