OLD Media Moves

WSJ's Mossberg can make or break tech products

May 7, 2007

Posted by Chris Roush

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; Walter Mossberghis persistent criticism of Prodigy probably hastened its demise. (Steve Case, AOL’s former chairman and C.E.O., says that Mossberg’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’—a comment that Donna Dubinsky, the company’s former C.E.O., calls ‘a huge thing’—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 company’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 Times’ 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 Apple’s forthcoming iPhone, a combination cell phone and music player, the blog Engadget.com had more traffic than the Times’ 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 doesn’t want to be viewed as a ‘prima donna.'”

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