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How Ted Nelson Changed the Journalism Business

Stocks in this article: AOL TST IBM

This means any publisher, or authority figure, who thinks they can stand above this medium soon learns better. In the mid-1990s, at the Atlanta Press Club, I heard Cox Enterprises Chair James Cox Kennedy predict he'd win the Web by simply "repurposing" existing content. I had to hide my laughter behind a pillar.

If you think journalism means writers, editors or publishers can dictate to the market, any market, then the Internet has been a horror show. If you think a journalism job is a sinecure, that it confers status, that being a talking head makes you better than anyone around you, the Internet has been your comeuppance.

This medium levels the playing field. It destroys hierarchies. It rejects authority. At its very heart is the idea you can fly away from this page at the touch of your hand, or turn a nobody into somebody by "word of mouse."

Want to make money online? Build community. Nurture linking, nurture the people who link to you, build a community around a shared industry, place or lifestyle. Don't just talk, listen.

That's why sites like The Huffington Post , now part of AOL (AOL), and Seeking Alpha are doing so well, sometimes even at the expense of companies we love like TheStreet.Com (TST).

When you put barriers in front of comments or access, as so many print newspapers do, you lose. So the number of jobs goes up, just their locations change. Notice the affiliations claimed by the talking heads you see on TV. Most are now working at Web sites that encourage community.

This remains hard for old-style print journalists to get their arms around. They assume that because we're filling Web pages with words we should be the final authority, that if we make a mistake it's an unpardonable sin. But we all make mistakes, and the beauty of this medium is how easily mistakes can be corrected, how many fact-checkers there are, and how grateful we -- the writers -- need to be to them.

To you.

You're not just readers. You're not just users. You have the power here. Even 35 years on, it drives publishers and editors crazy. But if you can understand that the crazy commenters are just hurting their own causes and that the others are offering you free wisdom, it's wonderful.

Let me summarize. This is not a column. This is a blog post. A column is the final word about something. A blog post is the start of discussion, an invitation for you to engage, with me, with the story, with one another, providing a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

So when someone asks me who taught me journalism, I just say Ted Nelson, and smile.

At the time of publication, the author had no investments in companies mentioned in this article. .

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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