Why is the Rise of Internet Credibility Suddenly on the Minds of Pundits - Again?

As my esteemed colleague Jimmy wrote yesterday, it's as ironic as it is overdue that the Wall Street Journal has been saying good things about our industry of late. The Journal, of course, has as its mandate not so much reporting on news but reporting on how news effects markets. So, it has seemed, at least to this observer, that its writers have never really recovered from the spring of 2000.

Why else to wait until this week to finally report on a credibility wave that has been rising for about a year?

Today's New York Times takes the Journal piece a bit further, with Verlyn Klinkenborg writing that the rise of Google has spearheaded the "Rise in Internet Credibility."

I'm not sure whether to agree or disagree with this assertion. Anyone who has read this column before knows that I think Search is the Killer App. But, I keep thinking, as market-based thinkers return to praise of our medium that the same mistakes being made before may be coming back to us.



In short - why does a rise in credibility only come about when the investment opportunities come about?

Let's face it. Google's pending I.P.O. is what has been driving this turnabout among the major media. Even Klinkenborg writes, "Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for Google's initial public offering, an event that many people hope will begin a new round of I.P.O.'s, a round that carries us back in equity and optimism to the late great tech bubble at the end of the last century. Credibility, from the Latin word Credere meaning "to believe," is tested by a number of means. One could test the credibility of our medium by making a career out of it, or by investing in the publicly traded companies that a small minority of us works for within it.

I think that's what has irked me somewhat about this examination of credibility. I think that the writers who are returning to the Internet can be criticized for being somewhat dilettante - ish. Any mass or market-making media today has to base credibility on investment quality. These reporters and editors are writing only for investors, not for advertisers, brands, consumers, or even the general population.

Think of it like breakfast. Who is more committed to your breakfast, the chicken or the pig? You may eat more eggs than bacon tomorrow morning. But, the pig obviously has a larger stake in your breakfast. Outside of our industry, it seems that every pundit is writing for the chickens. Well, as a pig myself, and writing for you pigs as I am, who are more committed to the breakfast that is Internet media, I feel compelled to do something about this besides my weekly oink herein. It's something I have been doing for some time, and I'd like others to do it too.

We all know that our industry has suffered enough, and we all know people - or are people - who have lost a ton of money and/or their jobs in this field. But, we're not just doing it still because it's fun or because our friends are in it. I'd like to think - and I'm hoping you'll correct me if you disagree with this - I'd like to think that many of us are still in this because of the Credere - because we believe that it works.

Of course, there are many of us out there who are in it for short-term gain, and I've met enough dummies (in every media) to know that some are in it just to pay the rent. Obviously, there are empire builders too, who think they'll be able to cash out. (They'll all be at the Search Engine Strategies panel next week called "Cashing Out: The Preparation and Implications." That's SO 1999... who thinks of these things?)

But, as is the case with any service industry, all the pecuniary benefits are supposed to follow the service - solve the client's problem, meet the client's objective. It's supposed to be about the ideas and the strategies and the relationships and the execution, isn't it? Have these ever been in short supply on the Web during the past 3½ years? Or is it just that a great many people lost their shirts in AOL stock, and are still bitter about it?

I respect a great many people in interactive. I've worked in Education, Executive Branch Public Affairs, on Capitol Hill, and even in nuclear regulation. But, I'll take the creativity and pure brainpower of this crew over any of those. So many cool ideas and on a palate that is closer to its genesis than it is to its maturity. Credibility for online? It's not news to us.

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