Work Transformed: Bloomberg tech reporter Sarah Frier ’11 adapts to a virtual global book tour for ‘No Filter’
by Barbara Wiedemann
Sarah Frier ’11 is a longtime technology reporter for Bloomberg News based in San Francisco. She just embarked on a virtual book tour with “No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram,” her in-depth story of a company that is no doubt shaping your online life as we speak. Frier interned at Bloomberg in New York as a rising senior back in 2010, with support provided by UNC Hussman’s M.S. Van Hecke Award for students interested in business journalism. She returned to Bloomberg full time after a busy senior year at Carolina that included editor-in-chief responsibilities at The Daily Tar Heel and the course requirements of a business journalism certificate alongside her journalism degree. She was honored with Carolina’s Ernest H. Abernethy Prize in 2011. Frier talked with us about the changes the global coronavirus pandemic has wrought both on her job at Bloomberg and her book launch.
Frier covers tech corporations for Bloomberg News. Her career has grown alongside many of the social media behemoths that launched as startups while she was still a student in 2004 (Facebook), 2006 (Twitter), 2010 (Instagram) and 2011 (Snapchat).
“There is a lot of very quick change in the world that I cover,” Frier said about reporting on social platforms during the global crisis. She reports that the companies are seeing previously unseen levels of activity, with a shift towards direct communication like messaging and live-streaming during the COVID19 pandemic — think more updates on friends, family and social connections and more online classes and chats; less passive scrolling.
Frier has pivoted from revenue and growth analysis to covering stories about the rapid shift in how social platforms are being used, and why.
“These companies have become critical structures in our lives — and that is affecting our behavior,” she said.
Frier is also documenting how the social platforms are rapidly changing to meet new challenges posed by the global pandemic. For example: how companies are handling the strain on services as usage explodes, or the new battle to combat misinformation about the virus, which differs from that about politics.
Frier said “At least they have guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, so in that sense it’s more black-and-white about what to take down. That’s a fast-moving story for us.”
In her newsletter, she was an early observer of what she described as the (temporary) end of FOMO (”fear of missing out”), a turn away from FOMO towards compassion which may continue to shape life online after the virus subsides.
In late March, she wrote, “Perhaps this public health disaster has shown the companies how users can behave when they seek genuine connection, rather than strive for social status. The companies could use these signals to build healthier versions of their products.” She envisions the possibility that our online presence might evolve to become less a place to hone a personal brand and more a place to actually connect with other humans, at least for the duration of the virus.
”Every week we have a writing club, which we’ve continued remotely. We take pieces that we really admire and dissect what made them powerful,” she said. “That helps us step out of the news cycle and think about what our purpose is: not just what is next, but a reflection on what’s important. It’s a chance to ask myself ‘What do I hope people get out of this? What is the best way to get them there?’ about my own writing.”
The book promises to give readers behind-the-scenes insight on how Instagram became the most culturally defining app of the decade, growing to 1 million users within two months of its 2010 launch and reaching 1 billion in 2018. It’s a book that Fortune magazine says might be the most enrapturing book about Silicon Valley drama since Nick Bilton’s “Hatching Twitter” and that the New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz describes as a combination of in-depth reporting and explosive storytelling.
“No Filter” hit bookstores today. Pre-orders have already put the book on Amazon’s bestseller list in the media & communications industry category. Because of the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the entire global launch — including Frier’s book tour — has shifted to virtual.
Despite the changes, “I’m grateful,” Frier said. “It would be a lot harder to be a restaurant worker or first responder or a nurse right now.” She is hopeful that her book — something that can be shared digitally or delivered to a home — might be a welcome distraction at a time when everyone is cooped up at home.
“I’m optimistic,” she added. “But that said, I’ve had to change strategy on a dime.”
Fans can find her appearing virtually at events like this talk with Marketplace Tech’s Molly Wood on Monday, April 20 at 6:30 p.m. PST.
Stay tuned for more Work Transformed stories like those below on how UNC Hussman alumni are adapting to this unprecedented time.
Torod Neptune, UNC Hussman Board of Advisers member, is the worldwide group vice president and chief communications officer at Lenovo. He is reiterating the benefits of a global vantage point; encouraging ”ambiextrousness and a comfort with ambiguity;” and asking his team to find — and make — good news to meet employee and customer demand.
Alumnus Jamie Williams ’10, executive communications manager at UNC Health, is inspired by the patience and support provided by the communications team at UNC Health.
Alumna Caroline Bass ’19, a health writer and communications specialist for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, encourages us all to stay home and listen to public health professionals
Photo by Matt Lynley ’10