- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

SAN JOSE, Calif. They're getting a little nervous in the hills and hollows above Silicon Valley. Every day things are not necessarily getting better and better.
Some of the dot-com zillionaires, the twenty-somethings who had all the answers, most of the moxie and a lot of the cash only months ago, are back on the street, delivering pizza.
And nowhere is there more nervousness, when it isn't despair, than in so-called "on-line journalism." On-line journalism was the cutting edge that was supposed to have sliced, diced and pureed old-fogey paper-and-ink journalism by now. Some of the cutting-edge prophets stand exposed as mere prophets without profits.
The political conventions were supposed to be the great coming-out parties for cyberjournalism. www.Voter.com had Carl Bernstein live and in person, and something called www.Pseudo.com spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for a skybox at the Republican convention to flaunt a big banner beneath its window to make old-media newspapers and television networks take notice.
Hundreds of "cyberjournalists," all cyber and no journal, and video reporters raced hither and yon, "refreshing" stories with unedited gossip and usually unverified rumor. Everybody in America who ever wanted to be George Will or Walter Lippman (who he?) had an outlet for opinion, whim and vagrant notion and fancy.
"It was the greatest political cyberparty of all time," wrote William Powers, the press critic for the National Journal's Convention Daily (a journal of paper-and-ink eagerly read by all the reporters and pundits at the conventions), beneath the big headline: /Internet Alley: Boulevard of Broken Sewers./
There were dot-coms for everybody. Dot-coms for feminists, radical and otherwise. Dot-coms for Christians, fundamentalist and otherwise. Dot-coms for vegetarians, animal lovers, grunts, grannies and gays and probably even a dot-com for those who aren't necessarily gay but who try to be merry or jolly, or at least cheerful. The dot-coms were segregated from the grown-ups, clustered in a tent or ballroom of their own, grandly called Internet Alley, in little gray booths usually equipped with a television set hidden away under the counter, like an adult magazine, tuned to C-SPAN. The dot-com folk kept up with what was going on by passing the tedious hours watching TV or reading newspapers.
But there was a catch. Nobody came to the party.
"All those drab little gray booths, each bearing the name of a dot-com you'll never visit," observed Mr. Powers after a stroll down the avenue. "You avert your eyes from the forlorn faces of the people sitting under those signs, waiting for someone, anyone, to drop in. They're supposed to be the vanguard of a fabulous revolution, but they look more like poor old Lucy at her shrink stand, hoping Charlie Brown or Snoopy will happen by for a chat."
Indeed, the only people more irrelevant at the conventions were the delegates to Arianna Huffington's "shadow convention" and the demonstrators outside the convention halls trying, usually in vain, to get arrested for a lost cause.
Not long ago, newspaper editors and publishers called in an expert to tell them what to do about their vanishing subscribers, whom they were choking on diets of political correctness. Naturally, the expert they called in didn't know anything about news. But Andrew Grove, chairman of Intel Corp., had all the answers. Unless newspapers "retool" to compete with the dot-coms, he warned the American Society of Newspaper Editors, they had three years before sliding into irrelevance. "Nothing sharpens the awareness of a situation," he said, dulling Dr. Johnson's famous aphorism, "like the sight of the gallows."
Now the dot-coms are winking out. Paper-and-ink dinosaurs are thriving. There's a lot of traffic to the news sites run as auxiliaries by newspapers, with reporters who recognize news and editors who know how to sift out the irrelevance. But nobody, not even the Wall Street Journal with its 460,000 paid on-line subscribers, is turning an on-line profit.
Silicon Valley all the people who thought they could make a quick buck with the Internet forgot that the Internet is boring (it was invented by Al Gore), in the way that a cabinetmaker's tools are boring. A skilled cabinetmaker can make a beautiful chair or chest of drawers, but there's nothing inherently exciting about a hammer, a saw or a carpenter's awl.
This is obvious to people without Ph.Ds, but there's even a new company organized specifically to provide the "content" for Internet sites the geniuses overlooked. A revolutionary idea.

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