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TheStreet Open House

The Internet Returns Journalism to the 19th Century

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last Friday, I wrote that the Internet turns journalism into a dialogue. Some readers may have detected a little nibble at the hands feeding me.

But there's another aspect of Internet journalism from which this site benefits enormously. The Internet makes journalism a cult of personality.

In this we're seeing a return to the 19th century. The great journalism institutions of our time were once just start-ups, feeding off the personalities of their founders, reflecting their passions. I'm talking here of people like James Bennett of the New York Herald, Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune and Charles Dow of The Wall Street Journal.

The best way to illustrate how this is happening is through my own beat, technology.

I will begin at my beginning, with my first online job, at Newsbytes. It was founded by Wendy Woods, a San Francisco TV journalist, and it reflected her personality. It was, in some ways, the very first blog. It was infused with her being and when I joined her in 1985 I took that lesson to heart, putting my personality into my own work from Atlanta.

Newsbytes grew, on The Source, on GE's GEnie service, and then on CompuServe, until it had 12 journalists around the world. One colleague, in Sydney, even renamed my son, faxing a page from the local dictionary so John Frederick Blankenhorn would not be a John Thomas.

Then Newsbytes was sold to The Washington Post and within a few years it disappeared. Newsbytes was not a "property," it was Wendy and it could not survive without her.

A year after leaving Newsbytes I interviewed for a job at an online start-up then called C|Net. Their plan, like Wendy's was to combine TV sensibility with Internet news. After the dot-bomb killed the great print publishers -- Ziff-Davis, IDG, and CMP -- Cnet became the dominant force in tech journalism.

So it was when I joined, creating an open source blog for their ZDNet unit, in 2005. But blogging was changing the game, opening it up to a 19th century sensibility. I treated my blog as my property, but it wasn't, and Cnet was increasingly becoming an institution, faceless and corporate. This may be why CBS (CBS) bought it in 2008, but even then the company held a dominant market position.

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