Ten Years After -- And Still Hungry
An essay on online journalism and the 10th birthday of this column
Just recently, I was home alone. Bob Dylan was on the stereo, which always makes me a little introspective. I opened a Heineken and propped up my feet, swinging my left arm over my head. After Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times they are Changin,’ I had done a pretty thorough self-evaluation.
Mustering the energy to stand, I headed upstairs and into my attic. That’s where most people store stuff they can’t quite ditch and it’s where I kept boxes of old stories that I had written, all since the late 1980s. That’s a lot of containers. After studying those boxes for a few minutes, I sat down and went through them -- for one of the first times since they were initially put there.
Even though the articles mainly covered Washington D.C.-type issues, they served as a marker for where my own life had been at the time that they were written -- sort of like how older songs on the radio make you feel. Many of the early stories were on banking and insurance, vivid reminders of leaving my beloved city of New Orleans and setting up shop in the nation’s capitol.
My beat changed in the 1990s. And with that, so did my life. That’s when I began covering energy and the environment. But it was not until 2002 that my career got a major jolt, and my sense of fulfillment truly blossomed.
The internet age had dawned, but barely. While there was no inkling that the digital age would upend the print world, there was still the knowledge that this new technology would be transformative. I wanted to take that ride. And that chance was given to me exactly 10 years ago.
At that time, Bob Bellemare, who had read my stuff and who had been sourced in my stories, was chief executive for a division of Scientech. He approached me, along with his colleague Jon Brock, and asked if I wanted to be the author of IssueAlert, a daily online column. I gratefully accepted and with the help of co-editor Nancy Spring, this move ushered my work into journalism’s fast lane.
Right after my first column was filed, readers started weighing in and giving me feedback. They hungered for this style of insightful and analytical journalism, and wanted to participate in the dialogue. Traditional newspapers and magazines have never had that type of real-time give-and-take between readers and reporters.
Online journalism, by contrast, shatters those brickwalls, democratizing free thought and giving the audience the last word. Besides enabling a better rapport with readers, the digital age allows the day’s top stories to be chosen by search engine formulas, not by hand-picked editors.
Initially, my columns were re-run in whole or in part by various publications, and even translated each day into Italian. The “message” thus spread beyond our core readership. And as the internet developed, social media formed. Today, my analyses are tweeted and re-tweeted. They are listed on Facebook and on Google Plus, among a host of other internet gathering places.
I’m not just getting much better acquainted with those who consume our product but also those who flirt with social media. My circle is much broader and includes a host of new sources and writers, and even students seeking career advice.
The pursuit of journalistic excellence is no small task. None of this would now be possible if not for the publishers of Energy Central who, through their dedication and hard work, have created a dynamic forum and a successful enterprise -- one that is giving me the opportunity to do what I love.
In 2005, Steve Drazga and Mark Johnson, who have become close personal friends, picked up my column and named it EnergyBiz Insider. Today, I work most closely with Randy Rischard, whose belief in journalistic integrity and the First Amendment is as passionate as my own.
In January 2012, a few months before this column’s 10th birthday, Forbes began profiling our work. It makes me smile, giving me some affirmation that after nearly 24 years of laboring in the trenches that it is all paying off. Rest assured, I’m extremely hungry and I’m far from done -- true, considering that my two kids still have to be educated for another 10-15 years.
Journalism will continue to evolve. But I’m in it for the long haul and only looking to the future. That’s why I kept only a few of those older, dust-covered stories, quietly laying the rest of them curbside. As Dylan sings, “Come gather ‘round people where ever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown.”
EnergyBiz Insider is the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has also been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.