by Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist
It’s stunning, really, how many people think that journalists and editors are defined solely by their medium; as though we would whimper into nothingness when the presses shut for the last time. Lest you fall for this latest of urban myths, let me lift the veil and show you what you do not see, what you cannot know, about journalists. In this case, a very special group of journalists called the Internet Press Guild (IPG). After you sneak a peek, tell me then if the new media world is indeed truly new, and conversely, if the old journalism guard is not the edgiest media of all…
The Secret Retreat Where the Elite CIOs Meet
Let me begin with an illustration of sufficient shocking magnitude to make the most pressing of points. The world we live in operates on many levels. The levels with the most impact are typically the most inaccessible, the most invisible and the most surprising. Take for example, The Secret Retreat Where the Elite CIOs Meet, an independent business unit of Gartner Research called simply The Research Board.
Behind the doors of an elegant town house in midtown Manhattan, The Research Board’s super elite CIO members, a group of 100 from the world’s wealthiest and most powerful companies, “mingle, pour over research, debate best practices, and entertain presentations from technology vendors which would give their last bit of RAM for an audience with these CIOs who collectively wield billions in I.T. buying power.” And here you thought the halls of power were contained to a hill in Washington, D.C.
What you don’t know happens without you; what you don’t know happens to you. Ignorance is neither a gateway nor a shield. For edification and protection, the world needs reputable, reliable, seasoned journalists who operate within a strict code of standards and ethics.
The Research Board has been in operation for nearly 40 years. Would you like an update on The Research Board’s work? It’s an exceedingly difficult story to get and solely within the purview of seasoned journalists. Or, did you imagine you could simply Tweet them up and they would conveniently, and without discretion, DM or email you back in rich detail?
The Ambulance That Will Not Come
If you depend solely on citizen journalists, bloggers, Twitter, and “free” content for the news, you’ll likely not hear another word about The Research Board or any number of closed doors facing any battery of streets. These are not the stories where one needs only to jockey for a press pass, jot a quick blog, send out a green intern, or hire a $1.50-per-story writer in a foreign land.
Even Google won’t help you much: a search will net you a vague LinkedIn page; a tell-nothing web site of a single, lonely page; and a nugget or two mentioning this or that staffer. Go ahead, bust out the search engines and see what you find.
It is impractical and delusional to believe that journalists can easily be replaced with technology. That’s like saying you don’t need an ambulance service because you own a phone: while connected, these two things are not interchangeable. The same applies to journalism and technology.
I could have chosen any one of thousands of exposés bylined by IPG members from nearly any time frame. Why did I choose one of my own stories as an illustration? Because the IPG is a fiercely independent group of talented technology writers and no one member speaks for any other, much less for the entire group. Therefore, I offer only my own observations. But if you look closely, you’ll find IPG member bylines on nearly every important technology news story told over several decades. If you want a list of IPG members from which to compare, you’ll find it here.
IPG members have always been there telling their stories, all up in your face in a newspaper, a magazine, a book, or on television, radio, or online. Some of us are older, some of us quite young, but all have chops and all have earned their street creds repeatedly in the harshest of environments.
Incompetence isn’t tolerated in this group; the IPG has been known to eat its own.
IPG began years ago as alt.internet.media-coverage. As the founders of the group tell it “in response to an infamous net kook who began to alter the signal to noise ratio, the IPG was formed as an invitation-only private mailing list, as happened with a lot of Usenet groups at the time for similar reasons. a.i.m-c quickly lost its signal to noise ratio too and some of the members formed the IPG to ‘take a stand against shoddy, inaccurate reporting about the Internet.’”
Now IPG members are outstanding technology writers offered membership by invitation only. Such is issued by the most demanding and exacting of all judges: their most accomplished peers. By the way, there is no conspiracy here – entirely too much independence and cynicism among members for any collusion to occur -- but we do discuss issues of the day and, on occasion, that may include you and your products.
The IPG and the Death of Journalism
Many IPG members hold degrees in technology or science rather than in journalism and/or were programmers, consultants and CIOs before they were writers. All were the very people that told you, through their news stories and yes, even in early blogs and now in social media, about technology developments pre-Internet forward. And, we’re still at it.
Readers won’t pay to read our stories you say? Well, that may prove true. But that doesn’t mean we lack marketable skills. If the media world can no longer afford us, many of us will likely move on. Probably to more profitable privately-owned positions where the knowledge we possess, the relationships we have built over decades (yes, pre-social media and beyond), and the facts we can dig up are more highly valued.
The media never owns any journalist’s talents and contacts. We carry those with us. Thus, the top journalists will not fade with the ink on printing presses. A few may open new media outlets; some will do private analytical and investigative work. But, if the best and the brightest of journalists do not remain journalists in the end, it will be the public that suffers. That’s not arrogance; it’s a simple hard truth. The writers will merely tell their stories to a different audience.
The IPG web site is new; some parts are still under construction. In all these many years, we’ve only recently felt a need to reveal ourselves. Several of us are curious to see who comes calling and who doesn’t.
IPG journalists continue to write while the media crumbles around them because their heart is very much in the craft. They are each aware they have other choices in careers. They know, for instance, that there is a lucrative market for information among start-ups, venture capitalists, tech firms and the like on entities such as The Research Board and for intros to key people, like Peter Sole who is so powerful that Bill Gates himself pitches Microsoft before him. Gates has personally addressed the Research Board on at least 15 occasions, beginning in 1988 when Microsoft was in its formative years.
Even so, IPG members would rather stay in journalism despite relatively low pay and the continual bashing. The one thing that will most certainly make them change careers is reader desertion.
And so it is that the ending to this story is all up to you, dear reader. All up to you.
This is NicheKnot, where news niches knot into the big picture, signing off (for now)…