Interviewing the Interviewers: Steve O’Hear, TechCrunch

One of the privileges and joys of journalism is meeting and interviewing truly inspirational people.  The new digital age has meant this privilege has now opened up beyond professional journalists, with some of the most thought-provoking interviews now conducted by numerous industry thought leaders in addition to our most respected journalists.

In NDA’s Interviewing the Interviewers series, we caught up with some of the best interviewers in our industry, from journalists to independent content creators, turning the tables to find out what makes them tick.

Steve O’Hear is a technology journalist at TechCrunch, covering European startups. He joined TechCrunch in 2009 as Contributing Editor for TechCrunch Europe. In June 2011 he temporarily left journalism to co-found Beepl before it was acquired in 2012. Alongside many other accomplishments, he was made a fellow of NESTA in 2002.

What is your biggest hope and your biggest fear for the tech industry in 2019?

My biggest hope is that the tech industry (including the related VC industry) will find its moral compass and build better checks and balances to stay anchored to it. My biggest fear is that it won’t. 

Tech has so much impact and at such a scale, often beyond that of national governments, and yet the industry as a whole feels ill equipped to consider the negative and sometimes unintended consequences of the future we are building and has often proven incapable of self-correcting in time.

What was your biggest personal industry highlight of 2018?

Being shortlisted for tech journalist of the year in the UK tech awards – up against three national newspapers – and then losing in front of an audience of investment bankers and executives at public companies who don’t always understand the upstart world I make it my business of knowing inside out.

Who was the most inspirational person you interviewed in 2018 and why?

I don’t generally view interviewees as inspirational.

If anything, I try to bring them back down to earth. The best interview I did in 2018 was with Atomico and Skype founder Niklas Zennström.

What one technology are you most excited about this year and why?

I continue to be fascinated by the way financial tech startups and challenger banks are trying to change our relationship with money, as lofty as that sounds.

Overall, I can’t really name a single technology that jumps out the most (insert: AI, robotics, genomics etc.), but more broadly I think health tech is on the cusp of exponential advances and that’s truly exciting.

What was your favourite ad or digital experience of 2018?

Seeing my small holding of cryptocurrency lose almost all of its value. I know that’s not what you meant but it was definitely a “digital experience”!

What is the buzzword or phrase you’d like to ban forever?

Circling back.

Who’s the one industry figure you’d most like to interview you yet haven’t?

This will sound strange but there is no one in tech I’m dying to interview that I haven’t or couldn’t, it’s not really how I think about interviews.

For me to get excited about interviewing or writing a feature on a tech founder or investor, I have to find an ‘in’ – something where I know I’ll have an edge based on being ‘in the know’ or because of my particular writing style and background or prior relationship.

If I don’t think it will result in something unique, I find it hard to get motivated and prefer to break news instead.

How could someone persuade you to interview them and what would put you off completely?

A good narrative needs conflict and so does an interview.

It’s my job to figure what that conflict is and where the resulting narrative drive will come from.

The only way to persuade me to consider an interview is to help me see where that conflict might exist and how I might have an edge over other journalists telling the same story.

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