Thomas quits VentureBeat for 'bold experiment in open-source journalism'
[After this was posted with an "April Fools!" headline, Owen Thomas told me via email: "Today is April Fools' Day, true. But I ain't fooling. I'm really joining the Daily Dot!"]
Owen Thomas, who has been VentureBeat executive editor, says he's going to be founding editor of the Daily Dot -- a site that "find[s] stories of lives lived online and tell them, in a publication that's not merely on the Web or about the Web, but of, by, and for the Web. The team of writers we assemble will forge links not between pages but between people, and if we do our jobs well, we will find an audience that wants to help connect the dots." More from Thomas after the jump.
From: Owen Thomas
Subject: Where's Owen going? I'm on the Dot
Date: Apr 1, 2011 2:22 PM
As many of you know, today I leave my post as executive editor of VentureBeat for a new opportunity. I've joined the Daily Dot, a media startup, as its founding editor.
What’s that, you ask? The Daily Dot is a bold experiment in open-source journalism about the biggest and indubitably most awesome community in the world: the Web community.
Sixteen years ago, in my very first Web gig as an intern at Mother Jones magazine, the progressive bimonthly, in between publishing articles to the Web, I spent a lot of time answering readers’ emails. Inside the magazine, we were excited about the potential for doing journalism in new forms and ways. But our audience? They wanted to chat.
Wherever people gather and talk, that’s a community. We used to define community by place: a geography imbued with meaning by the people who inhabit it. But as Robert Putnam noted in Bowling Alone, geographical communities have grown fractured through long commutes, television watching, and the general anomie of modern life.
What's replacing them? The Internet, which has become the fabric undergirding any meaningful community today. A few pioneers saw faint signs of this in the '90s, as the potential of the Web first unfolded. But now it's becoming a reality, which is why the time is right for the Daily Dot, the Web's first hometown newspaper.
A decade ago, many critics saw the Internet as another atomizing force, driving people into their CRT-lit basements. That notion of surfing alone has crumbled as the world has gone wireless, freeing us to live in the real world while staying connected to virtual ones. Increasingly, we find meaning through the links established by the screens we carry. The intimacy of touch reinforces the sense that we're staying connected, not separated, through technology.
Since that first gig online, I’ve rocketed from old media to new media and back again, from print to online to television, from Time Inc. to Gawker Media, from NBC to VentureBeat. What I've found works best is serving a community that needs definition and recognition -- the validation provided by fact-finding, reporting, editing and the other storytelling arts.
There are glimmers of this happening everywhere already, from MTV's "Diaries of Facebook" to Comedy Central's "Tosh.0." But I'd argue these experiments still treat the Internet as an exploitable resource, grist for the media mill rather than a place filled with actual people who deserve the dignity of journalism.
So that's what we hope to do at the Daily Dot: Find stories of lives lived online and tell them, in a publication that's not merely on the Web or about the Web, but of, by, and for the Web. The team of writers we assemble will forge links not between pages but between people, and if we do our jobs well, we will find an audience that wants to help connect the dots.
We’ll start with that oldest of online media, the one where I got my start: an email newsletter. (I’m heartened that this low-tech format has become retro cool lately.) You can sign up for it on dailydot.com. It will be issued weekly leading up to our launch, and maybe even afterwards. In it you’ll get a little sample of the Dot’s editorial scope and voice, as they develop in real-time.
We’ll also use the newsletter to tell you about the Dot as it matures, from our methodologies to our startup drama to the business itself -- advertising, new hires, editorial priorities, and more. We are invested always in our readers and what they need and want to know about the online communities they inhabit. Part of this means being radically transparent, something we think is the first and most crucial step towards building the credibility we need.
We’re also not above a little navelgazing -- what kind of self-respecting media organization do you think we are, anyway?
The newsletter will also feature contributions from the most excellent Nicholas White, the Dot’s CEO, and the man who made me dream anew of the immensities of the Web. He’s like a pre-knighthood Richard Branson -- a madman media mogul in the making. That’s a story we’ll tell, too. (Just in case we run out of fascinating people to cover, we will reserve the right to manufacture a celebrity in-house.)
Nick grew up in the news business, and brings a decade of experience running very successful community news operations. His own transition and compelling vision for the future of news is part of the fun for both of us. And the best thing is that he is, and always will be, first and foremost a journalist -- a trait I’ve always sought in a boss.
Over time the newsletter will turn into a series of community assets which will turn into a destination site which will turn into, we hope, the next great media brand. (And there I’ve given away our master plan for world domination. Ooops. Don’t tell anyone?)
If you want to receive the newsletter, please go to dailydot.com and sign up. We’d love to have you along for the ride.
Are you in? Tell me your story, too. Let's go!