JOURNALIST Q&A: Paul Boutin

His blog is a must-read for many, but, with regular writing gigs at Slate and Wired, Paul Boutin is right in the mainstream of tech journalism.

His blog is a must-read for many, but, with regular writing gigs at Slate and Wired, Paul Boutin is right in the mainstream of tech journalism.

Here, he talks to PRWeek about the areas that interest him. PRWeek: In recent months, you have written about a diverse range of topics, from Howard Dean's campaign to Gmail. What do you look for in a story? Paul Boutin: I focus on topics that have buzz in the mainstream among normal, decent people who couldn't find Silicon Valley on a map. It's best if there's a Future Shock component - tech whipping through everyday lives. Then again, I also write about music and cars whenever anyone lets me. But most important is that I have something new to bring to the party, rather than filing a "me-too" piece. The flap over Gmail scanning its users' mail messages was a perfect example. Conan O'Brien had joked about it on national TV, yet no one outside Google had actually been allowed to try it yet. So, duh, I asked for a test account. While the privacy pundits were competing for Most Orwellian Scenario in hopes of scoring a three-minute spot on Anderson Cooper, I posted a hands-on write-up on Slate. PRWeek: Given your background as a software engineer and manager, you're qualified to answer this: What are some of the biggest misconceptions or mistakes in tech coverage? Boutin: You've outed my dirty little secret: I don't actually read much tech coverage. Most of it is either trade news or service journalism I'm not interested in. It's either "CEO Denies Merger Rumor" or "Which Camera Phone is Right For You?" If Wired hadn't come along 10 years ago and broken the mold for what a magazine about tech could be, I'd probably still be doing corporate IT while enviously reading P.J. O'Rourke. PRWeek: What led you to leave the software business for a writing career? Boutin: I just wanted to do it. Wired provided a perfect opening, but in hindsight it's not such a surprise. I learned to read and write when I was 2 years old and have always been a heavy magazine reader. My favorites were the great satire mags of their time: Mad, National Lampoon, Spy, and of course now The Onion. When The Onion made up a vapid quote from me in one of its stories, I was thrilled. PRWeek: You recently penned a piece defending Google's Gmail program from the complaints of privacy watchdogs. Are there any particular privacy issues that aren't getting enough attention? Boutin: There's certainly no lack of coverage when it comes to privacy. But there's no sense of priority or severity among issues, and poor discernment between real intrusions and hypothetical scenarios. Every new angle anyone comes up with becomes Privacy Panic of the Week and gets the four-alarm treatment. As a result, the [USA PATRIOT] Act gets pushed out of our national discourse by stupid stuff like DidTheyReadIt.com. PRWeek: What technological innovation are you most looking forward to? Boutin: A laptop battery that lasts longer than the one I've just run down yet again. Name: Paul Boutin Publications: Wired, Slate Title: Contributing editor Preferred contact method: paul@paulboutin.com Website: www.paulboutin.com

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