Interviews: David Kirkpatrick

David Kirkpatrick has been writing for Fortune since 1983, and has seen every major leap in the technology industry for more than two decades, from the rise of the PC to the advent of blogging.

David Kirkpatrick has been writing for Fortune since 1983, and has seen every major leap in the technology industry for more than two decades, from the rise of the PC to the advent of blogging.

He began writing about computers in 1991, and now focuses on many facets of the technology industry and their impact on business and society. Kirkpatrick spoke to PRWeek about the state of media covering the technology industry, from the mainstream business press to bloggers

PRWeek: What are your thoughts on the AMD antitrust lawsuit against Intel? Some people have been surprised AMD has made their efforts so public [AMD took out ads explaining the lawsuits]. The San Jose Mercury News ran a recent article quoting antitrust lawyers describing AMD's actions as more of a marketing campaign than a serious legal action.

Kirkpatrick: I think some of the things being said are not too far removed. AMD thinks they have legitimate claims. But some of their arguments seem to be based on hearsay. At least that is the way it seems to me. I'll be surprised if they can prove all the things they claim in the lawsuit. They threw in everything but the kitchen sink. It's a litany of complaints against pretty much every PC company. AMD seems to be doing this now because they are in a good position to capitalize on the publicity. They've had some good sales, and impressive new contracts. They are on a bit of a roll. But their market share has been immovable, and they can't explain it. I think AMD is positioned to do well in the future, regardless of the lawsuit. Intel is their biggest challenge. And after all my years as a journalist, I've learned there's a lot to be said for sheer visibility. And until the last year or so, AMD did not have that much visibility. Intel is such a marketing machine.

The lawsuit gives AMD the ability to stay in the limelight, which is not to say they don't want to pursue the lawsuit or believe in what they are saying in the lawsuit.

PRWeek: You wrote recently that a relaunched Red Herring shows some vitality. What's the state of tech media today?

David Kirkpatrick: Technology journalism, and the media industry, are so fundamentally different than when the first Red Herring was published. Magazines are not as important as they used to be, despite the fact I write for one. We go in-depth, and we have unique relationships with the industry. But now it's about bloggers, and online sources. The industry is full of very tech savvy people, and they are getting their information predominantly through internet-based means.

My influence is a function of the column I write online. I find that problematic, as I have only one foot in the new world. Much of what Fortune does in the magazine isn't duplicated online. The readers want bits and bites of news and information, and get that efficiently from MyYahoo or blogs, or their local newspaper website. It's harder to get the attention of the reader for a critically in-depth story. Fortunately, Fortune's audience has not changed as much. But it is a challenge to convert that talent to the internet. Readers are more interested in bits and bites, and yet we're focused on conveying more complex, in-depth information. But blogs do offer great detail, and can get a fairly sophisticated point of view. But there's nothing like one sophisticated, well-researched, well-written article that is easy to understand. That is still the best way to get an in-depth understanding of a company or issue. We're in an age of immediate gratification, but to be a really savvy business participant, you have to immerse yourself.

PRWeek: What is the tone of the media's tech coverage?

Kirkpatrick: It's still highly influenced by the attitude of Wall Street and it is still apathetic, with the exception of marquee names such as Google or Yahoo. Wall Street thinks technology is a mature industry and not the source of wealth it once was, so the commercial media still takes its cues from Wall Street, which is a naive point of view. It ignores the way in which technology still transforms all forms of life. You ignore technology at your peril.

I don't think all of the business press is that way, however. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Fortune, are the serious business press, and they all take tech seriously and write about it well, though not how they did before.

PRWeek: You recently wrote of how bloggers can either boost or destroy a company's product and that businesses can't afford to ignore bloggers. Are companies taking them seriously?

Kirkpatrick: I don't believe so, but there are a few companies that get it. Take Apple. It doesn't have its own blogs and it actively seeks to shut down blogs about it. Then take Microsoft and its commitment to a free flow of dialogue with blogs. Microsoft is in a two-way dialogue, and thus has better insight because they hear from users. Apple is taking a risk by not doing that.

PRWeek: Why are companies so slow to embrace blogging?

Kirkpatrick: It's still new. Things change very fast now. For people who are not naturally conversant in the internet, it's a conceptual leap to get involved in blogs.

By and large, American business operates from a top-down point of view. It has evolved from a military model that says everything flows down from the top. The blog universe is based on a bottom-up phenomenon, where people share information and their power is enormous. That's a scary concept to many businesses. It's that combination of fear and ignorance that deters businesses from letting blogs do what they can do for them.

Name: David Kirkpatrick

Publication: Fortune

Title: Senior editor, internet and technology

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