When Vinod Khosla came to Bangalore this month, besides inspiring a whole new generation of startups with his talk, the one thing he made clear was his dislike for “English majors writing in the press.”
My problem with English majors is the following: I appreciate it in graduate school and all that. But in under graduate, if you have the privilege of getting a good education, you should do something that has broad skills that contribute to the society and not just read more novels. People who do English at Yale or Harvard or Stanford abuse the privilege. The privilege that they of going to Stanford comes with the responsibility of doing something productive.
From the clapping that followed, one can safely assume that the audience, largely made up of engineers and product geeks, was in agreement. “I love entrepreneurial, technical audiences because they agree with me. There are other people who would throw Jootas at me,” joked Khosla. All this was said in good humor so if you are an English major, don’t get worked up.
I’ll leave the English majors to fend for themselves. But for now, I’m going to defend journalists (excluding the scum, mind you). Now I tend to agree with most of what he said but there is one thing that confuses me. So this is an attempt to understand his statement better.
Let us take the story that inspired Vinod Khosla (the one about Intel co-founders), to pursue a career in technology. The story, published by The Electronic Engineering Times, could have been written by anyone. But essentially, it was journalism. Such stories inspire Khoslas around the world, all the time.
Yes, in a very broad general sense, many people would sum up that “journalists are the scum of the earth.” That is because they take it upon themselves to publish what “someone else does not want printed.” Because “everything else is public relations right?”
Christopher Hitchens, the author of God is Not Great and an ardent proponent of scientific thinking, was a journalist. By most counts, he has accomplished more for Science and society than many scientists can ever hope to. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has given the world gems like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, was a journalist. Why, George Bernard Shaw, whom Khosla likes to quote from, practiced journalism for many years.
Eric Arthur Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell was a journalist. His book, 1984, is perhaps the most cited work of fiction in today’s context of mass surveillance aided and abetted by technology.
The fact that those extraordinary individuals also practiced journalism doesn’t give journalists the right to gloat. Neither does it absolve all of its sins. But it does give a few good men who hope to do good a chance to do good. The standards they set, are worth aspiring for.
So it can not be journalists that Khosla hates. Remember, he likes people who contribute to the society. My guess is that it is bad journalism, prevalent in today’s world, that he hates. Now that, we must all concede, is a problem worth calling out.
Last week, Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams took a jibe at the tech press. He said that “the state of tech blogs is atrocious — its utter crap.” When a Techcrunch writer asked him to explain, he said: “Part of the reason a lot of tech blogs are bad is the people writing them don’t really understand what they’re writing about.” This, is true. And I’m assuming it is also the primary reason Khosla hates English majors in the press! We don’t like them either.
Read the previous Bottoms Up column here.
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