Laurene Powell Jobs invests in news because she worries about democracy

Powell Jobs, who runs the influential Emerson Collective and is the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, sees journalism as a civic good.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read
Laurene Powell Jobs

Laurene Powell Jobs heads up the Emerson Collective, which has invested in several news publications.

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Laurene Powell Jobs is worried.

As one of the world's richest women, worth an estimated $19 billion, she's been investing in journalism through her efforts at the Emerson Collective. The organization, which has been described as equal parts think tank, foundation and venture capital fund, acquired a majority stake in The AtlanticPop-Up Magazine and Axios. Powell Jobs said she's willing to invest more. 

What's driving her interest is the ongoing collapse of the news industry, she said in an interview with Recode's Kara Swisher late Friday at the Lesbians Who Tech conference in San Francisco. That and the attacks on journalism from people like President Donald Trump.

"It's right out of a dictator's playbook," Powell Jobs said. And, it's working. "If you look at polls about the degree to which people trust any news source and even credible fact-checking organizations -- [it's] at an all time low."

To Powell Jobs, journalism is an integral part of democracy, right up there with other issues she's focused on, such as education, immigration and the environment.

"The lack of ability for people to actually find relevant local news is putting our democracy at risk, putting our ability to converse with each other at risk, putting our ability to understand each other at risk," she said.

Powell Jobs, who's the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, isn't the only person from the tech world who's investing in the news. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post (which, incidentally, published a profile of Powell Jobs last year), and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff owns Time Magazine. They've all said they were inspired by their respective publications' histories of telling important stories that affect public discourse.

For her part, Powell Jobs said she initially didn't intend to buy stakes in media properties. But, she said, "Now that we have a really beautiful portfolio of properties -- superhigh quality and important journalism -- I'm open to more."

Powell Jobs also shared a story about meeting with Trump. She spoke with him to try to save former President Barack Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (aka DACA), which provided deportation protection for up to 800,000 people brought to the US illegally as children. Trump ultimately said he'd end DACA, drawing criticism from around the tech industry. (His move is being challenged in court.)

At the end of her meeting with him, Trump said, "I really like your dress," Powell Jobs recalled, rolling her eyes. The crowd booed and hissed, to which Powell Jobs responded, "I know. And I thought, 'The things I will do,' y'know?"

The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.