You folks, my adoring Web Informant public, have sent me close to $30,000 of your money during the past four years. Sadly (for me), none of this money has ended up in my pocket: All has gone for some good cause or another, for which I am (and those causes most certainly are) grateful and appreciative. The outpouring of your generosity illustrates just how close the relationship is between writer and reader, especially within this electronic context.
Take Chris Allbritton, a former AP and Daily News reporter who now can be found at www.back-to-iraq.com. Allbritton collected about $15K in a single request earlier this year. His purpose was somewhat more prosaic than mine: to have his audience pay his travel expenses to report on the Iraqi war, or whatever it is called now that the war is officially over. He and his laptop and phone snuck over the Turkish border in March. It is in response to writers such as Allbritton that the Columbia Journalism Review has noted, "Not that anyone in the public can perhaps be a journalist, but that anyone who is a journalist can have a mini-public on the Net."
And what better way to tie yourself to your readers than to ask them to open their wallets. Let me tell you, it works and works well. Adam Engst runs TidBITS.com and supports himself on reader contributions and advertising -- and he has about 10x my readership (of which I am envious). And I am not envious of Karyn Bosnak, who got several thousand dollars from her readers to get her out of shopping debt and a book deal too.
So you can see that the whole notion of your role, as reader, and my role, as writer, is changing by the minute. Witness the explosion of blogs around the Net, telling you probably more than you want to know about their authors' daily life. In doing some research on a mathematician today, for example, I found out that she is planning on marrying her domestic partner. Now, I really didn't need to know she was gay-- not that there is anything wrong with that-- or how long her relationship had been going on, or her cats' names and diets, etc.
Blogs just make it easier for writers, or would-be writers, to vent and share. They, together with e-mail and discussion groups, are closing the gap between writer and reader. I remember when I started Network Computing magazine -- back in the early 1990s -- when it was controversial to list an author's e-mail address at the end of the article. Now such contact info can routinely be found on mastheads, and in many daily newspapers and magazines, too. And letters to the editor are routinely published with e-mail addresses in some publications.
It is this sense of connectedness between author and reader, and the sharing of ideas going both ways across the Net that ties us all together. And it isn't so much pure technology but a sense that we are all in this endeavor together. Sometimes I have taken a reader's note to me and turned it into a Web Informant essay. Some might call this lazy, and some might call this being co-opted, when the lines between reader and writer get fuzzier. I like to think that I am on the cutting edge of journalism.
We at VARBusiness routinely quote from, celebrate with, and share panels at conferences with our readers, the top computer salespeople and channel marketing executives. Does that make us worse for the wear and tainted journalists? I don't think so. We get to serve our audience better because we spend so much time with them, and understand what they are thinking and what their concerns and challenges are, not to mention their favorite foods and pastimes and local sports teams.
The same thing is happening with Allbritton. He took his "assignment" to Iraq seriously, and spent lots of time listening to his "public." He would follow up on suggestions from his readers -- after all, they were footing the bill. My own situation with Web Informant is similar. I get tons of e-mail reactions after each piece and suggestions for follow up and expanding these essays, not to mention the massive outpouring of charitable giving from all over the world when I take off for my next bike ride.
And don't worry, if you are feeling left out or have some extra money to donate, I will be in touch.
Entire contents copyright 2003 by David Strom, Inc.
David Strom, email@example.com, +1 (516) 562-7151
Port Washington NY 11050
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