- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

A fascinating technological phenomenon is the rise of the Web journalist a writer, usually a columnist, who appears only or at least primarily on the Web. Next week, we'll look at how to become one: equipment, software, costs, needed services and where to find them. Today we'll try to get a handle on what Web columns means for the media, the individual, and society.
The advantages of writing a column for the Web are guaranteed "publication" and, within the limits of the libel laws, absolute freedom of expression. The disadvantages are that, unless you are good, few will read you. People who buy papers will glance at mediocre columnists because, well, they're there. On the Web, readers have to come to your site on purpose.
Guaranteed access matters. Generally speaking, you are unlikely to get a column in a paper. Slots are few. Syndicated people occupy many of them. Reporters on staff naturally tend to get preference.Papers seldom hire people no one has heard of.If your opinions don't offend, you won't stand out. If they do offend, you won't be welcome.Unless you are famous or in the trade, forget it.
But if you have a computer and Internet access, for less than an additional dollar a day you can put your commentary on a Web server and get instantaneous worldwide distribution. That's magic. You can, for no more money, set up a mailing list and an automated subscription service.You can leave your old columns up on the Web, so that they will always be available to anyone.
Further, you get immediate response from your readers by e-mail. Want to collect your columns in a book and sell it on the Web? It's easy, costs less than $100, and somebody else (typically Amazon) will do the selling and accounting. All you do is cash the checks. You can do all of this from home.
We have achieved electro-populism.
Again: The Web does not guarantee you an audience. People have to want to read what you write. If they do, however, several things will increase your circulation.
First, people forward columns they like. This can provide major circulation. People will send a column to one or 50 people in their address books, who may or may not read it and may or may not forward it again.
Second, established sites like lewrockwell.com and jokeaday.com will repost your columns if they like them, either weekly or whenever you write something that catches their eye. There are countless such sites.
Third, talk-show hosts, always hungry for things to talk about, will read them on the air.Radio is less inhibited in what it will talk about than is print or television. Again, you have to have something to say but the Gordon Liddys of the world watch the Web.
How successful is the genre? How journalistically important? It is hard to know.Statistics are not easily compiled.The Web is pretty much off the radar screens of the established media.
For what it's worth: I know a lot of intelligent and savvy people in Washington (and across the country) who regard the Web as their preferred source of news and, particularly, of commentary.I'll bet you know some, too. Though I can't prove it, I have the impression that they trust the Web more than, say, CBS, and use it to check the veracity of the networks.
In short, the Web may be becoming primary.
For a suspicious public, the charm of the Web is that it is not informally censored, as the major media are, by the politics of the newsroom, or of the editor, or of the owner, or by political correctness, or by fear of the advertisers. These all tend to reduce news and commentary to the universally acceptable. The Web has no such strictures. It is a way for people to think out loud about what really matters to them. It is almost the only way to do so.


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