VIDEO: A conversation with New York Times writer John Markoff

Reporter, author and Palo Alto native talks journalism, tech, cycling

In this "First Person" interview, John Markoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times senior writer and author, talks with Lisa Van Dusen about growing up in Palo Alto, covering Silicon Valley for more than 30 years and his current interest in artificial intelligence and robotics -- the "next big thing."

Markoff first got the newspaper bug as a paper boy delivering the Palo Alto Times in his Old Palo Alto neighborhood, including to what would become Steve Jobs' house. After earning a B.A. from Whitman College and an M.A. from the University of Oregon in Sociology, Markoff began covering technology in 1976. He wrote for InfoWorld, Byte Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner before joining the New York Times in 1988 to cover Silicon Valley. Markoff is usually the "asker" of the questions. He switches places and answers questions about his front row seat in Silicon Valley's formative years, interviewing virtually every key tech leader until moving to the science section of the New York Times in 2009.

A renowned guardian of the technology industry's institutional memory, Markoff wrote bellwether stories about the "Internet Worm" in 1988, the World Wide Web in 1993 and a book, nefarious hackers and the early abuses of personal privacy by the NSA.

Markoff was one of a team of New York Times reporters who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, "for its penetrating look into business practices by Apple and other technology companies that illustrates the darker side of a changing global economy for workers and consumers."

He has written or co-authored four books, including What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry that chronicles the early days of personal computing when hobbyists and a counterculture ethos dominated the scene.

Recently, he has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University where he has been working on a new book about artificial intelligence and robotics.

Markoff, who began racing bicycles as a teenager, remains an avid cyclist. His core personal values were formed as a wilderness camper at Camp Unalayee, where peace, community and respect for nature have been the camp's ideals since 1949. He lives with his wife and a lot of bicycles in San Francisco, which some would argue is the bleeding edge of Silicon Valley.


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Posted by Harold Burstyn
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2014 at 5:28 am

I met John Markoff when he came east to cover the trial of Robert T. Morris for launching the Internet worm. I, too, wrote articles about the trial, a short one for the Jpurnal of the American Bar Association and a long one for Harvard Magazine.

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I'm not a big Markoff fan. Most of Markoff's writing about hacker Kevin Mitnick was pretty over-hyped and clouded in ethical controversy. If you want to hear Mitnick's side, be sure to read Jonathan Littman's "The Fugative Game" which is a much better story than Markoff's "Takedown" wriiten with Tsutomu Shimomura. Mitnick has a great story to tell, Shimomura's isn't even interesting.

Markoff's Pulilzer was shared with a group of reporters at the New York Times. Their series of articles covered the business practices of Apple and their subcontractor's treatment of workers in China.

Like most journalists, Markoff seems to have trouble telling a story that doesn't have clear delineation between winners and losers, or good guys and bad guys.

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Posted by Messy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Joe, maybe because there isn't always a clear delineation between winners and losers. Reality is often much more messy than ideology would insist it should be.

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