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Coast vs Coast

Wednesday, May 1, 2002 by Dave Winer.

Us or Them? Permalink to Us or Them?

JD Lasica sent a pointer to his latest essay to Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor and myself. Like Nick Denton he would hand the victory trophy to the east coast, but not so fast guys.

Here's what I said in my email response to JD, cc'd to Doc and Dan: "I felt about [the article] the same way I feel about articles about SOAP that only talk about the BigCo's and ignore XML-RPC. The point of view is anachronistic. When we look at this a few years out, the Industry Standards, Slates, etc will be easily seen as horse-buggy manufacturers who tried to transition to automobiles and failed. There wasn't actually anything happening there. Hotwired was the only one that got it, and then only for a brief period."

It never was a fight between the coasts for the hearts of people with minds who use the Internet. Some people out here on the west coast (not me!) thought we should expand from being the heart of technology into publishing. Our answer to the NY Times, Washington Post and Time/Newsweek would be the Industry Standard, Salon, Slate and Wired. Heh. Fat chance. The Standard is gone and the rest are hanging by a thread, and these days, no one outside a loony bin is predicting that the New Economy will wipe out all that came before it. All those pubs did was try to clone the print model on the Web, and if you want be a revolution, you have to be more clever than that. (Clue: Let your readers write for you.)

But does that mean that the ink-stainers can breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their old ways? Well, hmmm, no I don't think so. When Silicon Valley refinds its purpose it will be the supplier of technology to ever larger numbers of people doing it for themselves, doing what they love, and writing about it, on the Internet of course. Here in Silicon Valley we never really lost this purpose, but the PR message is a little diluted after the ridiculous bluster of the mid-late 90s.

Hey instead of writing odes to the prowess of the BigPubs, let's look at this objectively. Are there some things the Bigs do better than the blogs? I don't know. When I read an article in one of the Bigs that covers something I know, I'm appalled at the number of mistakes that make it into print, when their supposed advantage is that they can do deep research and fact-checking that the people can't. The Time article about Mozilla was a great example. Easy to check factual errors made it into the lead paragraph. How does that happen? Do they care about quality? Their publishing methods don't allow readers to do the fact-checking before the article appears in millions of printed magazines. With the publishing industry in hard times, are they laying off fact-checkers before they lay off reporters?

Want to do another comparison? Do an industry conference and put some bloggers and some pros in the audience. Who gets the story faster? The bloggers of course. Who gets a more accurate story? Let's check that out next chance we get. Was the wait worth it?

As an aside, I'm getting calls for interviews on the meaning of the Google API. I can't get up for it. The excitement is already past. It was covered in great detail on the Web, in real-time. Will the pros find angles we didn't? Doubtful. And their articles are filled with blustery transcription errors, as their editorial processes dumb it down and remove all inspiration, and all context.

Anyway, what's the moral of the story? Will weblogs replace professionals? I won't give the trite automatic answer that so many east coasters like. It might happen if they believe bedtime stories like JD's. A better answer is to blend the two approaches, to stage your journalism, test your ideas on weblogs before printing them. Provide deep background in real-time that only a few readers might find interesting, and take a chance on making a mistake and quickly correcting it, because you're going to make them anyway. Meet your readers, learn from them, and feed that back into your professional work.

Dave Winer

PS: On May 7 I'm giving a presentation to John Markoff's journalism class at Stanford on this subject. I guess I just did my prep.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."