That was five years ago this week. As we celebrated News.com's fifth birthday this past Wednesday, the "techno-weenie" comment was a powerful reminder of how far we have come as a news organization.
When we launched News.com in 1996 our very pedigree was suspect. We proclaimed our mantra to be "Tech News First," but skeptics rolled their eyes: Since we had no bona fide credentials--that is, no affiliation with a print or broadcast media property--how could we have any credibility as an online news organization?
Indeed, our very ability to publish at will was seen as a weakness. The Los Angeles Times even wrote a story whose gist was that the online news organizations were driven by a "publish first, verify later" mentality. Why? So we could take credit for beating the competition by mere minutes--fact checking be darned, the article suggested.
I am happy to report that the Los Angeles Times had to run a correction admitting it did not quite get the facts right.
As if that weren't enough, CBS news legend Walter Cronkite--rated the most trusted man in America at one time during his working days--chimed in with his own opinion about the explosion of news and information on the Internet:
"I'm very worried about the Internet," Cronkite told the San Francisco Chronicle back in 1997. "People get on there and pretend they're giving the news and have absolutely no ethical standards on which they're operating and no facilities, nor experience, to do it. It's a very dangerous thing. Probably, when the printing press was first invented, everybody could put out a broadsheet and say anything they wanted. And they did. I think the same thing is happening today with the Internet.
"I have a feeling that will shake out," he added, "and eventually the standard news organizations, both the networks and newspapers, will dominate on the Internet for news dissemination."
Uncle Walter, I am relieved to say, may prove to be only half-right. "Standard news organizations," it appears, may indeed end up controlling news dissemination on the Web. The early promise that anyone with the will and desire to be a publisher could publish--because there were virtually no barriers to entry--didn't quite pan out.
It turned out that entering the field was easy, but staying the course was not.
Sure, the likes of Salon.com continue the struggle as new-media organizations, but the effort is as much about survival as it is about journalism. And of course there are the "bloggers" who continue to disseminate news and information to their small but faithful audiences.
As for the staff at News.com, we'd like to think we are a success story in our own right. After five years and thousands of stories, I can say with a great degree of confidence that our parentage, the credibility of our journalism and the integrity of the medium itself are not the foremost concerns on people's minds. What's the proof, you ask?
For one, the fact that News.com is still around means it has a solid readership. If you, our readers, didn't trust our journalism, you would have moved on (advertisers surely would have followed), and we, too, would have joined the dot-bomb heap. For another, if our credibility were suspect, there is no way the likes of The New York Times and MSNBC.com would be publishing our stories on their respective Web sites.
It's also gratifying that News.com has won the respect of its peers. This is evidenced by the countless number of stories and scoops picked up and credited by major newspapers, as well as by the number of awards News.com has garnered through the years.
Interestingly, we have won as many awards for our breaking news as for our news features. From the beginning, our goal has been to provide both the immediacy of broadcast and the depth of newspapers. I believe we have achieved great success with this formula.
To more clearly showcase our in-depth, contextual stories, we recently launched a new section called "News.Context" where you can find our Special Reports, Perspectives and other food-for-thought pieces. Please check this out and let me know what you think.
I'd like to think that in the years to come, CNET and News.com will fit Uncle Walter's definition of "standard news organizations." After all, it took a guy selling billboard space to come up with the idea of a 24-hour cable-news operation. And ironically enough, Ted Turner's CNN is now part of the biggest media conglomerate run by a guy who started a lowly online service called America Online.
As for the reader who questioned our techno-weenie credentials: I hope you are still reading us. I'd like to know if we have assuaged your early doubts and concerns. Write to me so I have something to talk about when News.com celebrates its 10th birthday.