FROM THE ARCHIVE: Mainstream tech talk elevates Mossberg's renown

--- Originally published April 21, 2003 --- Walt Mossberg sees himself as an average tech user. By writing his Walt Street Journal columns that way, he's become the trusted industry voice for everyone from everyday consumers to Bill Gates.

--- Originally published April 21, 2003 --- Walt Mossberg sees himself as an average tech user. By writing his Walt Street Journal columns that way, he's become the trusted industry voice for everyone from everyday consumers to Bill Gates.

Walt Mossberg has written about automotive strikes, Three Mile Island, the oil crisis in the 1970s, the collapse of Communism, and the first Gulf War. But despite the fact that he's covered some of the biggest moments in history over the past 30 years (or, perhaps, because of it), there are a few things Mossberg still can't tolerate. "It amazes me how many people don't do their homework," says Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal's resident consumer technology guru and one of the most influential technology writers in the country. "People still send pitches for things I never review. I don't review software to run dentists' offices." Hired by The Wall Street Journal in 1970, straight from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Mossberg eventually began to tire of covering world events and not seeing his family. In 1990, he decided he wanted to write about his personal hobby: computers. "I have absolutely no technical background," explains Mossberg. "I'm bad at science. I am a very mainstream user. And it was different from what was being written when I started. Most columns were written for geeks by geeks. "The editors liked the idea," Mossberg continues. "It was quite unusual to flip the formula on its head and to be a champion of the average person. It became a big hit. There was a sense of surprise that we were doing this, and people wondered who the hell I was. 'Where did you come from?' were the first words Bill Gates spoke to me." Never before had a column approached technology from the vantage point of the average user, someone who wasn't a novice or intimidated by technology, but wasn't someone who lived and breathed technology either. "Among the many reasons that Walt is regarded as the most influential journalist in hi-tech is his rare ability to use his passion and insight to get right to the core of how technology directly affects consumers," says Katie Cotton, Apple's senior director of corporate communications. Apple is one company Mossberg has showered with praise, so much so that he says Gates once told him, "Why don't you put the same headline on everything - 'Buy a Mac'?" But while Apple's iPod, Handspring's Treo, and Minolta's DiMage Xi are among his personal favorites, Mossberg doesn't let his personal preferences dictate reviews. He recently reviewed desktop weather information programs, despite the fact that he "could care less about the weather." Neither has he always had such a soft spot for Apple. "I gave Apple negative reviews in the mid-1990s," he says. "After [CEO Steve] Jobs came back, things got better at Apple, and my reviews reflect that. Of course, there are those who don't like me and my work, but I feel that I'm tough and I'm fair. I'm a seasoned reporter. I've tangled with the Pentagon. I had the White House mad at me. The FBI has investigated my stories." Mossberg recognizes the power he wields, although he credits much of that to the influence of The Wall Street Journal. In kind, the Journal recognizes Mossberg's popularity and influence by letting him expand from his Personal Technology column to also writing Mossberg's Mailbox, The Mossberg Report, and The Mossberg Solution. "He is at the top of the [media relations] list because he is the most influential writer out there," says Waggener Edstrom EVP Colleen Lacter. "He has built an incredible brand for himself and the Journal. He's the trusted voice for the average person interested in technology. He believes that technology should not be confusing, and has never wavered on his original premise." "He couldn't care less about hype," adds Margit Wennmachers, cofounder of OutCast Communications. "He just wants to know why it's a good product. It's not about him. He doesn't try to make himself sound smart, or pump himself up. But he is incredibly smart. All he cares about is how he's going to do a good job assessing the product." While Lacter says Mossberg has certainly influenced the development of technology, making it easier for people to use and more relevant to their lives, Mossberg isn't as sure. He'd like to think his writing has had some influence, but he says he isn't about to make that conclusion. But it's a fairly easy conclusion to draw when looking at what he has planned next. "D: All Things Digital" is Mossberg's digital technology conference, co-hosted by fellow Journal writer Kara Swisher. The three-day conference features the likes of Gates, Jobs, and executives from eBay, Google, AOL Time Warner, the Music Picture Association of America, Yahoo!, Time, and the Recording Industry Association of America. Very few journalists could command such participants, many of whom will allow themselves to be interviewed by Mossberg and Swisher before an audience. "I'd like to think my columns have had some influence," says Mossberg. "But regardless of me, any column in The Wall Street Journal would have influence and power. I just think I hit a nerve with people who felt technology writers were ignoring them. We gave them what they wanted." ----- Perfect pitch Walt Mossberg shares some tips for PR pros looking to approach him
  • "No one is obliged to read my columns, except PR people who want to pitch me"
  • Don't send pitches in story form, or tied to "something phony or hokey"
  • Be prepared to provide mobile and home numbers of contact people
  • Be willing to send materials overnight
  • Treat Mossberg's assistant Katie Boehret with respect. As his researcher and reporting assistant, Mossberg does not "take well to those who mistreat her"
  • "Be careful what you wish for. If I agree to review or write about something, it's going to be an intensive experience. I need intense responsiveness" ----- Walt Mossberg 1970 - present The Wall Street Journal 1970 Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

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