WSJ's Mossberg can make or break tech products
Ken Auletta of The New Yorker profiles The Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg, considered to be the best, and most powerful, tech writer in business journalism.
Auletta wrote, “In 1992, he began championing the Internet service provider America Online for its simplicity, calling it far superior to its competitors, CompuServe and Prodigy; his persistent criticism of Prodigy probably hastened its demise. (Steve Case, AOLâ€™s former chairman and C.E.O., says that Mossbergâ€™s column ‘helped move us from the status of just another wannabe to a potential contender.’) In 1996, after Mossberg called the handheld Palm Pilot a ‘breakthrough product’â€”a comment that Donna Dubinsky, the companyâ€™s former C.E.O., calls ‘a huge thing’â€”its sales surged. In February, Mossberg praised the site blip.tv for the quality of its Web-based TV shows; according to Dina Kaplan, the companyâ€™s co-founder, the Web site had a thirty-five-per-cent jump in viewers in the first twenty-four hours after the column appeared.
“Reviews of digital products and advances have become commonplace. The magazine PC, among others, has reviewed products since the eighties, and Wired covers technology with the avidity that the Washington Post brings to politics. David Pogue has been the Timesâ€™ technology critic since 2000; Newsweek, Business Week, and Fortune all have regular technology critics. But the digital world inevitably democratizes information. A Web site, for instance, may be devoted to a single product. On January 9th, when, at the annual MacWorld conference, Steve Jobs, the C.E.O. of Apple, offered the first glimpse of Appleâ€™s forthcoming iPhone, a combination cell phone and music player, the blog Engadget.com had more traffic than the Timesâ€™ Web site.
“Few tech columnists, though, write as clearly about the subject as Mossberg. Nor is it likely that any print journalist in America is so richly compensated by his newspaper. Some journalists, such as Thomas L. Friedman, of the Times, earn more if one factors in speeches and books, but when, recently, Mossberg signed a four-year contract, two Journal sources told me, his annual compensation approached a million dollars. Mossberg refuses to discuss his pay; a friend with knowledge of the negotiations says that ‘pay has always been an issue at the Journal,’ and that Mossberg doesnâ€™t want to be viewed as a ‘prima donna.'”
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