Tom Krazit, Editor in Chief at Runtime, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud to discuss what it’s like being a journalist in tech. Corey and Tom discuss how important it is to find your voice as a media personality, and Tom explains why he feels one should never compromise their voice for sponsor approval. Tom reveals how he’s covering tech news at his new publication, Runtime, and how he got his break in the tech journalism industry. Tom also talks about why he decided to build his own publication rather than seek out a corporate job, the value of digging deeper for stories, and why he feels it’s so valuable to be able to articulate the issues engineers care about in simple terms.
Tom Krazit has written and edited stories about the information technology industry for over 20 years. For the last ten years he has focused specifically on enterprise technology, including all three as-a-service models developed around infrastructure, platform, and enterprise software technologies, security, software development techniques and practices, as well as hardware and chips.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
, I’m Corey Quinn, and people sometimes confuse me for a journalist. I am most assuredly not one of those. I’m just loud and have opinions and every once in a while I tell people things they didn’t already know. That’s not journalism. My guest today, however, is a journalist, Tom Krazit, is the Editor in Chief of the just launched Runtime
. Tom, thank you for joining me.
Tom: Thanks, Corey. It’s a long-time listener, first-time guest.
Corey: We’ve been talking for years now and I’m sort of embarrassed I haven’t had you on the show before now. But the journalists has always felt, to me at least, like they’re a step apart from the typical, you know, rank and file of those of us working in industry. You folks are different from us, and inviting you all just feels like a faux pas, even though it’s very clearly not. Well, how did you get here, I guess is the short version. I know that you’re at Runtime, now; you were at Protocol until its demise recently. Before that, when I first started tracking you, you were over at GeekWire. Where do you come from?
Tom: [laugh]. Well, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, which is a long, long time, and it’s amazing how much has changed in that time. I started off doing consumer stuff, I was covering Apple during the launch of the iPhone, I was covering Google as they sort of turned into the Borg. And then I joined GigaOm in 2012 and I joined them as an editor. And it became pretty clear that I needed to learn this enterprise stuff real fast because that was like the largest part of GigaOm’s business at the time.
And so, I kind of just threw myself into it and realized that I actually liked it, you know, which I think is [laugh] hard for some people to understand. But like, I’ve actually always found it really interesting how these large systems work, and how people build in a variety of ways based on their needs, and, you know, just the dramatic change that we’ve seen in this industry over the past ten years. So, you know, I’ve really been doing that ever since.
Corey: There’s a lot to be said for journalism in the space. And I know a lot of tech companies are starting to… well, that’s starting. This is, I guess, a six-year-old phenomenon, at least. But a lot of these small companies were built, and well, we’re just going to not talk to the press because we’ve had bad experiences doing that before, so we’re just going to show instead of tell. And that works to a point, but then you hit a certain point of scale where you’re a multi-trillion dollar company and, “We don’t talk to the press,” no longer becomes tenable. With success comes increased scrutiny, and deservedly so. I feel that there’s a certain lack of awareness of that fact in the tech industry versus other large industries that have come before.
Tom: I think it’s always important to remember how, like, new a lot of this really still is, you know, when compared to, like, other American industries and businesses. Like, tech as a discipline, you know, it’s only really in the last ten years that it’s been elevated to the extent of, like, sports, or, like, a top-tier news category. And so, I think a lot of people who make those decisions, you know, grew up in a different environment where, you know, you didn’t really want to talk about what you were doing because you were worried about competitive things or you were just worried—you wanted to have a ground-up story. And like, yeah, the world is very different now. And I think that, you know, a lot of companies are starting to get that and starting to change the way they think about it.
I mean, I also would argue that I think a lot of enterprise tech companies see better value in running ads alongside golf tournaments than actually talking to people about what they really do because I think a lot of them don’t really want people to understand [laugh] what they do. They want them to think that they’re, you know, the wizard behind the curtain, solving all your digital transformation needs and not actually get into the details of that.
Corey: I used to think that I was, as an engineer, much smarter than any of the marketers who were doing these things that obviously make no sense. Like, why would you have a company’s logo in an airport for an enterprise software ad, but no URL or way to go buy something? Aren’t those people foolish? Yeah, it turns out no. People are not just-fell-off-the-turnip-truck level of sophistication.
It’s a brand awareness story where you wind up going in and pitching to the board of some big company someday and they already know who you are. That’s the value of brand awareness, as I’ve learned the fun way because I accidentally became something of a marketer. I have this platform—
Tom: [crosstalk 00:04:46], Corey—
Corey: In the newsletters, but—
Tom: Come one. You’re totally a brand. You’re a brand.
Corey: Oh, absolutely. And breakfast cereal.
Corey: But I was surprised to realize that people not only cared about what I had to say but would pay me cash money in order to have their product mentioned in the thing that I do. And, “Can you give me money? Of course you can give me money.” But it was purely accidental along the way. So, I have to ask, given that you seem to be a fan of, you know, not starving to death, why would you start a media company in 2023?
Tom: Uh, well I needed to do something, Corey. You know, like [laugh] [crosstalk 00:05:22]—
Corey: You had a bright career in corporate communications if you want to go over to the dark side. Like, “I’m tired of talking to the audience about truth, I’d rather spin things now because I know how the story gets told.”
Tom: I mean, that may come down the road for me at some point, but I wasn’t quite ready for that just yet. I have really felt very strongly for a long time that this particular corner of the world needs better journalism. I just, I feel like a lot of what is served up to the people who have to make decisions about this incredibly complicated part of the world, you know, it’s either really, really product-oriented, like, “So-and-so introduced the new thing today. It costs this much and it does these three things that they told us under embargo,” you know, or you get, like, real surface-level coverage from, like, the big financial business publications, you know, who understand the importance of things like cloud and things like enterprise software, but haven’t really invested the time to understand the technological complexities behind it and how, you know, easy narratives don’t necessarily, you know, play in this world.
So, there’s a middle ground there that I think we at Protocol Enterprise found pretty fertile. And, you know, I think that, for this, for Runtime, you know, I’m really just continuing to carry that work forward and to give people content they need to make decisions about using technology in their businesses that business people can understand without an engineering degree, but that engineers will take a look at it and they’ll go, “You know what? He did that right. He did his homework, he got the details right.” And I think that’s rare, unfortunately, and then that’s a gap I hope to fill.
Corey: Something that really struck me as being aligned with how I tend to view things is—to be clear, our timing is a little weird because to my understanding, the inaugural issue is going out later today after we record—
Tom: That’s correct.
Corey: But that would have already happened and have landed in the industry by the time people listen to this. So, I’m really hoping, first off, that the first issue isn’t horrifying to a point where, “Oh God, distance myself from it. What have I done?” But you’ve been in this industry enough that I doubt that’s going to be how you play it. But I am curious to know how it winds up finding its voice over the coming weeks and months. Even when you’ve done this before, as you have I think that every publication starts to have a different area of focus, a different audience, and focus on different aspects of this, which is great because I don’t want to see the same take from fifteen different journalist publications.
Tom: Totally. I mean, you know, I think a lot of what Protocol Enterprise was, was my voice and, you know, how I thought about this industry and wanted to bring it forward. And so, I think that, you know, off the bat, a lot of what Runtime is will be similar to that. But to your point, I think everything changes. The market changes, what people want changes, I mean, like, look, just the last six months, the rise of all this generative AI discussion has dramatically changed a lot of what software—you know, how it’s discussed and how it’s thought about, and those are things that, you know, six months ago, we were talking about, maybe, here and there, but we certainly weren’t talking about them to degree than we are now.
So like, those changes will happen over the coming months. And you know, you just have to sort of keep up with them and make sure—my job is to make sure I am talking to the right people who can put those things into context for the people who need to understand them in order to make their own decisions. You know, I mean, I think we talk a lot about the top-tier decision makers, you know, of companies who need information, but I think there’s, like, a whole other, I don’t want to call them an underclass, but like, you know, there’s a lot of other people within companies who advise those people and who genuinely need help trying to understand the pace and the degree to which things have changed and whether or not it’s worth it for them to invest, you know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in some of these new technologies. So, you know, that’s kind of the voice I want to bring forward is to represent the buyer, to represent the person who has to make sense of all this and decide whether or not, you know, the sparkly magic beans coming down from the cloud providers and others are really what it’s cracked up to be.
Corey: The thing that really throws me is that when I started talking to you and other journalists where you speak generally to a tech-savvy audience, but for whatever reason, that audience and you by extension are not as deeply involved in every nuance of the AWS ecosystem or the cloud computing ecosystem as I am. So, I can complain for five minutes straight to you about the Managed NAT Gateways and their pricing and then you’ll finally say, “Yeah, I don’t know what any of the words Managed, NAT, or Gateway mean in this context. Can you distill that down for me?” It’s, “Oh, right. Talking about what I mean in a way that someone who isn’t me with my experience can understand it.” I mean, that is such a foreign concept to so many engineers that speaking clearly about what they mean is now being called prompt engineering, instead of, “Describe what you want in plain English.”
Tom: Yeah. I think that’s a lot of what I hope to accomplish, actually, is to be able to talk to really smart engineers who are really driving this industry forward from their contributions and be able to articulate, like, what it is that they’re concerned about, like, what it is that they think is exciting, and to put that into context for people who, you know, who don’t know what a gateway is, let alone, like, any of [laugh] those other words you used. So, you know, like, I think there’s a real opportunity to do that and that’s the kind of thing I get excited about.
Corey: I am curious, given that you are just launching at this point, and you have the express intention of being sponsor-supported, as opposed to a subscriber-driven model, which I’ve thought about a lot over the past, however many years you want to wind up describing I’ve been doing this. The problem that I’ve got here is that I have always found that whenever I’m doing something that aligns with making money and taking a sponsor message and putting it out to the world, how do I keep that from informing the coverage? And I’ve had to go a fair bit out of my way to avoid that. For example, this podcast is going to have ads inserted into it. I don’t know what they are, I don’t know who these companies are, and that only gets done after I’ve recorded this episode, so I’m not being restrained by, “Ohh, have to say something nice about Company X because they’re sponsoring this episode.” It stays away.
Conversely, if I want to criticize Company X, I don’t feel that I can’t do that because well, they are paying the bills around here. You’re still in a very early stage where it is you, primarily. How are you avoiding that, I guess, sense of vendor capture?
Tom: You have to be very intentional about it from day one. You have to make it clear when you’re talking to sponsors from the business side where the lines are drawn. And you have to, I think from the editorial side, just be fearless and be willing to speak the truth. And if you get negative reaction from sponsors over something you’ve said, they were never going to be a good long-term partner for you anyway. And I’ve seen that over the years.
Like, companies that get annoyed about coverage because they’re sponsors are insecure companies. It’s almost a tell, you know, like when you attempt to put pressure on editorial organizations because you’re a sponsor and you don’t like the way that they’re covering something [laugh], it’s a deep, deep tell about the state of your business and how you see it. So, like for me, those are almost like signals to use and then go deeper, you know? And then, you know, I do think that there are enough companies that feel strongly about wanting to support the kind of work that I do without impugning the way I think about it, or the way I write about it. Because I mean, like, there’s just no other way to do what I do without pulling punches.
And I think you would agree, you know, in terms of what you do, like, the voice that you have, the authenticity that you have, is your selling point. And if you compromise that, people know. It’s pretty obvious when you are bending your coverage to suit your sponsors. And there’s examples of it every day in enterprise tech coverage. And you know, I feel like my track record speaks for itself on that.
Corey: I would agree. I don’t like everything you write. That’s kind of the point. I think that if you look at anyone who’s been even moderately prolific and you like everything that they’re writing, are they actually doing journalism or are they catering to your specific viewpoint? Now, that doesn’t mean that well, I don’t like this particular journalist. It’s, well, “Oh, because you don’t agree with what they say?” “No, because they’re editorially sloppy, they take shortcuts, and they apparently peddle misinformation gleefully.”
Yeah, I don’t like a lot of that type of coverage. I’ve never seen that from you. And you’ve had takes I don’t agree with, you’ve had articles that I thought were misleading at times, but I’ve never gotten the sense at all that they were written in bad faith. And when I run into that, it often makes me question my own biases as well, which is sort of a good thing.
Tom: I mean, it’s really tough because there are people out there in journalism and media who are operating in bad faith. Like, there’s just no… there’s no other way to dance around that. That is a fact of life in the 21st century. And I mean, all I can really do is do what I do every day and put it out there and, you know, let people judge it for what it is. And you know, like, I feel like, I have a pretty strong sense of what I will, you know, what I’ll cover and how I’ll cover it and where I’ll go with it, and I think that that sort of governs, you know, every editorial decision that I’ve ever made. For me, there’s just no other way to do it. And if I get to a point where I have to make those compromises in order to have a business, like, I’ll just go do something else. I don’t need this that much.
Corey: When I was starting the Duckbill Group, one of the problems that I had was—it’s hard to start a company for a variety of reasons, but one that is not particularly sympathetic is that everything is hard when you’re just starting out. You don’t know where any business is going to come from if it ever does. And at any point, I looked around, and I have an engineering skill set and I live in San Francisco, and I look around and say, it’s Wednesday. I could have a job at a big tech company for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by Friday if I just go out and say yes. And it’s resisting that siren call while building something myself that was really hard.
You have that challenge as well, I’d have to imagine because there are always people that various companies are looking to build out their PR and corporate comms groups, and people who understand the industry and know how to tell a story, which you clearly qualify, are always in demand, regardless of the macroeconomic conditions. So, at any point, you have the sort of devil on your shoulder saying, it doesn’t need to be this hard. There’s an easier, more lucrative path instead of struggling to get something off the ground yourself. Do you find that that becomes a tempting thing that you want to give into, or is it, “Mmm, not today, Satan?”
Tom: The latter. I mean, I’ve had offers from companies I respect and from people I would, you know, be happy to work with under other circumstances. But I mean, I sort of feel like I’m just wired this way. And then that’s, like, what I enjoy getting out of bed every day to do, is this. And, you know, like, it’s not to say that I couldn’t find, long-term, some kind of role inside one of those types of companies that you just mentioned, but I’m not ready for that yet.
And, you know, I think I’d bring more value to the industry this way than I would jump in on some pre-IPO rocket ship kind of thing right now. I will say that, like, a lot of this business is a young person’s game, so like, that equation changes as you get older. I always tell everybody that, like, journalism over the last 20 years has been, like, one of the slowest-moving games of musical chairs that you’ll ever play. And, you know, I’ve [laugh] been pretty lucky over the past number of years to keep getting a chair, you know, in every single one of those downturns. But, you know, I’m not naive enough to think that my luck would run out one day either. But I mean, if I build my own business, hopefully, I can control that.
Corey: There are a lot of tech publications out there and I’m curious as to what direction you plan to take Runtime in, given that it is just you, and you presumably, you know, sleep sometimes, it’s probably not breaking news with the first take on absolutely everything, which just, frankly, sounds exhausting. One of the internal models we have here is the best take, not the first take. So, where does your coverage intend to start? Where does it intend to stop? And how fixed is that?
Tom: Well, at the moment, you know, what we really want to do is tell the stories that the herd is not telling. And you know, we’re making a very deliberate decision to avoid a lot of the embargoed product training—I —I don’t know how many of your listeners actually know how the sausage is made, but like, so many PR departments and marketing departments in tech really like to tell news through these embargoed product announcement things. And they’ll email you a couple days ahead of time and they’ll say, “Hey, Tom, we’ve got a new thing coming up in our, whatever, cloud storage services area. You know, are you interested in learning more under embargo?” And then a lot of people just say, “Sure,” and take a briefing and write up a story.
And like, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It is news and it is—if you think it’s interesting enough to bring out to people, like, great. There’s a lot of limitations to it, though, you know, in that you can’t really get context around that story because you sort of by definition, if you agree to not tell anybody about this thing that the company told you, you can’t go out and ask a third-party expert what they think about it. So, you know, I think that it’s a way to control the narrative without really getting the proper story out there. And the hook is that you’ll be first.
And so, I think what we’re trying to do is to step away from that and to really tell more impactful stories that take more time to put together. And I mean, I’ve been on all sides of the news business and when you get on the hamster wheel, you really don’t have time to tell those stories because you’re too busy trying to deal with the output you’ve already committed to. And so, like, one thing that Runtime will be doing right off the bat is taking the time to do those stories to interview the people who don’t get talked to as much, who don’t have twenty-five PR people on staff to blast the world about their accomplishments, you know, to really go out and find the stories that aren’t being told, and to elevate the voices that aren’t being heard, and to shine a light on some of the, you know, more complex technological things that others simply don’t take the time to figure out.
Corey: Well, do you have an intended publication schedule at this point or is it going to be when it makes sense? Because one of the things that drove me nuts that I would go back and change if I could is Last Week in AWS inherently has a timeliness to it and covers things over a certain timeframe as well. I don’t get to take two weeks off and pre-write this stuff.
Tom: Yeah. So the primary vehicle right now is an email newsletter for Runtime and that’ll come out three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings. You know, I’ll also be publishing stories alongside those newsletters. That will be a little more ad hoc. You know, I’d like to have that line up with the newsletters, but you know, sometimes that’s not, you know, a schedule you can really adhere to.
But the newsletter is a three times a week operation at the moment and that, you know, is just basically based on—you know, at Protocol, we did five times a week with a staff of six. And that was a big effort. So, I decided that was probably not the best thing for me to tackle right off the bat here. So, one thing I really would like to do with Runtime is to get back to that place where there’s a staff, there’s beat reporters, there’s people who can really take the time to dig into these different areas, you know, across cloud infrastructure, AI, or security, or software development, you know, like, who can really, really plunge themselves into that, and then we can bring a broad product to the market. You know, it’ll take some time to get there, but that’s the goal.
Corey: How do you intend to measure success? I mean, there’s obviously financial ways of doing it, but it’s also one of those areas of, like, one of the things that drove me nuts is that I’ll do something exhaustively researched that takes me forever to get out, and no one seems to notice or care. And then I’ll just slap something off eleventh hour, and it goes around the internet three times. And I always find that intensely frustrating. How do you measure whether you’ve succeeded or whether you failed?
Tom: Well, I mean, welcome to the internet, Corey. That’s just how it works. I think I will be able to measure that, you know, by how sustainable of venture this is, and like, whether or not I can get back to that point where, you know, we can support a small team to do this because I, you know, I sort of feel that that’s the best—that’s really what this part of the world needs is that kind of broader coverage from subject matter experts who can really dive into things. I mean, I know a lot about a lot, but I can’t spend all my time talking to security people to really understand what’s happening in that market, and the same for any other, you know, one of these disciplines that we talk about. So, you know, if a year from now, I come on this show for the one-year anniversary of the launch, and we’ve got sustainable runway, we’ve got, you know, a few people on board, I’ll be thrilled. That’ll be great, you know?
And like, one thing that I think will really be helpful, for me, at least in terms of determining how successful this is, is just how things travel, and not necessarily like traffic in terms of how things travel, I think that’s an easy trap to fall into, but whether or not you know, the stuff that we write about is circulating in the right places and also showing up in the coverage that some of those broader business financial publications actually wind up doing. You know, if you can show that, like, the work you’ve been doing is influencing the conversation of some of these topics on a broader national and global scene, then for me, that’ll be a home run.
Corey: Taking a step back, what advice would you give someone who’s toying with the idea of entering the media space in this era, whether that be starting their own publication or becoming a journalist through more traditional means? Because as you said, you’ve been doing this for 20 years; you’ve seen a lot of change. How would you get started today?
Tom: It was a lot easier. It was smaller. It was just a much smaller industry when I first started doing this, and… there wasn’t social media. The big challenge, I think, for a lot of people who are just starting now and trying to break through is just how many voices there are and, like, trying to get a foothold among a much, much bigger pond. Like, it was just a much [laugh] smaller pond when I started, and so you know, it was easier to stand out, I guess.
I started in the trade magazine world; I started with IDG and I started—you know, which is a real, great bedrock system of knowledge for people to really get their footing in this industry on. And you know, you can count on many, many hands the number of people who started at IDG and have gone on to, you know, a very successful tech and media careers throughout. So, you know, for me, that was a big, that was a big thing. But that was a moment in time. And like, you know, the world now is so different.
The only thing that has ever worked, though, is to just write, to just start, to just get out there and do what you’re doing and develop a voice and find a way to get it to the people who you want to read it. And you know, if you keep at it, you can start to break through. And, like, it’s a slog, I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but yeah, if it’s a career you really want to do, the best way to do it is just to start. And the nice thing about the modern era, actually is, like, there’s never been easier ways to get up and running. I mean you look at like things like Substack, or I’m using Ghost, you know, like, the tools are there in a way that they weren’t 20 years ago when I started.
Corey: Step one: learn how to build a web server is no longer your thing. No, I think that that’s valuable. One of the things that I find at least is people are so focused on the nuts and bolts, the production quality. People reach out to me all the time and say, “What microphone should I get? What my audio setup should I use? What tools should I do for the rest of this?”
And it’s, realize that it doesn’t matter how much you invest in production quality; if the content isn’t interesting and the story you have to tell doesn’t grip people, it doesn’t matter. No one cares. You have to get their attention first and then, then you can scale up on the production quality. I think I’m on generation six or so of my current AV setup. But that happened as a result of basically, more or less recording into a string can when I first started doing this stuff. Focus on the important part of the story, the differentiated parts.
Tom: The best piece of advice, I got when starting Runtime was just to start. Like, don’t worry about building a perfect website, don’t worry about, you know, getting everything all dialed in exactly the way you want it. Just get out there and do the work that you’re doing. And it’s also a weird time right now, obviously, with the [laugh] the demise of Twitter as a vehicle for a lot of this stuff. Like, I think a lot of journalists are really having to figure out what their new social media distribution strategies are and I don’t think anybody’s really settled on anything definitive just yet.
So, that’s going to be an interesting wrinkle over this year. And then I think, you know, there’s also still a lot of concern about the broader economy, you know, advertising is always one of those things that can be the first to go when businesses start to look at the bottom line a little bit more closely. But those things always come around, you know, and when the economy does start to get a little bit better, I think, you know, we’ve seen a little bit more, maybe [unintelligible 00:26:28] of the market over the last couple of weeks, you know, with some of the earnings results that we’ve seen. So, you know, like, I mean, those are famous last words, obviously, but I think that looking forward into the second half of the year, people are starting to get a little more confident.
Corey: I sure hope so. I really want to thank you for being so generous with your time. If people want to learn more, and—as they should—subscribe to see how Runtime plays out, where can they find you?
Corey: Excellent. We’ll, of course, put a link to that in the [show notes 00:26:54]. I’m really looking forward to getting the first issue in a few hours myself. Thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it.
Tom: Thanks, Corey.
Corey: Tom Krazit, Editor in Chief at Runtime. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with an angry comment telling us that your company’s product is being dramatically misunderstood and to please issue a correction.
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