Ryan Mac, a New York Times technology reporter, discussed the flurry of recent news surrounding Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, and the “gold mine” of sources the platform offers.
In the days since Elon Musk took control of Twitter, roughly half of its employees have been laid off. The company also introduced a revamped subscription model, amid repeated changes in direction. But the social media platform “has been a saga for years, even before Elon got involved,” said Ryan Mac, a Times reporter who covers technology.
Since Mr Musk announced his bid to buy Twitter in April, Mr Mac and other Times journalists have been furiously trying to keep up with the news, which can change with a single tweet. In an interview last week, Mr Mac discussed how he followed the flurry of news and vetted information as the saga continued. This interview has been edited.
There are so many moving parts to the beat. How do you keep track of everything?
It really depends on where you want to focus your energies. The great thing here is we have such a big team. In terms of approach, this week has been a fire drill every morning. We wake up, something happened, and we have to run to cover it, especially now as change has happened inside the company so rapidly.
What have those fire drills been like recently?
Elon had this court-imposed date to close the deal at the end of October. He was supposed to close it by Oct. 28, but he ended up closing a day earlier. We had to go right at it. The night before, he immediately turned around and fired his top executives, throwing the company into chaos. That kind of manoeuvring has been parred for the course when it comes to reporting on Elon. Similarly, we had to throw ourselves at the layoffs that happened last week. People were getting emails in the middle of the night saying that they’d been laid off or were losing access to certain systems. We stayed up covering that.
There have been a lot of former employees speaking up and a number of leaks. Does this feel different from a regular disgruntled employee or a traditional change of hands in a business?
There is an element of quitting or getting laid off in the era of social media. These employees speak out not just on Twitter, but they are also talking to reporters. Twitter employees have always been vocal on the platform.
There is solidarity as well. With so many people who have been laid off, a lot of them have tweeted messages of support to one another. They tweeted about their distaste for Elon and his management style, the approach to layoffs. For a reporter, that’s a gold mine.
Is it difficult to determine if someone is disgruntled or if they actually have valuable information?
I don’t think one disqualifies one from the other. Everything that’s told to us, we’re going to verify it with other people and run it by the company. But the communications team has basically been decimated at Twitter, so it’s hard to get any formal input. From a reporting perspective, there’s no better time to talk to someone than when something has just happened. It’s fresh in their minds. They might feel a little stronger about talking to a reporter.
What’s the biggest challenge of covering Twitter right now?
In Elon’s empire, something could be true one day and then it could change by the next.
We’ve been reporting on this effort of his new subscription system. That part has changed almost on a daily basis based on the whims and desires of what he wants and what he’s telling his team to execute. So you could have information one day that could be stale within a couple of hours.
You have to understand why it’s changed from your sources or understand what led to this decision. Was it a change in the wind? Or is there any rationale behind it?
There are a lot of rumours and conjectures at the company. The big problem right now with Twitter is there’s very little internal communication from the top — meaning Elon and his team — to the people that are still there. In that void, employees are just chattering. There are a lot of rumours about what’s going on and a lot of distrust and uncertainty. And that makes for a very interesting reporting environment.