Better Place to Be

My last post on this site is dated December 2010. Luckily no squatters took residence in my absence. I stopped writing here simply because I didn’t have time. My responsibilities for BetaNews commanded too much of me, and I shifted personal blogging to Google+. Both are fine places to live—shared common areas—but I seek solitude and escape from the daily news grind; also, I’m sick to death of tech.

I’m not a computer or gadget geek. It’s just my career path. Twenty years ago this autumn, what was then Washington Journalism Review, now American Journalism Review, posted a story that changed my life: “The Future is Now” by Kate McKenna.

She convinced me that we stood at the precipice, where the burgeoning public Internet would forever change publishing. Many people reading my post won’t remember. In October 1993, there were no commercial web browsers yet. Mosaic 1.0 released a month later. Netscape Navigator 0.9 hit public servers a year after McKenna’s story published. She truly identified an emerging trend.

Good journalism isn’t neutral. As investigative reporter Matti Taibbi asserted last month:

All journalism is advocacy journalism. No matter how it’s presented, every report by every reporter advances someone’s point of view… to pretend there’s such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. ‘Objectivity’ is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that’s all it is, striving.

All writing is storytelling, for which there is an objective point of view—first, second or third person—and targeted audience. Based on her reporting, McKenna advocated where she saw print publishing going. I immediately recognized the truth in it.

Months earlier, in the same publication, John Morton did not convince me, and the 21st Century proves him wrong. He wrote, in June 1993 WJR:

Futurists say that in time we will carry around electronic newspapers in our pockets, ready to be whipped out to provide instant news, stock quotes and a wealth of other information that now requires reading a printed newspaper or picking up a telephone…Newspapers, though, serve a mass market now and likely will serve a mass market in the future. And the fact is, most consumers really do not have a pressing need for instant information.

My wife and I discussed making changes, from my reading of the October WJR story. She was pregnant and wouldn’t return to graphic design. I worked as as a lowly-paid editor for a general interest magazine, barely able to use the IBM PC at my desk. In January 1994, I bought a Windows 3.1 computer from a friend, who built the machines for a living—screaming Intel processor and 4MB or RAM, state of the art.

I set out to learn about computers and soon changed jobs, editing a popular medical devices newsletter. In November 1994, I took the first tech writer’s position at an insurance trade publication. Later reporting at trade pubs led to a staff position at CNET News in May 1999.

Over the next 14 years, I made a good career writing about tech. But the job never fit right. Computers aren’t my passion. Nor cell phones. I switch devices, even platforms, often because my work demands keeping abreast of the newest thing. It’s a treadmill to nowhere—a hamster wheel. There is always going to be something new. The cycle of chase is endless.

Two decades going down this path, another calls. I am reevaluating personal and work priorities. My mom went to hospital twice in May, the second following a heart attack. My 91 year-old father-in-law recovers from an emergency room visit and hospitalization at the new year. Their situations remind: You can always get more money, but time is gone forever.

Meanwhile, I am dissatisfied with tech news, which is more about spreading gossip than real reportingchanging economics and the rise of aggregators are major catalysts. The business model of giving away content for free, recouped through advertising, is a bottomless pit of false rewards. There is too much available advertising space for ad rates to support paying for good content. Writers cannot sustain a living, and readers are cheated from the immersive experience that, say, books—or newspapers of old—bring.

So I step back. For years my personal motto was “Why not?” In 2013, started as “Change the rules” and now is “Movement is life”. I’m an anarchist, in some ways, a believer that disruption brings positive change. That’s the start of my tech writing career, looking at how the Internet would disrupt news and information.

I’m tired of writing stories about technology. I want to use it to tell stories, and earn a living in process. The How is a work in progress. Storytelling is a better fit. I like how it feels.

Storytellers use many forms. I chose the title of this post in homage to singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, whose lyrics brought forth wayward characters, like ballad “Better Place to Be”, from album “Sniper and Other Love Songs“. The reference also is about change, which starts with dusting off this abandoned site that bears my name. Photos for archival posts were sized for a different WordPress theme. Pardon that. I’m still housecleaning, which will include migrating content from Google+ to this site.

But writing here will be occasional and purposeful. My storytelling plans are more ambitious.

Editors Note: Any posts between December 2010 and this one were later copied from Google+.