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Berkman Community Newcomers: Sam Gustin

Berkman Community Newcomers: Sam Gustin

This post is part of a series featuring interviews with some of the fascinating individuals who joined our community for the 2014-2015 year. Conducted by our 2014 summer interns (affectionately known as "Berkterns"), these snapshots aim to showcase the diverse backgrounds, interests, and accomplishments of our dynamic 2014-2015 community.

Interested in joining the Berkman Center community? We're currently accepting fellowship applications for the 2015-2016 academic year. Read more on our fellowships page.


Q+A with Sam Gustin

Berkman Fellow and correspondent at VICE covering business, technology and public policy for Motherboard
interviewed in summer 2014 by Berktern Sarah Myers West

Gustin graduated from Reed College, where he wrote his thesis on international relations theory with Darius Rejali. Gustin earned a Master’s degree in journalism from Columbia, where he worked with Todd Gitlin. Prior to joining VICE, Gustin worked at TIME, WIRED and other publications. He lives in Cambridge with his dog Otis.

You’re making a shift in your career from writing for traditional news outlets like TIME and WIRED to Berkman and VICE, both of which are relatively non-traditional places for technology journalism. What are your thoughts as you make this change?

I’ve been learning from the work of the Berkman Center for years, so it’s a real privilege to join the community. I don’t really view this as a big change, but rather as an opportunity to build on the work that I’ve done at places like TIME and WIRED, where I was lucky to have such great mentors and colleagues.

VICE is one of the most exciting news organizations in the world right now, and I’ve been very impressed by my new colleagues at Motherboard, which has assembled an amazing group of writers and editors doing fascinating science and technology reporting. Journalism is sometimes called the first draft of history. Motherboard is the first draft of the future.

How do you view your role as a journalist? Have your views changed over time?

Technology is changing the major institutions of our society – from business to politics to media – in profound ways. I’m trying to understand these changes, so I can better serve readers.

What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship at Berkman?

My focus is on tech policy, both at the national level and the local level, with a particular emphasis on cities. With so much political dysfunction at the federal and state levels, cities are very well positioned to take the lead on improving the lives of citizens.

Cities are more nimble actors than federal or state governments. Cities can take advantage of communications technology, data analytics, and urban engineering in ways that can have a more immediate and visible impact for people.

I’m really excited to learn from experts who have been working in these fields, so I can make a contribution toward the future of cities. It’s really about improving the lives of people – all people, especially those in underserved communities.

We’ve seen a few moments recently where Internet policy issues have really made it onto the public agenda – SOPA/PIPA being one instance, and now net neutrality. Do you think that this is a growing trend? What about these issues do you think has captured the public’s attention?

There’s a new generation of super-smart, tech-savvy, politically engaged people, and it’s exciting to watch them use new technologies to organize and make their voices heard on tech and Internet policy issues. That’s why so many of us were so inspired by Aaron Swartz, a true leader that we lost way too soon.

When Prof. Lessig talks about “the politics of resignation,” he’s talking about a feeling of hopelessness with respect to campaign finance reform. I think “the politics of resignation” applies to other areas as well, because people have become so disillusioned by the prospects of reform, across of a range of issues, due to the near-complete functional collapse of the legislative branch of the U.S. government.

I’m excited to join the Berkman community, and I look forward to learning from my new colleagues.

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