Interview: Dan Farber

Dan Farber has led the development of ZDNet's worldwide network over the past decade, from burgeoning Web site to one of the pre-eminent tech news brands online.

Dan Farber has led the development of ZDNet's worldwide network over the past decade, from burgeoning Web site to one of the pre-eminent tech news brands online.

Prior to his move to the Internet, Farber was a VP and editor-in-chief at PC Week and MacWeek. He is one of CNET's more active bloggers and remains one of the most trusted voices in tech media.

PRWeek: What are you writing about these days?
Dan Farber:
Enterprise software, and general industry trends. In some cases, unique tidbits of information that deserve to be surfaced. The luxury is that I don't have a beat, so I get to cover what I think are important areas.

PRWeek: One issue that has been getting a lot coverage, and that you've touched on, is Google refusing the Department of Justice subpoena to turn over information regarding their users searches. And beyond privacy issues, it also raises some reputation issues for the companies involved.
Farber:
It's a complex issue, because it really involves politics and US government. It puts each of these companies in a situation where they are conflicted - they don't want to raise the ire of government; they want to be seen as a good citizen. But the challenge these companies have is that reputation plays a major role, because customers can vote with their clicks. And that power puts these companies in the crossfire. So Google decided to take a stand, and the other companies [Microsoft, Yahoo, and America Online] decided not to and tried to finesse it. Google feels the government is overreaching, that it's fishing, and that if they comply, the government can ask for more and more.

PRWeek: What do you think about the grief Google is getting for censoring searches in China?
Dan Farber:
Google agreed to censor searches and not have blogs. This is a case where Google is not taking a stand. It feels that it's better to be in China and abide by the laws there and not take a stand. You can chalk that up to shareholders, who are no doubt happy they are making money there.

PRWeek: What major stories will we see this year?
Farber:
The [Advanced Micro Devices] versus Intel story will continue. We'll see more stories about on-demand versus traditional software, and more about open-source software, which is a business model that works for a lot of companies.

PRWeek: A lot of prominent tech companies have launched major branding campaigns in the past year. Why are companies suddenly focusing on their brands?
Farber:
In a market that commoditizes its technology, many companies are fascinated with thought leadership and big ideas. It's what distinguishes them in today's crowded market. So marketers are trying to claim the high ground.

PRWeek: What's your take on blogs? You seem to be a pretty prolific blogger.
Farber:
It's more about immediacy, and being able to write something and get it on the web very quickly. It allows you to use the news story as a seed, and support what you're saying, so you can provide more commentary. Bloggers tend to be more incisive.

PRWeek: I'd also like to get your thoughts on the state of the media when it comes to covering the tech industry.
Farber:
I think quality journalism still exists. Journalists are now doing a bit of blogging. The quality has not been diminished at all because of blogs. More people are participating in the discussion

PRWeek: What distinguishes CNET's coverage, and how has that changed or evolved?
Farber:
We have a few dozen blogs, and it reflects [positively] on our reputation that they're well read. We've been around 10 years, and we've continued to evolve. But we maintain our focus on business and technology. We have constant news updates, and white papers, and our blog network, which provides more insight and opinion. We're just always looking to provide that extra layer of information for people.

PRWeek: What about the state of tech PR?
Farber:
It's a very hard job. You're trying to sell something to a very skeptical audience. And those who know what they're talking about, who are well-informed and persistent, can get the job done.

You have this mix of reporters and bloggers, podcasting and corporate blogs. So the ways to tell a story are much more complex, but far more rich. There's this pendulum shifting toward the users having more say in the matter.

PRWeek: It seems companies talk about blogs and new media, but few seem to be doing anything about it, and very few of those that do seem to be doing it well. Why is there such a disparity?
Farber:
That's exactly right. Everyone can talk a good game about having more transparency and being more authentic. But there's a wide gap between doing it and doing it well. The smart companies will embrace it, not just to influence journalists, but
to engage with customers.

Companies have to face up to the fact that this is something they need to stop thinking about and actually do. And it needs to come from someone who can represent the company as an external voice that customers and media can attach to. It's not technology for technology's sake. Companies shouldn't do it because it's cool.
Companies really need to consider what their goals are first. If it's a tighter connection to customers, or collaborating more easily, then it's worthwhile. Companies need to look at new media not just as technology, but as tools to help them communicate better.

Name: Dan Farber

Outlet: CNET Networks/ZDNet

Title: Vice president of editorial (CNET Networks)/Editor-in-chief (ZDNet)

Preferred contact method: dan.farber@cnet.com

Web sites: www.cnet.com; www.zdnet.com

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