I sort of missed this one when it first came along a few days ago, but I happened to come across a video clip of PC Magazine columnist John C. Dvorak from the VloggerCon video-blogger conference, in which the notoriously provocative pundit describes his approach to column-writing. This clip was apparently filmed by Dave Winer, himself a fairly notorious Internet pundit, although of a different sort. It then made the rounds of Slashdot and Digg.com and YouTube and so on.
If you watch the clip, what you see is John Dvorak laughing and joking about how he deliberately writes things that he knows will piss off Apple fans, and then responds to their shouts of protest by pretending to be flabbergasted that they believe the things they believe, which makes them even madder — all of which drives his readership and traffic numbers through the roof. Then he jokes about how he often completely changes his opinion 180 degrees, which makes traffic go even higher.
Dave Winer describes this as Dvorak “explaining how he lies, knowingly and repeatedly, in his articles about Macs, and therefore has no integrity as a supposed award-winning journalist,” which I find almost mind-bogglingly disingenuous, not to mention inflammatory to the point of bordering on libel. At the time he originally posted it, it sounded to me like Dave knew that Dvorak was joking — or at least intentionally overstating his approach for effect and laughs. In other words, he was doing exactly what he does in his columns.
The fact that Dvorak does this is hardly news. Wired magazine wrote about it more than a decade ago. Rex Hammock describes Dvorak as a classic troll, and says he thought the video was funny (which it is). As I tried to explain in a comment on Scott Karp’s blog at Publishing 2.0, these kinds of techniques are a classic columnist gambit– want to get lots of traffic and lots of letters? Say something deliberately inflammatory.
Is that a strategy that can backfire? Definitely. But if you just want to get traffic and sell books, it’s hard to see the downside — as Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly and others continue to prove. If Dvorak were a reporter, then Winer’s criticisms would be valid, but columnists are hired for their opinions, not their grasp of the facts.
Dave has a new post about Dvorak, in which he mentions people he calls “troll spammers,” whom he refuses to link to. Is that a reference to yours truly? Hard to say. I will note that someone calling himself Pork Pie McMasters left a comment here, which you can see below, in which he says “Hey schmucko — it’s not libel if it’s true.” The IP address for the comment resolves to a Comcast user in the San Francisco Bay area (which is where Dave lives). A concerned neighbour, perhaps? One more thing: there’s a Wired article that makes for interesting reading about Dave, from 2001, in which he is described as having “a signature formula for professional weblog-rolling: Mouth off first, loudly, and often.”