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Brief Moment of Reflection

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Six years ago today, Ziff Davis Enterprise and I parted ways. My earning power has never been the same, in part because of the circumstances affecting my profession, undesirable San Diego, Calif. location, and age (mid-50s, gulp). At the time, I wrote two blogs: Microsoft Watch, which I inherited from the esteemed Mary Jo Foley, and Apple Watch, which I created. Got to wonder: What kind of legal issues would there be if the second blog continued today in context of the Apple smartwatch and the company’s well-publicized tactics for extinguishing anything brand offending.

ZDE laid me off with offer to stay on, in different capacity and 36-percent pay cut. I declined and only occasionally regretted the decision. Groveling commands no respect and is no position from which to advance. My role would be nothing more than a journalist past his prime meeting a 5-story a day quota that would require the kind of news writing that pollutes the web today. The Google free economy is not a sustainable source of revenue for most news sites—more so for those with niche audiences. 

ZDE’s flagship then, as I presume now, is eWEEK. Before researching this post, I hadn’t looked at the site in years. Not out of bitterness but boredom. I am not an IT professional, which is the intended readership. If not writing such content, there is no appeal to me. Heartening: My good friend Daryl Taft still works for eWEEK. We first met at CMP, in the late 1990s, when writing for Computer Reseller News. A decade later, we became colleagues again, when I joined the ZDE staff.

Sadness and self-recrimination creep up every April 30—not for being laid off for first and only time in my work career, but for what I later lost. They say the Internet never forgets, but that’s a lie. An urban legend. Sometime following my exit, ZDE purged the two Watch blogs, an act unthinkable. The archive still had historical value, if nothing else. All my writing for three years, much of it content I would still back-reference today, is gone.

Four months ago, I commanded: “Writers, Own Your Content!” You cannot assume that your news gathering will be preserved. I don’t write in Microsoft Word, or any of its competitors. I am a cloud child, inputting directly into whatever online content management system an employer users. Even if I had hard, digital copies of everything posted from 2006-09 and the previous three years (my mid-2000 decade employer was acquired and purged the old blogs), they still wouldn’t be online.

That’s why I started cross-posting with different art and headlines, after, in December 2014, securing permission from BetaNews to do so. Theoretically, Google penalizes such practice, but I don’t give a frak. I don’t write for Google, or for pageviews. I write for people!

The only post I have left from my Microsoft Watch life is “The iPhone Moment“, during the first smartphone’s sales launch. In February 2014, I restored to this site the post with its original June 30, 2007 date. Today, I add one more; for reasons not remembered, I archived the webpage.

My attitude now is the same as then: Audience is everything. I am guilty of abandoning my readership by moving away from focusing on Microsoft. My BetaNews colleagues do a fine job. But as I reflect on Microsoft’s Build conference currently underway, my hope in the company renews. Maybe, just maybe, the old dog can learn new tricks.

Microsoft starts to really get contextual cloud computing, something I warned on the Watch blog in 2007 would be necessary to compete with Google (ah, if only more than excerpts remained). Context is everything: Your stuff available anytime, anywhere, on anything and in any way that you need it. That’s the era we live in 2015. Post-PC is Apple’s little urban legend. Enough of that.

You can stop reading here or click through to my last Microsoft Watch post, “Thank You and Goodbye“, restored today with original post date.

Photo Credit: Anne Wilcox (January 2015)

6 Comments

  1. Out of curiosity, are there not any sites or apps which exist for journalists such that they can retain the articles they have written throughout their career into a sort of “writers time capsule”. Surely, Evernote can capture a link to a article and save it. Similarly I think Pocket can also be used to do just this.

    • Joe Wilcox says on April 30, 2015

      I know of no such app or service, Puleen. But either would have a market.

      The problem with something like Evernote is when the content is removed by the publisher. The stories I wrote for CNET from 1999 to 2003 are still accessible. But Jupiter Research is gone, and the content posted there from 2003-2006. Then there are the Watch blogs. Poof!

      Something else: Most publishers want to retain full copyright ownership over writers’ content. That deters bloggers or journalists from online archiving or cross-posting their work.

      • Nice article Joe. Good to hear the aftermath perspective of someone in a changing industry. I started college with dreams of going into the music industry. By the time I graduated the big box stores were closing, Napster was on fire and I knew I’d be looking for work in another industry.

        Just curious but can’t you just self archive your articles with PDF prints as they are posted? Does that somehow discredit the source?

        • Joe Wilcox says on May 1, 2015

          I wish, Eric.

          Self-archiving preserves the content for the writer, but not for the audience or the historical record if the originating site vanishes. More media sites will close or merge, laying valuable content to waste.

          As for the music industry, I remember Tower Records closing and wondered: How stupid? Record labels could have kept the chain open cheap. To them, low-cost marketing, if nothing else.

          Are you happy where you landed, after seeing where music was headed?

          • What if a service existed which allowed for the same thing to happen and it would curate the “PDF” content on behalf of the writer and the property.

            The reason that you mention “More media sites will close or merge, laying valuable content to waste”, I think that holds true for any industry. Sometimes content needs to be “purged” or “archived” for performance and other reasons.

            To solve this, here is a possible approach:

            A new App/Service is created to store content in “read-only” / “PDF” state for any content its user indicates, they want to store.

            The Content Writer (author) obtains permission from their respective employer “Media Company” to have the App/Service archive the content on their behalf.

            Once the permission is obtained, the App/Service captures the said article / post and saved it as a PDF (including the name, URL, DATE, etc of the media site) and stores it for as long as the content writer wants and purges it once the content writer manually removes it.

            Are there any issues / challenges you see here? There might be, which I (as a non-journalist) may be unaware of.

            If the issue is getting the media site to provide permission, i think this might be a mute point if this becomes a standard procedure.

  2. Joe Wilcox says on May 1, 2015

    Copyrights are sticky, unless the media site content is published Creative Commons. Gawker does this.

    Few media companies will relinquish rights under any circumstances. That’s my experience. But the content should never be removed in the first place.

    I like the archive idea wouldn’t do so to PDF. HTML or plain text is better.

    There is a larger issue. Many writers are hired on contract or freelance, which should give them freedom to write once, publish everywhere. During the magazine print era, they could negotiate for usage, rather than relinquish all rights. Then writers could repurpose the same reporting and research for stories published elsewhere. One story might become three or four, adapted depending on audience. Online, that’s much more problematic with Google imposing search penalties for duplicate content and when so much content is aggregated.

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