I caught up with Dan Farber last week at CBS/CNET offices on 2nd Street. He’s been back in San Francisco for about a year after working as Editor-in-Chief at CBSNews.com in New York for several years.
Dan was one of the very first tech journalists, and with more than three decades in this business, he’s also one of the most successful tech journalists around.
He has led large editorial teams at many news magazines and he never missed a stride when the blogging explosion began to push journalists to work harder, faster, and better, by learning new skills in audio, video, and photography.
When I was at the Financial Times I often ran into Dan, and then when I left in 2004 to become what I later learned was the first journalist to leave a major newspaper to become a professional “blogger journalist,” I saw Dan even more — at all the evening events that the daytime journalists would rarely cover.
I would see Dan everywhere, everywhere I was looking for stories: at conferences, press events, media salons, and parties.
On the bus…
One of my favorite times with Dan was when we were on John Furrier’s Bloghous Bus, careening through the rain and the Salinas hills, headed towards Las Vegas and the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show. It was a very surreal experience.
Marc Cantor is standing next to me, singing beautiful opera; Robert Scoble has his baby on one arm while he mugs for Rocky Barbanica’s video camera, with Loic Le Meur. The other bloggers are running around simultaneously interviewing each other for each other’s podcasts, and blog sites — it’s all media, all of the time.
Our only Internet connection is my Verizon modem, which somehow, amidst all the hills, is holding its signal more reliably than our bus is holding the rain-slicked curves.
Amid all this swaying tumult and G-force, I catch Dan’s eye and I realize we both have the same smile of bemusement and pleasure at seeing all this blogger media mayhem going on around us. Unadorned, unabashed, and unpretentious.
A spiritual ride…
After nearly as much time in the media business as Dan, the emergence of blogging and its open formats, was a tremendously welcome and refreshing development. Like Dan, I’ve greatly enjoyed the “blogger” addition to my journalistic endeavors, and the new skills I needed to learn in video production and photography.
I love the creative freedom, the instant publishing, and the chance to innovate within a fresh medium. Although I feel very self-conscious when I say this, blogging has also been an incredible spiritual journey.
Always a newsman…
To survive this long as a journalist and editor, in this careening media industry, you need have as strong a news instinct and drive as Dan’s. He says he really likes the dynamic aspect of news, being always-on, always ready to file, always hot on the story whatever time it happens.
The demands of the modern newsroom has burned out many journalists but working faster, better, and harder never seemed to be a problem for Dan. From what I could see of his prodigious output, he did it all without breaking a sweat, as if he was now finally free to use all his newsman superpowers.
There is no longer any technical or production barrier to stand in the way of a newsman’s most treasured first principle: Be first. Then own the story as it develops through the day and into the next, through your expertise and industry contacts.
Original reporting is key to building the best news organizations. ”You can only get it here” — is the credo that drives original reporting. And it’s what many of today’s news sites should rediscover before it’s too late.
“I’m not as fast as I used to be,” Dan says with a smile that says he’s still pretty damn fast. His seniority at CBS gives him the freedom to work on whatever he wants, longer articles, and a book project.
Even though he doesn’t have to be involved in the rush of the newsroom there’s a restless pacing in his eyes when he talks about the CNET News.com team, and the need to be on top of the news, and all that follows: The first sharp hit of breaking news, multiple updates, news analysis, maybe a feature, plus producing all the photographs, video, and audio that’s required.
A troubled industry…
I’ve been writing about the media industry being in trouble ever since I left the Financial Times in 2004 — before even the media industry knew it was in trouble. The troubles haven’t gone away and they are accelerating.
I’ve spoken with Dan about this topic many times because I’ve become obsessed with it and I find it endlessly fascinating.
Dan says that he’s confident that media companies will survive by focusing on expertise, that people are drawn to media created by trusted experts. But he agrees that the great challenge of how to pay for it hasn’t been solved.
I’ve called it the biggest failure of the Internet. And I thought it would be solved long before now — 10 years after I first started reporting on this issue.
We talked a lot about what keeps us both doing what we do, when so many in our profession have chosen to leave for gentler, and certainly more generous pastures.
I told Dan that I’ve been tempted lately to do the same, to escape the financial pressures of publishing SVW. My landlord has an unhealthy obsession with money, especially my money. I’m trying to help the poor guy and that might mean joining a larger organization, with larger resources. Maybe even changing jobs completely.
I love to do what I do, which is going out and talking to people, then coming back and writing stories of significance and worth. I want to publish as much original reporting, original analysis, original insights — as I can muster and express.It often doesn’t feel like work.
Being a journalist is satisfying and difficult to leave. I understand completely why Dan is still at CBS and still doing what he does.