Running a company is hard. It is like chasing after a bus you can never keep up with. Running a good company takes focus, grit, and intelligence. During special times, it requires intense integrity, which separates mediocre leaders from great ones.
Uber is arguably one of the greatest companies of our generation. The speed with which it has grown has somehow placed it on a pedestal- not one we look to for moral high ground, but one that is incessantly covered by the media in a predominantly negative way. While the recent scandal is self-imposed and personnel-related, most journalists seem to be out to “get” Uber and automatically presume the company is guilty before proven innocent.
It is quite clear: when Goliath comes under attack, it is hard to come to its defense. After all, it is Goliath, a mighty giant with a valuation higher than 80% of the companies in the S&P 500. With that said and at the risk of sounding like a certain orange-haired fellow, I believe that the media’s coverage of Uber is corrosive, and dare I say, wrong.
In the past, journalism used to be an act of courage, revealing truths in a noisy and untruthful world, and journalists went to great lengths and took risks to reveal such truths. As Nicholas Taleb writes: “journalism arose from the need to expose falsehood.. [journalists now] have effectively escaped having skin in the game.”
Today’s media operates in a vacuum; journalists often clamor for the acceptance of other journalists. This incessant 24 hour news cycle is what is driving Uber’s problems (not the other way around). On an especially slow news day, news of the company doing something wrong (no matter how little), can land on front pages across the web.
Going to back to my opening point: running a company is darn hard. Now imagine running a company with hundreds of journalists amplifying even your smallest mistakes and overlooking all the things that you do right.
This vicious cycle soon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with real (read: material) consequences. The same journalists criticizing Uber on a semi-daily basis will be the ones mourning the convenience of hailing a car with the click of a button if it disappears one day. The same journalists declaring Uber guilty before proven innocent, also criticize taxi unions for bullying startups, yet are oblivious to how they are doing the same. We are in a messy web right now. You cannot fully disentangle yourself without going completely off the grid.
Waves crashing repeatedly against a rock will wear that rock down. There is death by a thousand papercuts. And we can, each in our own little way, help make the world a better place. Beware of the tempting false dichotomy of “I report therefore I am right and you are guilty.” Uber can never live up to our made-up expectations of what it could be. All we can do is adjust our expectations and focus on things of note, value and if need be, vote with our dollars when it comes to companies we do not agree with.