How tech journalism legend Walt Mossberg got his start
Shelley Hepworth of Columbia Journalism Review spoke with tech journalist Walt Mossberg, who is retiring in June, about how he got his start writing about personal technology.
Here is an excerpt:
You founded and wrote the Personal Technology column in the WSJ from 1991 to 2013. What got you interested in writing about tech just as consumer technology was taking off? What did you sense that others didn’t at the time?
Around 1981 or 1982, I bought my first little computer and learned to program. I did that for about 10 years and it helped convince me that this was going to be a huge deal. Now, I wasn’t writing about it at the very dawn of personal computers, but it hadn’t really penetrated into the hands of average people. One of the things I realized as a hobbyist was that it was hard work; it was complicated. It took me, I’m sure, thousands of hours over those 10 years to figure out how to use my first computer, and so it occurred to me that very soon there were going to be a lot of people who were going to get these things in their homes, and they were going to be completely befuddled by it. It was my observation that the computer industry was really making stuff for people like themselves and not for average people.
There were a bunch of computer columns in a lot of other newspapers, and certainly there were computer magazines, but these were all written by geeks for geeks. My pitch to The Journal was that I wanted to write a column that didn’t use a lot of jargon, that treated people with respect for their intelligence and that did two things. One, it helped people figure out how to make this journey into technology by telling them what was good and what was bad on the market, explaining when some new development happened what it meant, what it was, who it might be for. That was one of my goals. The other one was to the use the power of the platform and the voice that I would have in this column, because it was an opinion column in a way, was to push the industry to stop ignoring normal people and stop treating them like they were stupid. That was it. That was my idea, and it worked.
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