It occurred to me a month ago that it’s been 10 years since I left The Examiner — “The Examiner” being The Monarch of the Dailies, The San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst’s first newspaper.
Leaving the paper was much more than leaving a job: I was headed to an online startup — talk about a step into the unknown — from a world I had nearly always loved and almost never stopped complaining about. I was so excited about getting a chance to work at The Ex — I started as the midnight wire editor, a job no one there really wanted — that I remember honking and waving at one of the Ex delivery trucks on University Avenue in Berkeley the day after the news editor broke down and decided to give me a tryout. I liked The Ex going in, but my real passon was for news itself: being close to the flow of information and creating something from it that might help readers understand the world a little bit better.
I was there for 12 years. Since I walked out of the newsroom, just after midnight on January 2, 1996, I’ve been on the payroll of more than half a dozen other places. My longest run was three years and change in the newsroom at TechTV (a good job with a great group of people; the channel was killed by a bad new owner). I have spent all or part of several years free-lancing doing all kinds of different writing from investigative journalism to marketing hackery to academic grant-writing. I’ve made editors happy; I’ve made them unhappy — usually with my seeming disregard for deadlines; and they’ve done the same for me. I’ve found myself, several times, in the startup world. In short, they were 10 years I didn’t see coming. The only things I’d change about them would be to learn more from the mistakes I’ve made, to not spend so much time worrying about what’s going to happen next, and to make my deadlines.
But I’m really writing to look forward, not back. Since the first week in January, I’ve been back in the start-up world. I’m working with Ted Shelton, someone I crossed paths with at my very first startup, on a news project called The Personal Bee (www.personalbee.com; and yes, I have a new blog that goes along with the project, too). It’s an exploration of using RSS feeds — a method of syndicating the content on frequently updated sites like blogs and those maintained by newspapers — to create a new way of editing, packaging and reading the news. Ted’s strong preference is to call the current very early implementation of the service “an experiment” instead of “a beta.”
Will the experiment be the next big thing? Well, there’s lots of competition out there in what’s commonly called the Web 2.0 space. Obviously, I hope the project succeeds, that investors reap a big reward for taking a risk on a new idea, and that a decade from now people might know what the heck I’m talking about if I mention its name (unlike the site I went to work on 10 years ago, which is nothing more now than a bunch of good yarns to swap, unpleasant memories of repeated layoffs, and an empty URL).
In a personal sense, though, the Bee’s success would be just icing on the cake. I feel lucky to have a chance to work on something that allows me to put some of my old and new news knowledge to work — I’ll write more about that on the other blog. And for bonus points, I get to work with a friend I respect very highly and do it close to home (my commute is a 17-minute walk to downtown Berkeley).