Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Australia's answer to Udell: who?

Commenting on journalist-cum-coder Jon Udell joining Microsoft, Frank Arrigo of Microsoft Australia asks:

It got me thinking - who is the Australian John Udell? ----- Mark Jones ? Paul Montgomery ? Phil Sim ?

Does such a person exist?

Does it matter?

Any suggestions?? Especially since I am also looking for someone with a passion for technology and also a desire to change the world ?

The short answer is that there is no one who qualifies. To be an Australian Jon Udell, you would have to not only be a respected practicing journalist with a long and decorated career, you would also have to be a successful author of software products, have launched your own successful Web site/s, have the solid credentials to be paid as a consultant to other companies, and have a reputation for evangelism for pioneering technologies. In Udell's words, an "alpha geek".

Australian technology journos, on the large, are not actually geeks. They may be prosumers of technology, but when it comes to knowledge and history of code or engineering, the vast majority haven't progressed much further than BASIC on their Commodore 64s, if that. That's not a knock, since journalists are trained to be generalists, and many journalists working in IT would much rather be reporting for general news desks. There are a number of Aussie IT journos who have cut code for a living, perhaps most notably Eric Wilson. I'm sure there must be other examples I don't know about, but none have reached Udell levels.

To answer another of Frank's questions: it does matter, because we need a Udell clone out here to help transition the IT journo community as the industry evolves (or devolves). Over the last five years or so, IT publications in Australia have shed most non-essential permanent staff and now rely on those ex-employees as freelancers to fill out their pages. It has got to the point where some publishers find it hard to replace their permanent staff because the freelancers enjoy their unstructured lifestyle so much. There have been some rumblings of journalists realising this situation can't last, as in the launch of Hydrapinion, but I think before this cycle finishes there will be some more radical ventures that challenge the economic structure of the industry. I'm involved in discussions for some of them so I can't say too much, but suffice it to say that I think local IT journalists are too smart not to eventually figure out that Web 2.0 is not a threat to their livelihood, but an opportunity which they are the best equipped to exploit. The Beer Files is a step in the right direction, but someone can do better than Stan Beer and Stuart Corner have at creating a new economic model for professionalism in local new media.

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