10 Questions with ... Molly Wood
March 31, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Reporter/Editor, The Associated Press; Editor/Writer, MacHome Journal; Senior Editor, CNET; Executive Editor/Host, CBS Interactive; Deputy Technology Editor, The New York Times; Reporter and Host, American Public Media's Marketplace
1. While you've appeared on the radio (and Marketplace) for years, it hasn't been your primary reporting venue until now. What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenges and differences between what you've done in print and on video at the Times and CNET and what you'll be doing now that you're joining Marketplace?
I'm excited to take on the challenge of radio, and I anticipate that some elements will cross over, especially from video, in terms of putting together a story that includes external elements and has an engaging narrative that can be told in a short amount of time. But absolutely, this is a new craft for me, so there will be new equipment, editing styles, and even a "voice" I'll have to develop over time. It's exciting and a little scary to be a rookie again!
2. You were among the earliest podcast stars, and "Buzz Out Loud" was a very influential and groundbreaking show. Is the current state of podcasting what you expected it would be when you were starting that show at CNET? Has it grown faster, slower, or about as you expected?
Obviously podcasting has had a recent and sudden renaissance, which came after years of, I guess, slow and steady growth. I do feel like it had a dip in popularity and I think that's partly because big media companies couldn't quite figure out how to make a lot of money off podcasting. So it became a more personal, independent and frequently crowd-funded way to produce media, and I think that led to great risks, great storytelling and a lot of unexpected content.
3. Mobile has obviously become ubiquitous as a means of media consumption, and CES has been consumed with the connected car for the last few years. Where do you see AM and FM radio going as digital/mobile/online take more of a share of listening -- is standard, terrestrial, live, not-on-demand broadcasting going to have a place in the mix, say, 10 years from now? Or are we headed towards dominance by streaming, podcasts, and Pandora- and Spotify-style services?
I've spent a lot of time covering connected cars, and trying to connect various streaming services to my car, and I can say that the great thing about radio is that it's easy. You turn on the car, and there it is. Right now, as in-dash systems develop, the radio is still much easier for most people to deal with than auxiliary cables, Bluetooth streaming and in-dash apps. That won't be the case forever, but I liken it to cable TV: I keep thinking I'm going to get rid of it and go all on-demand, but as it turns out, I find myself turning on the TV just to see what's on. There's a market for both discovery and browsing and also for appointment listening with radio that I don't think is going away as long as there are commutes and low-tech cars (and drivers) on the road.
That said, Marketplace and lots of other radio shows are also distributed on-demand, as they should be, so I think it's important for every media publisher to find as many ways as possible to find new audiences. If Marketplace can grab an entirely new listener who finds a link to the show on Twitter or Facebook, he or she might never even hear it on the radio, and that's fine, too. It's about future-proofing the medium. But I expect live programming to be valuable in the car and elsewhere for many years to come.
4. Has the audience changed since you started reporting on tech? What I mean is, do you think tech news has become more mainstream and widely understood as opposed to 5 or 10 years ago? Is the public more savvy, or more interested, than they were back then?
Tech news is certainly a much more crowded field! I think there's a huge interest in technology coverage, as this beat becomes more mainstream and has an impact on, well, almost everyone in the world. I think the more mass-media outlets are still trying to figure out whether tech is a business story, lifestyle story, politics story or some combination of all of those (hint: I think it's some combination of all of those). I'd say the biggest change is that we're often talking less about the actual technology than about a seemingly never-ending stream of gadgets and services. That's not surprising: the nuts and bolts are obscured as tech advances, which makes the actual tech easier to use, but we might not understand it quite as well.
5. You've been doing a side project, "It's a Thing," an occasional podcast on trends, with your old "Buzz Out Loud" co-host Tom Merritt. How important is it for you to have a place to talk about things that AREN'T tech-related? What other non-tech areas of conversation would you like to explore, and in which media?
One thing that's so exciting about Marketplace is the opportunity and responsibility to learn about economics, finance, global politics and topics that aren't always a natural part of the tech beat. I am thrilled about that element, because after covering tech for so long, it's a special opportunity to get to branch out without having to try to start over with a new career! So, that's great. And one of the joys of a side project like "It's a Thing" is to get to talk about all the other things I'm interested in, whether it's food or TV shows or books or fashion or design or even parenting. Plus, it was a great podcasting outlet. As I transition to a more audio role, I was thinking about looking to something like Medium to fulfill a need for writing--although I always say that and then I just get wrapped up in my actual job!
6. You recently got a shot at riding in Mercedes' concept self-driving car (without, alas, the actual sensors and equipment that will be needed to make it REALLY self-driving), and it seems like the automotive industry is heading faster and faster in that direction. Whether Elon Musk's assertion that humans will ultimately be banned from driving is a reasonable assumption or not, the question for those of us who HAVEN'T ridden in a prototype of a self-driving car is how quickly you think people will become comfortable with letting the car be its own driver. Do you think the learning curve (comfort curve?) will be difficult? Or are we going to need a slow, breaking-in period with limited capability -- glorified cruise control and guided parallel parking -- before we're ready to let the computers and sensors take over?
I think it'll be a long time before humans are banned from driving, but (and this is one of those Medium posts I keep meaning to write) I think it won't be too many more years before we have traffic zones where human driving is banned, or at least relegated to a few lanes. The San Francisco Bay Bridge backup, for example, or the commute to Silicon Valley, could be completely solved if autonomous cars handled complicated merges and drove at predictable, uniform speeds on highly congested roads. In areas where there's more open space or fewer cars, or at off-peak travel times, manual driving could be allowed. That makes perfect sense: it'll pollute less, reduce congestion and reduce accidents.
But it'll absolutely take us years to get there, between the comfort level, the regulations and the plain old upgrade cycle. I will say, having been in a self-driving car, that it's really only weird for a few minutes, and then you realize just how much you could get done--including napping--if you didn't have to take the wheel.
7. Of what are you most proud?
I'm proud of being a good mom, and of (mostly) staying out of Twitter fights.
8. Who have been your mentors and influences in your career?
Mark Larkin, the general manager of CNET, is the person who first suggested I should be on camera. I was confused and nervous, but it snowballed into an incredible new chapter in my career, and I think having the versatility to write, do video and do podcasting (and now radio) has been the greatest gift I could have received. Lindsey Turrentine, now Editor in Chief at CNET, taught me the value that good management brings to an organization, which I boil down to communication, organization and appreciation. My mother and my grandmother taught me that, generally speaking, the best strategy is to work more than you whine, and to apologize rather than ask permission. Those have served me pretty well, too.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ______________.
I am so embarrassed that I'm going to say coffee here, but I am. I need at least an hour, preferably more, of quality alone time each day. And sleep--I am a sleep achiever. Long before this obsession with sleep began, I was a devout worshipper at the church of sleep. Without it, I cry.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
Do the work!! Don't wait for someone to give you something, and if you're not happy with the way things are going in your career, you have to have a plan for how to change it. That can feel frustrating until you realize how powerful it is. Most of your bosses just want you to come to them with a plan. They're busy, they're tired, they're juggling career and life just like you, plus the demands of their employees and THEIR bosses. If you map out a course for yourself that benefits both you and that organization (and that part is crucial) and you can present it clearly, logically, confidently and with some research to back it up, you can usually get what you want. But then it's up to you to execute--otherwise you lose that faith for good.