The Pandemic Work Diary of a Podcasting Tech Editor

Nilay Patel misses laughing at headline ideas and goofing around in the hallways of the Lower Manhattan offices of The Verge, the tech-news site he leads. Any other year, he and his staff would be buzzing around, having a field day with all of the big device launches that usually coincide with the holiday shopping season. Instead, they are comparing notes remotely, via Zoom and Slack.

The Verge, owned by Vox Media, covers technological advances, electronics reviews and who’s who in the realm of digital creation. In addition to overseeing coverage of the latest video game console or earbuds, Mr. Patel, 39, hosts two podcasts: Decoder, which focuses on how business, tech and government policy collide, and The Vergecast, which recaps the week in tech news.

Logging on from his family’s pandemic retreat north of the city, he still manages to indulge in a fair amount of goofing, like when the staff’s “camera nerds” recently staged what he described as a “webcam arms race.”

“I just bought a used Sony ZV-1,” he said, “after being shamed for the weird focus-hunting my old RX100 was doing on a call.”

But lately, Mr. Patel, The Verge’s editor in chief, is focused on more than just hyper-niche gear and its attendant jargon.

“To me, it’s beyond gadgets,” he said of tech’s impact on culture and politics, as part of our mid-November interviews. “The ability for technology to democratize the creation of culture and then to democratize culture itself is extraordinarily powerful, and we can see it all around us.”

Interviews are conducted via email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.

9 a.m. I try to start every day by spending some time with Max, our 2-year-old daughter. One of the few bright spots of the pandemic pushing us out of New York City and into working from home full time is that I get to see her throughout the day. She is still obsessed with Halloween, so I stand behind the bedroom door and we play trick-or-treat until she gets bored. (She does not get bored.)

10 a.m. Today’s Slack fire drill is a fun one, if you think raw panic bracketed by waiting around for Adobe Premiere to export a video is a good time. We’re reviewing Apple’s newest Macs, and there’s a scramble as we realize that some of our test results may have been affected by a software glitch in Premiere. For a minute, it seems like we’ll have to make major edits to our reviews and even potentially miss our deadline, but it turns out we can work around the bug. Crisis averted.

11 a.m. I’ve got a list of pickups (rerecording a sentence or phrase) to record for Decoder, so I go into the basement bedroom I use as a podcast studio and knock those out.

11:30 a.m. I’m very late filing copy for my MacBook Pro review, but Dieter Bohn, The Verge’s executive editor, is reviewing the MacBook Air, so I graciously agree to edit his review so I can steal all of his ideas when I go to finish mine. In the entire history of The Verge, we’ve never given any product a perfect 10 review score, but we are seriously considering it. We debate this on and off for the rest of the day.

1 p.m. We have our weekly staff meeting on Monday afternoons. I’m generally opposed to meetings that could just be emails, but the staff has convinced me that it’s important to get everyone together and talk about what all the teams are doing. We clap for senior reporter Ashley Carman — it’s her fifth year at The Verge, which is one of those milestones that always reminds me that we’re not a scrappy upstart anymore.

1:30 p.m. I really have to finish writing this review, so I turn off all my notifications, close Slack and focus on getting it done.

4:30 p.m. I file my review copy and turn Slack back on to discover I have another set of Decoder pickups to record. It’s only our second episode, so we’re still smoothing out how to get everything done on time.

6 p.m. With our Mac reviews filed, we debate scores and headlines. It’s been a long time since people have been more excited about laptops than phones, which says a lot about how our relationship with tech has changed during the pandemic.

9 a.m. The Mac reviews publish. There’s always a flurry of activity after a review goes up to see what other reviewers said, what we missed and how people are reacting to them. The second episode of Decoder also publishes; it’s an interview with the Khan Academy C.E.O. Sal Khan. I have to remember to tweet about it and post a clip to my Instagram, which I always forget to do.

10 a.m. Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg are testifying at a Senate hearing today, and I’ll be on CNBC to talk about it later, so I open a stream and keep tabs on it in the background.

11:30 a.m. I find it impossibly hard to context-switch between “management and meetings” mode and “individual creative mode,” so I’ve set aside Tuesdays as a day for marathon meetings in an effort to free up creative time elsewhere. First, I check in with the Verge creative director Will Joel to talk about a big end-of-year editorial package and a merchandise store that’s launching soon.

Noon. I have my weekly check-in with my boss, Helen Havlak, the vice president of The Verge. She’s a genius — I hired her years ago to be our engagement editor and then editorial director. After a while, I realized I was going to business-side meetings, coming back and asking her what to do, and then just repeating what she said in the next meeting. So, we promoted her to be my boss; she’s in charge of our business while I focus on editorial, and it’s been terrific.

12:30 p.m. Time for our weekly leadership meeting. It’s the end of a punishing year, and everyone is unsurprisingly burned out. We talk about making sure people actually take vacations, and how to have our usual end-of-the-year planning meeting when we’re all remote. Most of our best ideas used to come from just hanging out at dinners and we obviously can’t do that now.

2 p.m. I have gotten substantially worse at email during the pandemic. Not having a commute means I don’t have a built-in time to work through my inbox. I stare at 1,303 unreads. They stare back at me.

2:30 p.m. I have nice light coming through the window for my CNBC appearance, but seconds before I go on the air, dark clouds roll in and it starts to snow. Minutes after I’m done, the sun comes out. It’s a striking visual metaphor for what sitting through a congressional hearing on Big Tech is like.

4 p.m. My formal workday usually ends at the end of our daily desk editor meeting. Then, I try to wind down and disconnect. But this week, everything I started just went long.

10 a.m. I block out Wednesday mornings to read, think and take notes. So much of my day-to-day is reactive, so I do my best to create time to slow down and think ahead. The best work advice I’ve ever gotten was from Microsoft’s C.E.O., Satya Nadella. I asked him how he found the time to do everything on his schedule. “It’s your time,” he said. “Be selfish about it.”

10:01 a.m. Hit by a wave of Slack messages. I am not great at being selfish about my time.

12:30 p.m. I usually have office hours on Wednesday afternoons, where I just hang out with reporters and talk about whatever stories they’re working on. It’s by far my favorite hour of the week. Sadly, I have to skip it because we’re trying to bank some Decoder episodes before the holidays.

1:30 p.m. We take a full hour before interviews so I can read the preproduction notes, watch and listen to other interviews with the guest, and edit my outline of questions. Interviews never really follow the outline, but the prep allows me to let things flow without going too far off the rails.

2 p.m. Podcast interview with Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox.

3:30 p.m. I take a short break and say hi to Max before diving into prep for my second interview.

10 a.m. I have a stack of things to read and notes to give on various stories. We have a big investigation coming — it’s looking into a company that went completely sideways — and I want to make sure we’ve got the tone exactly right. One of our great advantages is that people read The Verge because they are already interested in science and technology — so we don’t need to sit around explaining SpaceX or USB-C.

Noon. Nori Donovan, executive producer for video at The Verge, and I have a call with our partners at Netflix to discuss a new documentary series we’re producing.

1 p.m. Dieter and I record a short segment with Walt Mossberg for The Vergecast. Walt’s also been using the new MacBook Air, so officially, we’re talking about that. But really, we just love talking to Walt.

4 p.m. We record the rest of the Vergecast. It goes long. (It always goes long. If you know how long it’s supposed to be, please let me know.)

11 a.m. In today’s desk editors’ meeting, we’re trying to make sure our science team doesn’t get overwhelmed. The pandemic is getting worse, and there’s just a lot of news about schools and shutdowns that we don’t really cover, but which is obviously important to our team. Our science editor, Mary Beth Griggs, emphasizes to the staff what we’re focusing on: science and technology stories about vaccines, treatments and care.

12:30 p.m. Helen and I chat about our plans for next year. We’ve been so caught up in what feels like minute-to-minute issues since March that we want to spend a little time looking ahead before our companywide 2021 planning begins in earnest.

3 p.m. It’s been three weeks since I’ve had a full weekend, so I knock off a little early to hang with Max. I read her a lot of books. She loves to play pretend, so we have tea parties and I am put down for a “nap.”

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