Tech Journalist Quits the Internet

Paul Miller, a blogger who covers tech for The Verge, is quitting the Internet for a year. He'll continue to file stories for the site by pioneering a revolutionary new technique in online journalism: Calling people on the phone.

Here's how Miller imagines the phone-driven journalism process working:

"I'm going to try to use the six degrees of separation a little bit," he said on Tuesday afternoon in an interview -- by phone, of course. "I have a lot of co-workers and they know a lot of people and so anybody I can get a phone number for I'll call that person and maybe they have a phone number for another person. So I'll have to follow that sort of chain."

I have some experience practicing journalism without an Internet. The life he romanticizes of gathering information through phone calls, library research and good old fashioned shoe leather was mine at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from roughly 1989 to 1994.

The job was great, but being a reporter became so much better when the web arrived. At least until some guy named Craig started killing all the newspaper jobs. No longer did I have to annoy sources and prowl libraries for each morsel of news I could gather. The entire world was serving up an all-you-can-eat information buffet on every subject under the sun -- and some of it was even factual!

The only things I miss about the old days are the sexy reference librarians with corrected vision. Tina, Linda, Carol, Dennis. Sigh.

Contrary to what Miller thinks, when calling people by phone you don't have to get their number through word of mouth. There are huge books published each year that list phone numbers. I wish I could tell him this in an email.


Part of me, the condescending part, is thinking "Oh, that's adorable. How old is this boy? Really."

Another part of me is thi- well, no. There is no other part. As a reporter at three different newspaper during my career as a print journalist, I couldn't imagine not talking to people directly, whether on the phone or in person. You're right, Rogers, the internet was a huge boon to the fact-gathering part of the job but it couldn't, and still doesn't, replace direct contact with one's sources.

I don't know whether to sigh sadly or just roll my eyes.

Maybe I'll do both.

When I was involved in the AP/Drudge Retort copyright dispute, only one of the dozens of bloggers writing about the situation called me up to interview me: Simon Owens.

My first general assignment news writing gig in 1976 quickly taught me telephone dispatches don't breath, lack color, or pulse and fall flat next to stories framed around person to person encounters.

You miss the nouns, the people, places and things around your source, their facial tics, body language, and often times, you miss the entire story. Also, if you're not sitting next to tomorrow's news, some lowlife assignment editor will always send a photographer making twice your wage, while you sit packing away stale donuts behind your desk. Everyone lies and you can't hear or see it on the phone. Or Skype either, for that matter.

I relearned this happy lesson when I launched a local news site in my home town five years ago, a site based loosely on Mister Rogers' People were afraid to talk, especially online, but I have the great good fortune to live in the middle of town, in the middle of a genuine village, across the street from the public library. I could walk out my door 100 paces in any direction and collect a week's worth of news in 20 minutes.

Town fathers soon noticed and spent $100,000+ trying to shut me down. Yes, I pushed every last one of those thieving assholes out of public office.

You're welcome.

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