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Getting Vertical
Nov 04, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

Excuse the pun, but are you tired of reading about Wired?

First came the prospectus. Then came the email. Then came the pull. Then came the flood. One after another, writers with a "cyberspace beat" lined up to feed us their perspective on the withdraw of the IPO. Scott Rosenberg at Salon. David Hudson at Rewired. Even everyone's favorite practitioner of press-release journalism,, labeled Wired's IPO "conceptual."

Way back in June, Carol Rogash published a piece on Hotwired in American Journalism Review titled "Cyberspace Journalism." While much of her article reels off the usual doubts about the viability of web publishing, she does conjure up a nice image of the web "newsroom:" "A basic difference between [Hotwired] and a traditional newsroom is that these people don't go out to cover stories. They largely cover what's on the Internet, which is what many sites do. It's as if most of those working on the Web are standing in a circle holding up mirrors to one another."

Despite the downright annoying subtext that people that write about the web don't bother to leave their workstations, Rogash has a point. Most of the high-profile writing that's happening on the web is only about the web. Salon writes about Hotwired, which hosts a talk with the editors of Feed, which writes about Word, etc., etc. It's probably just a function of my bookmark list, but I'm getting the sense lately that there's entirely too much back scratching going on.

I'll admit it -- I'm as guilty as anyone. From day one, theobvious has been writing about writing on the web, about other people writing about the web, and about all the tools that people use to read all the stuff that all of us writers write about on the web. And I'll also admit that I'm just as much a sucker for back scratching as the next guy, because it feels so good. But you know what? Unlike real journalists, I can afford to be a self-obsessed nabbering nabob, because I'm not relying on this to make a living.

While everyone sits around and ponders the future of Wired, I'll pass some (unwanted) advice on to the bevy of generalist technology writers out there. Wake up, folks. People have read enough stories about way new journalism and way new paradigms and way new web sites and way new visionaries. Your time is nearly up. It's time to do some real reporting.

It's time to "get vertical."

It's simple, really. If you're an net.reporter, it's time to take all of that knowledge you've gained as a regurgitator of press-release hype and put it to good use writing about stuff that actually matters. When was the last time you read a decent story on how the financial services industry is using the web? Or how HMOs are using the web to communicate with their plan participants? Or how the steel industry and the automotive industry are using electronic communication to streamline inventory management?

In my last job, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by a reporter for Wall Street and Technology about Java. The reporter didn't know the first thing about distributed computing, and I had to spend half our time on the phone explaining what Java really meant for the software industry. A monthly glossy, WS&T shapes opinions in financial services. If they had a reporter with a strong background in Internet reporting, they could be reporting on issues that are much more interesting than yet another story on the impact of the year 2000.

In the business world, the Internet is facing a serious relevance test. Companies just aren't seeing the benefits in large investments in corporate home pages, T1 access for their employees, or even Intranets. A new focus by mainstream Internet editors and reporters on how vertical industries are using the Internet could help stem the tide of Internet cynicism. Instead of sitting around holding mirrors up to one another, we should be writing about ways the net are actually being used.



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