July 25, 2000

Tuesday<BR>Open Source People

Author: JT Smith

By: Julie Bresnick
All the World is Not Just a Stage

All the World is Not Just a Stage

I'm sorry, I just think technology news is so
boring. Stocks go up, stocks go down. Companies
marry. A new product! Big deal. Probably the only
things more boring are the parties. Thank goodness
CNet bought the remainder of Ziff. I say, consolidate
away.

If, as the Los Angeles Times reported, this
"takeover would combine two of the twenty most popular
sites on the Web," then it will be like reducing the
clutter on the collective desk of America.

When I first read about the takeover I madly
scribbled my notes in the margin of the paper, shaking
my head and sighing fatalistically, thinking about how
we are heading toward the corporatization of our news
sources just like in the movie, The Insider, only
without the subtlety. But then I went to Slashdot to
see what them nerdy folk had to say about all this and
I was encouraged.

Not really by what they said so much as did. News
is different now. There used to be limited sources.
The paper, then the radio, then television.
Entertainment became the nullifier. With the Internet
and the explosion of technology news there was
actually a bit of regression. A new industry meant a
rebirth of raw reporting. The kind of reporting that
had previously been swept into the sleeper sections of
Politics and World News, the meat of which had already
been transferred to more thoughtful journals.

I have a friend who writes for a prominent
technology publication. We'll call him Miguel.
Miguel's pieces are resplendent with facts, with
knowledge about the comings and goings of corporate
hegemonies. Bless him, because I don't know how he
does it and the good Lord knows I don?t want to. I
can hardly read it let alone write it (no offense
Miguel). I took a class on writing for the news media,
foolishly thinking I might be able to internalize some
of that structural instinct, which, I discovered, has
got to be an oxymoron. It was like that freshman
seminar on western civilization all over again and
hey, it wasn't the late nights of drinking that made
me so sleepy after all.

Hard news isn't just digitized now, it's mechanized.
Why do we need more than one ticker tape? If the
CNet and Ziff Davis properties merge we can free up
those slots within the "top twenty" and those
journalists for more thoughtful undertakings. Now we
can have more discussions and less reportage. If we
can access the same source so many different ways
(from our computer, our telephone, our television),
why do we need so many different sources?

Think of all those journalists who spend their days
consolidating that bullroar because it's consistent
work that pays the bills. They'll be free to secretly
rejoice in their layoff. They'll have a valid excuse
to explore their true interests, write that novel
they've always wanted to write or start their own venture and
join the ranks of the newly rich they've spent so much
time trying not to resent.

Or they can continue to write -- like me. Hmmmm, what
do I do? (I can?t wait to read the Forum section after
this one.)

I'm definitely not a "reporter." If I were, I would
be forced to (gasp) repress some of this
self-absorption and trade in my manual of style for
that dusty one from Chicago I have up on the shelf.

It is, however, painfully clear that I?m not really
sure what I am. It takes me about four full minutes to
answer the proverbial "what do you do?" or "Oh yeah, a
writer? What kind of writing do you do?" And two
hundred forty seconds is not actually the amount of
time required for me describe my "profession," that's
just the average time it takes for the inquisitor to
get tired of listening, walk away, and leave me to
dismount with a clumsy rendition of a verbal ellipses.

Sometimes I can just say "I write for the Internet"
which is a phrase that I hate. Like the Internet is
some sort of employer. I only use that phrase when I
am tired. I witnessed enough people respond with a
conclusive nod, "oh I see," like they just realized
the answer to six across, "you write for the
Internet."

"Yeah, that's it. Ah, I'm going to go get another
drink, you want anything?"

Which brings me to Slashdot. ("which brings me" is
such a handy safety net for convoluted transitions
isn't it?). A lot of people responding to the
posting on the CNet purchase seemed to believe that
sites like Slashdot were somehow fulfilling the same
service as CNet or ZIFF DAVIS, an assumption which
displays a marked lack of insight for such a brainy
crowd. Slashdot is about so much more than news. It
brings the news to life. They are reviving the art of
discussion.

How exciting! The true beauty of the Internet has
been recognized so many times that it's already being
taken for granted and is being hastily eclipsed by the
cliched notion that these media mergers are somehow
dangerous. The Internet gives us a forum to
communicate with each other, not just to
each other, which isn't really even communication at
all but more like entertainment.

If sites like Slashdot proliferate, we may
still have a chance to somehow save us from ourselves.

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