Walt Mossberg, Still the King

Regarding the jacktastic argument that Marques Brownlee shouldn’t call the worst product he’s ever reviewed the worst product he’s ever reviewed, I’m reminded of the lede from Alan Deutschman’s 2004 profile of Walt Mossberg for Wired:

Walt Mossberg is walking through a convention hall at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas when a man starts screaming at him. The screamer, Hugh Panero, blames Mossberg for his company’s recent problems: falling stock price, a sudden plunge in consumer interest. Mossberg is annoyed but hardly intimidated. As the author of the weekly “Personal Technology” column in The Wall Street Journal, he’s used to dealing with disgruntled execs. He lets Panero shout. A crowd is gathering. Finally, Mossberg yells back, “I don’t give a fuck about your stock price!”

Keep reading. The story doesn’t end there.

What Mossberg always got right was that he relentlessly focused on his readers. Not what a product was supposed to be. Not what future versions might be. And not the fucking stock price of the company that made it. What he cared (and cares, in retirement) about was the actual experience of using the actual product, as it actually was, by actual users. He was rewarded with his readers’ trust.

That same mentality is what made Siskel and Ebert superstar film critics: they loved movies and they judged them for what they were, from the perspective of fellow moviegoers. They weren’t Hollywood insiders, and in the same way Mossberg didn’t give a fuck about XM Radio’s stock price, they didn’t give a fuck about how their reviews might affect opening weekend box office numbers. They cherished the trust of their TV viewers and newspaper readers, and rewarded them by providing nothing less than their fully honest expert appraisals of the movies they reviewed.

Art criticism has a long history, though. Consumer technology criticism does not. Mossberg blazed the trail.

Tuesday, 16 April 2024