David Hudson on Fri, 14 Mar 97 13:04 MET

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nettime: Getting Talked About

[I spent much of this past weekend roaming online zines, forums and mailing
lists and kept bumping into commentary either directly related to or
sparked by Wired. When Geert's "A Push Media Critique: On the rebirth
strategies of Wired magazine" came in via nettime, I thought: Is this a
runaway meme, or what? Plus: Geert's analysis was very good. I'm extremely
pleased to have it run this week at Rewired. (see .sig)

While we exchanged a couple of messages on brushing it up a bit and so on,
we've seen three responses on nettime. I got a kick out of David Mandl's
and Tilman Baumgaertel is absolutely right (see below). As always, McKenzie
Wark has the background and the sharp sense to know how to place the
current push frenzy into proper perspective.

Below, some notes, and I do stress -notes-, I've put up on the Rewired
board and tidied up a little...]

Wired is actually doing a pretty good job. In the past few weeks, by
pulling the plug on Wired UK and running its current cover story, Wired is
getting itself talked about again. As Howard Stern [obnoxious US radio talk
show host; his inevitable movie, based on his inevitable book, is a big
deal in the US at the moment] has shown so well, you don't have to be a
likable figure on the media landscape to matter. It's a thin sort of
mattering, but if that's what you're after, there you are. Success!

In "Net time", neither the demise of Wired UK nor the March "PUSH!" cover
are "news" anymore, but the aftermath continues to be noteworthy. At least
I've felt it worth noting that there seem to be several interesting
discussions going on at present which can be crudely filed under four
categories. Taking them in order of appearance:

1. Culture clash. Wired Ventures' pulling the plug on Wired UK makes sense
from a purely financial point of view. That's a hard pill to swallow,
especially because, as many have pointed out, Wired UK may well have been
on the way to finding its own unique voice, and it was certainly on the way
to more respectable circulation numbers. But if the money isn't there, it
isn't there.

Three articles in particular, Alex Balfour's for the Netly News Network,
former Wired UK associate editor Hari Kunzru's in the Telegraph and Douglas
Rushkoff's in the Guardian, all point to compelling factors that may have
contributed to the financial crisis. Had they been seen to earlier on,
money might not have been such a problem.

Essentially, Wired HQ wanted Wired UK to be just like the mothership, only
British. Hollywood has been known to make the same mistake over and again.

The tone from on high was evidently not very sympathetic, understanding or
particularly smart. "I didn't enjoy being treated like a yokel," Kunzru
writes, "and knew British readers would not want to buy a magazine that was
always making them feel inferior."

To overgeneralize, in the States, the Net is viewed as an economic
phenomenon, and without a doubt, this is the most important aspect to Wired
HQ. But in the UK and Europe, it simply isn't yet. And when and if it does
become one, its shape will unquestionably be different from that in the US.
Even if the attitudes and politics weren't so very different, the political
and economic structures are.

This isn't to say there isn't a scene in Europe. As Kunzru notes, while he
wasn't running into renegade entrepreneurs turning start-ups into gold
mines in the UK, he was seeing quite a lot of action: "...exciting
designers, musicians, hackers, artists, games companies, graphics start-ups
- a uniquely British tech scene." In other words, in Europe, the Net is a
cultural phenomenon -- quite a difference. Given the accumulated European
experience at the top of Wired HQ, it's nothing less than astounding that
this difference wasn't recognized -- or even capitalized on.

2. Critical clash. Maybe it was the name, but for some reason, Rushkoff's
article stirred up the old ideological debates again. Sure, this debate has
been smouldering for some time, but strangely, this piece sparked a brief
flash on the Netly list and then an all-out bare-fisted free-for-all on the
Well some call "dazzling", and in fact, there does seem to be a general
agreement at the moment that this is indeed the much sought after "best
topic on the Well." Now, they own their own words over there and their
names as well, but you can imagine. I don't suppose it's breaking any taboo
to name the topic, though: "Goofy Leftists Sniping at Wired."

Old books have been dusted off and thrown at their authors and even the
names of the Great Dead have been invoked to back up an argument or two --
or several.

The name of the topic is interesting because it gets at my main point here,
which I'm making only half in jest. The name has "Wired" in it. Regardless
of whether or not "push" is yesterday's news, regardless of the political
infighting and financial ups and downs, "Wired" is still a catalyst that
can yank some pretty interesting personalities from the woodwork and get
them to reveal a bit more about what they think and how they think it.

3. Ethical clash. Moving on to the "Push!" cover, we enter the tangled mess
of journalistic integrity. In short, Wired's undeniably unique treatment of
"push media" just happens to coincide with Wired's own ventures into the

Whether this was a conspiratorial coup or simply rotten timing is a
question being hashed out at Electric Minds (in Media Shock) and (again)
the Well. Either way, it looks bad. Amusingly, however, the "Push!" piece
was so over the top, some have even suggested it was a parody, and one even
went so far as to parody the suggestion that it was a parody by parodying
the very conversation he posted into -- fortunately, if you chose to take
it with a grain of salt in Wired's wound, it was a fine laugh indeed.

4. Technological clash. As noted, "push" ain't news. Hell, even Rewired can
do "WebFlashes" [our silly name (tm) for 3 splashes before the article
proper]. Two weeks ago, Michael Sippey even noted that the essential idea
ain't so new, either. And yet, here we are, measuring the pros against the
cons. Because it made the cover of Wired.

Geert's pretty much covered this one, and while I wouldn't go along with
every word (you wouldn't believe how often I have to explain to people -in
the media business- that I don't personally concur with every word run [on
Rewired]!), I think he wraps up the issues nicely. There is a massive
convergence going on, and the media one parallels the economic one.

Wired's cover story, despite the standard "on the other hands", places the
magazine on the wrong side of the issue, the opposite side, as a matter of
fact, it has claimed to represent in the past. That the piece wasn't
terribly informative, didn't handle the conflicts of interest as cleanly as
it was certainly capable of doing and was late to boot makes the phenomenon
of "Wired as catalyst" all the more remarkable.

About that timing. Soon, we'll be treated to an epic piece on the Well. I
have no doubt that it'll be a great read, and I look forward to getting my
hands on a copy. But turn around, look behind you: Notice where the
paradigm shift is now.



Netly News Network
(It's a Time/Warner/Turner thing, but the guys running it are alright; you
can join the list from the front page)

the Telegraph
(free registration required, but it only takes a moment -- run a search on
"Hari Kunzru")

the Guardian
(go to the archives and run a search on "Rushkoff")

the Well
($$$ required, but not much for Web access only)

c|net news item on Wired's push ventures
(an exceedingly neutral report)

Electric Minds
(free registration)

salt in Wired's wound
(I don't know, I've just sorta begun to look at them this way at the moment)

Michael Sippey's Stating the Obvious article
(Keep an eye on Michael Sippey)

Steven Johnson's "Paradigm Shtick"
(FEED's take on "push")


David Hudson                    REWIRED <www.rewired.com>
dwh@berlin.snafu.de             Journal of a Strained Net


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