“Airbnb’s Sheryl Sandberg” is the Valley’s Quiet Superpower
Jessi Hempel

Can’t Backchannel do better than this piece of Puffball Journalism?

Hi Jessi, I am really disappointed in your article. This is nothing more than a puff piece about Belinda Johnson. Did you ask her even one hard question about the considerable damage that Airbnb is causing in neighborhood after neighborhood, city after city? You sort of allude to the many problems in your email introduction that you sent to Backchannel followers, but then there is no evidence of that in the article itself other than a brief mention at the end about charges of discrimination from Airbnb hosts — which is the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the damage being caused. You also mention Airbnb’s decision to sue San Francisco over its recent law to hold Airbnb accountable for its hosts refusing to follow the law requiring them to register, which most hosts are not doing and are therefore still operating illegally (even though SF has bent over backwards to try to accommodate this kind of service). You could have at least explored this a bit, and asked Belinda “Hey, what about the charge that Airbnb is facilitating lawbreaking on a massive scale?” But no, apparently you passed on that journalistic moment.

I realize Backchannel has recently relaunched itself and so I imagine is trying to find its new journalistic footing. In the past, Lauren Smiley and Steven Levy have written some good pieces (Lauren’s on former coal miners becoming techies was first rate). IMO this kind of “puff journalism” should not be what the new Backchannel aspires to. I really hope Backchannel can be more than a cheerleader for the Silicon Valley “happy talk” and can be an actual journalistic outlet for assessing the pros and cons of these startups and Silicon Valley in general. If your goal and ambition isn’t to do that, then what’s the point? We are already have tons of media outlets that write the puff pieces and reflect the happy talk, as well as conferences in San Francisco/Silicon Valley that do the same.

I would recommend to you this piece:

“Is Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky telling us the truth about his company?”


Well, you did ask for feedback!

All the best

Steven Hill