OFF THE GRID

Here’s Why Dilbert Loves Newser

Aug 18, 10 | 7:37 AM   byMichael Wolff
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It’s often a bitch to explain new media. None of this stuff makes much sense if you don’t use it—and if you resist it. It’s as irritating as it is opaque. Technology in the way it reduces and simplifies is, let’s face it, vulgar. I usually explain Newser by saying, in more highfalutin language, there’s all this free stuff out there, it’s crazy not to use it (key the harrumphing of the traditional news community, who believe I’m a bastardizer, opportunist, and thief). I wish I could explain it better. I’m grateful that Scott Adams—Dilbert’s creator—does.

One can only hope for a dedicated user like Adams who is, he said Tuesday in a blog post, “psychologically addicted” to Newser, feeling a need to check it “twenty times a day,” for reasons that seem to confound him. “WTF,” he declares.

Adams intervenes in the intellectual property debate by comparing free and linkable news to recipes. Recipes are freely distributed. Anybody can make anybody else’s dish—still some versions are glorious, some execrable.

“Newser's business reminds me of cooking in the sense that there is no barrier to entry. Everyone has access to the same ingredients, which in this case is content from the Internet. Anyone can summarize that content and put it in little boxes on a website. Anyone can buy stock photos. But there's something else going on,” he says.

“Newser works, I believe, because somewhere in their back kitchen is an editor who has an uncommon feel for what stories to highlight, how to summarize them in a folksy voice, and in what order and combination they should appear. There's some genius happening there. When I read news from other places, I often come away feeling deflated. When I read Newser, I always leave in a good mood. That's why I return so often. It's a mood enhancer masquerading as some sort of news site.”

I bring this up not just because it is delightful to be understood, but because the genius who Adams discerns in the kitchen is Caroline Miller, with whom I have worked for the past 12 years, first when she was the editor-in-chief at New York magazine and then as the editor-in-chief at Newser. If I am Newser’s maître de, Caroline is its chef, who, from her literal kitchen—a very large one—on East 83rd Street, has concocted Newser’s tasty and almost non-stop courses.

It is doubly fitting to be noticed like this because last Wednesday was Caroline’s final day in the kitchen—at least Newser’s kitchen (her family gets their kitchen back). Her sous-chef of long-standing, Kate Schwartz, in her kitchen in Knoxville, Tenn., takes over.

Caroline and Kate, along with Scott Adams, have understood that in the world of new news—all this free stuff everywhere—the value is not in protecting it, but in telling a better story with it. “Adjusting my mood,” says Adams. “That's art.”

“Newser,” he says—and I couldn’t be happier that someone besides all of us here are saying it, and just in the nick of time about Caroline—“is edited by an artist."

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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