(Credit: Getty Images — I’ll get rid of it if you really want me to I promise just email me.)
I did not know Alexia when I worked at HuffPost. I still don’t know her. I don’t engage with her on Facebook, I don’t write witty replies to her tweets. I’m pretty sure I don’t follow her on Instagram, and I’m pretty sure beyond this one encounter I never even shared an Aol elevator ride with her.
Still, I literally don’t think I’ve ever met someone as expressively passionate about the impact of her work more than her.
I don’t remember the exact date, but this brief moment happened sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, either right before or right after she was named co-editor of TechCrunch. A group of “senior” leaders (I’m throwing us under the bus on this one, because someone will inevitably point out that the oldest of us was 27 at the time) were sitting around after hours on a Friday, discussing the upcoming election and future plans for the site, drinking some moderately priced whiskey, when our managing editor noticed Alexia walking across the newsroom and called her over.
He had met her on occasion, but the rest of us had not. TechCrunch, much like the Huffington Post at the time, was its own little silo in Aol. A safe-haven for the type of work the people who wrote for it wanted to produce. At this point Michael Arrington had recently left the site, and its future was certainly uncertain, at least to us as somewhat outside observers.
Tsotsis was on her way to meet with Arianna Huffington, who, at least we presumed, would have some say in the future of the site. At this point, HuffPost was a traffic monster, ever growing, juiced by Aol and about to get even larger on the back of Facebook. TechCrunch had, and still has, a large audience, but never broadened its scope beyond the startup scene, or bent its purview within tech as many did at the time, to attract a large audience and drive greater ad revenue.
We, on the other hand, had enlarged ourselves by doing just that in some cases, and with Arrington out there admittedly was a bit of excitement for us that we might take our spirit of strong growth to TC. “If they’d just listen to us we could grow them,” we’d say. “Better SEO, better social. Maybe they’ll be a part of HuffPost, we really only need one tech vertical anyway. We’re competing with ourselves.”
So, with this context in mind, we saw Tsotsis, one of the most recognizable names left at TechCrunch, in New York about to talk to the woman who easily had the most influence over editorial at Aol. So when we started the conversation, it was natural for us to expect that it might be time for TechCrunch to resemble HuffPost a bit more.
In reality, after just a few minutes of conversation it was clear that wouldn’t be the case. I would love to be able to quote her, even in fiction, but it’s near impossible to replicate the emotion she was brimming with.
What she began to describe was the lasting and pervasive impact TechCrunch had had, not only on her, but on the lives of real entrepreneurs, taking real risks to bring ideas to life. She talked about how a small outlet like TC could, in some cases, energize the economy and the people that relied on it. She reiterated how important it was to her, how it added meaning to what she did, and how it worked for everyone involved. How a deep connection was formed between the site and its audience — a connection that was earnest and responsible.
It wasn’t about traffic. It might have been about revenue. But it certainly was impactful and wasn’t cheap.
Then, nearly simultaneous with her final word, she turned and walked into Arianna’s office, leaving her words to sink in with us for a bit while she presumably reiterated these feelings to the boss. We sat there, trying to talk about it but failing, each letting her words sink in in our own way. At that point we each had our own thinking to do. It sounds cliché, and it was, but it was impossible to ignore.
What was so striking, at least for a us — a group of ambitious unweathered editors and managers — was the thing that mattered most to her wasn’t the site’s success or massive reach, but the success of the people they covered and provided coverage too. It wasn’t entirely selfless, but it added a sort of value to her work that provided cultural value. It actively discouraged cheap shit.
Tsotsis wasn’t eager to please the masses, or even necessarily boost her own authority, but she was eager to have an impact, and in that moment, she did.