Profiles

A Conversation with Brad Smith
Senior Vice President & General Counsel, Microsoft

Q: What is your name?

Brad Smith: I knew that question was coming; I was prepared for it. My name is Brad Smith, I’m the general counsel at Microsoft.

Q: How often do you read The Seattle Times in print or online?

BS: Every day.

Q: Tell me about that routine. What does it look like for you?

BS: First of all, I get the e-mail alerts from The Seattle Times in my e-mail inbox. If something comes through that I’m inclined to read, I click the link and read it online. If I’m traveling, I always read it online. If I’m home it depends. I either read it early in the morning before I leave for work or, since I get to work so early, it’s sometimes easier for me to catch up quickly by reading the stories here in the office when I arrive about 6:30 or 6:45. And then I’ll read it a bit more in the evening when I get home. Of course, on the weekend you have more time.

Q: Tell me about the difference on the weekend. What is the Sunday experience like for you? Is it something totally different from the weekday?

BS: It is, yes. It starts by picking up the newspaper outside of the house. We get The Seattle Times and The New York Times both delivered at home on Sunday. My wife and I sit down together and each pick out the pieces that we want to read, and we take our time and go through it.

Q: Do you read it together? Do you talk about stories and use it as a conversation starter?

BS: Yes, oftentimes it is a great conversation starter. I think especially on the weekend when you have more time together. We’re usually comparing notes or perspectives or points of view about different things that we read.

Q: Do you fight over the sections?

BS: We share. We’ve learned that there’s no need to fight. There’s enough time for each of us to read the same thing. We sometimes take turns and debate a little bit about who gets which piece of what newspaper, but there’s usually enough time and we’re usually each recommending to the other what is particularly important to read on a particular day.

Q: What do you go to first? How do you read the newspaper?

BS: I have to admit I start with the local news and the sports. I’ll start with those two parts and go through the Pacific Northwest news because that’s something you don’t get anywhere else. Then, I go through the local sports teams depending on what time of year it is and depending on what happened the day before. Take a look at the Sunday business section because there’s always something there that’s a longer feature. Certainly, I cover the front page and the front section, but I do enough checking online that there’s a good chance I may have read some of the stories that are on the front page online before I pick up the physical copy of the newspaper.

Q: Where do you go online and how is that different? How does it serve your needs differently?

BS: I think the online serves a couple different needs. One, you can see news in real time. That is the principal difference. If there’s news that’s breaking, in many respects, one of the fastest and best ways to catch up with it is to go online. You can read something very quickly. Obviously you have to be sensitive to when the story is going to be published.

If I’m somewhere else in the world I’ll be paying attention to when it’s midnight in Seattle because I know that’s when the final stories are going to be published. It’s very common that I’ll be in Europe or Asia and I’ll be checking The Seattle Times on the Web shortly after midnight in Seattle just to stay abreast of what the most current stories are.

If I’m home it’s obviously a different cycle because my goal is to be asleep when that happens. It’s not always the case.

So I stay abreast of things that way.

During the week, it’s much more likely to be dependent on my schedule during the day. I may just catch something quickly in the newspaper early in the morning. But sometimes I find it’s easier to get into the office, take care of a few e-mails that have come from another part of the world, and then go to the Web, catch up on the news and then turn back to the things I want to do at work that day.

Q: You get The Seattle Times and The New York Times …

BS: And The Wall Street Journal. We get three newspapers delivered during the week.

Q: Tell me what the difference is between the national newspapers and your local Seattle Times. Why is the local newspaper important to you?

BS: Well, first and foremost, I would say, it’s so important to stay in touch with what’s happening in our own community, and there is no substitute for the local newspaper for doing that. Part of it comes down to having a first-rate group of journalists in the newsroom and people who are able on the editorial page to devote real thought and length to what they are addressing. In contrast to TV or radio, you just get more content and more column inches, as it turns out, from the local newspaper.

Technology can change the form in which the content is displayed, but the importance of the content remains the same. Whether I’m looking at it on the Web or reading it on a piece of paper, it’s just critically important to turn to The Seattle Times to stay in touch with what is unfolding in Seattle and the Puget Sound and the state of Washington.

Q: Are there any specific columnists that you love to read or love to hate to read?

BS: There’s nobody I hate to read. What I really admire about the newspaper is the range of perspectives in the range of fields. You’ve got people who have a great perspective in local politics. They really understand, and it’s not just the columnists, it’s the reporters as well. When I’ve been talking to people who’ve been following, say, the transportation debate, it’s like, wow, here’s somebody that’s a real authority. It’s the same thing for our industry, for tech. Certainly a columnist like Brier Dudley is someone that I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with virtually in the second or third week on the job, which goes back to 2001 or 2002. You’ve got people who have this great longevity and this perspective and this knowledge of how our industry works.

And the sports columnists are very much that way. You see their personality come out over time and I think that’s a great thing. Readers can identify with the individual and come to understand something about the individual even without ever meeting them in person.

Q: Who’s your favorite sports columnist?

BS: I get a kick out of Jerry Brewer. I just like his personality. He combines a knowledge of sports with a way with words that I enjoy. As a lawyer, I always enjoy it when people have a way with words, and he injects a nice sort of perspective and personality in what he writes.

Q: Why is having a locally owned and independent newspaper like The Seattle Times important to the community?

BS: Locally owned news reporting is a fundamental part of the community. It helps knit the community together by keeping us all connected with each other. It provides an honest voice on what each of us is doing. It enables us to understand what others are doing. It gives us the opportunity when we’re in a business that is making news to provide our point of view and, hopefully, have it told in a fair and objective way. It’s readily apparent why the press has always been considered the Fourth Estate even here in Washington state and the Seattle area. All the other estates depend on it at the end of the day.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to express?

BS: To me, what I think is really important is what I captured before. I think in an era of technological change, people are quick to focus on the way technology is changing the reporting of the news or the form in which it’s consumed — even, to some degree, the business model that underlies media organizations. But even amidst so much change, we shouldn’t lose sight of the critical continuity and importance that comes with high-quality, objective, local journalistic reporting. It has been part of this country since the country was founded and it’s just impossible to imagine a healthy community without it.