Laptop Mag Editor-in-Chief on Reporting & Representation in Consumer Tech Media
In late January, longtime technology reporter Sherri L. Smith was named editor-in-chief of Laptop Mag, where she was previously assistant managing editor. Smith is the first black woman to lead the Future plc-owned brand, and is believed to be the first black, female editor-in-chief of a major technology news publication.
In her new role overseeing editorial production, Smith says she is prioritizing e-commerce and expanding coverage into laptop peripheral categories, including audio, PC gaming, and virtual reality.
“Everything that can be plugged into a laptop represents an opportunity for us,” Smith says. “We want to make sure that your laptop life extends beyond work. You're not just using your laptop at work; you’re using it at home, to stream, to watch Netflix, to game, and to do your taxes.”
As employees work from home through the current COVID-19 pandemic, Laptop Mag is also focused on serving readers with relevant coverage of standing desks, routers, and other mobile office tools that can ease the transition to remote work.
In the following interview, Smith shares her plans for Laptop Mag content and thoughts on representation in consumer tech media.
How does it feel to be the first black, female EIC of a major tech publication?
Overwhelming. It's an honor. It's also bittersweet because it's ... 2020 and this is still a first. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with this role. I want to make sure that I hire the best people, but I also want to make sure that I extend a hand to communities like mine that maybe don't know that this job exists. I didn't know that this job existed when I went to college. I thought I was going to be a pre-med major, but my math course said otherwise. I went from being an entertainment writer to a tech writer, to the first black woman editor-in-chief of a major tech publication.
That's a roundabout journey, and I can make sure that I reach out to the next generation of journalists in college, high school, middle school, and elementary school and let them know, “Hey, this is a viable job. It's a career. It's something that you do have to love.” I'm focused on mentoring and reaching out and letting kids know like this is a viable option. You can do this. I might be the first, but I damn sure don't want to be the best.
Why do you believe tech media lacks diversity in leadership, and what can the industry do about that?
There are still a lot of white men in key leadership roles, but the level of diversity has gotten better since I've been in the industry, which is over 10 years at this point. It is refreshing to see more people who are black, brown, yellow, red, and women in the industry.
But I also want to see us go beyond that. I want us to look at ableism, I want to make sure that everyone is getting a voice in tech. I don't feel comfortable covering adaptive tech because I don't live that life. So how can I review the Xbox adaptive controller? I can say that Microsoft is doing something groundbreaking, but I can't give an honest, in-depth, objective review of what this was supposed to do because that's not my lifestyle.
It's important to make sure that everyone is represented, and I think that we do have a ways to go with that. Sometimes it's just so easy to forget that there are people that aren't being represented because that's not your life, and you have your blinders on. The industry can focus on racial minorities, but we need to look beyond that and look for everyone. The more voices, the more diversity across all walks of life that we have in the industry, the stronger it will be, and the better the reporting will be.
How is consumer technology reporting changing, and what plans do you have for the future of Laptop Mag content?
I think especially right now that we're in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, the way in which we work has changed. I think that not having to be tied to the workplace is the biggest change in tech consumer tech. Now you can work from home, work in a coffee shop, and still collaborate with team members.
That will really take off when 5G becomes a national thing. Everyone in tech journalism is talking about 5G, but 5G isn’t really here the way that cloud gaming really isn’t here. If I can get access to 5G in an urban area but a rural area can't get it, that means I’m missing out on reporting opportunities. We used to call that the digital divide. I think it's gotten smaller as time has gone on, but there has to be a nationwide effort to make sure that everyone has access to the same opportunities. I think that goes across anything in this country. Healthcare, jobs, the whole nine.
What are specific short-term goals you want to accomplish?
I want to be number one in everything that Laptop Mag covers. So when you look for the best laptop, you should see Laptop Mag. I want that visibility for gaming laptops, for 2-in-1 systems, business notebooks, even standing desks. Everything that we decide to take on, I want us to be number one. That's just my ego talking, but I am proud to work for Laptop Mag. It made me into the writer I am today, the manager I am today, the person I am today.
On a more personal level, I want to make sure that my writers develop into the journalists of the future. I have a staff of four. They're amazing. At the end of the day, we may not have as many people, but you can't say that we don't work as hard, if not harder. And you can’t say we don't produce better content.
Long term, I want people to be able to see Laptop Mag outside of just laptops. Yes, of course, we're going to cover laptops. We're never ever not going to be covering laptops, but there are so many things that go with the name of Laptop. Anything that you can plug into a laptop, we want to be there. We want to be that techie next door neighbor helping you decide whether or not you should invest your money. And if you do choose to, we want to help you throughout the life cycle of that product.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.