Elite Blogger: Rendezvous With Brian Heater

Can someone with a deep interest into the comic world be a serious geek as well? I had to face this level of questioning when I disclosed my team about next appearance of the Elite Blogger. Brian Heater, an associate editor, PCMag blogs is a perfect name to this outfit devoting his days’ time writing and editing PCMag blogs and dedicating nights to comic book The Daily Cross Hatch, his absolute non-geeky face. Prior to PCMag Blogs, Brian was deputed as a staff writer at Laptop Magazine, which is sort of like PC Magazine, precisely smaller and more portable. Choosing to ignore the titles of Blogger, Technophile, and Editor, Brian feels contented calling himself a Writer.

Occupied generating content for almost four-major PCBlogs, Brian feels that with growing nature of blogs, blogosphere is now inextricably tied to our daily news consumption. And when at desk you may find him battling with the constant confusion of quality V/S quantity in terms of nature of posts.

So, read ahead to know more about Brain:

Introduce yourself to my readers and take us to the flow of your day at work.
Hey all, my name is Brian Heater ”I’m the blogs editor here at PC Magazine, a job that consists of, among other things, writing for and helping dictate the editorial content for the blogs Gearlog, AppScout, GoodCleanTech, @Work, and TechnoRide. I’m probably in the small minority of bloggers who actually commute to work (I take the subway, which takes some of the guilt out of the whole carbon footprint thing). I get to work between 8:30 and 9:00, when the office is still fairly quiet, and spend my first hour or so weeding through blog spam and checking the various mailboxes for our different blogs.

The rest of the day is largely spent either posting or sitting in on meetings with vendors or other folks here at the magazine. I head out around 5:30 or 6:00 and go home and work on freelance stuff or my own comics blog, TheDailyCrossHatch.

Brian HeaterHow did you get involved with PCMag network?
Hmm, the answer to this one is a bit boring ”I applied for the job and they hired me. I used to work at Laptop Magazine http://laptopmag.com/ , which certainly helped my case. As I’ve semi-jokingly said in the past, it was a bit like PC Magazine, only lighter and more portable. I started here as a member of the software team and moved to the blogs when my blogs editor position was created.

To what extent blogs has become an integral important part of the way people now access information? When did you sense an inclination towards blogging?
For better or worse, the blogosphere is now inextricably tied to our daily news consumption. Blogs certainly have their positives over more traditional news sources ”they provide a sense of immediacy that’s often lost in monthly, weekly, and even daily news sources. But while skepticism should always be applied when consuming information from any news source, information gleamed from blogs ought to be taken with even more salt.

My move toward blogs is something of a microcosm of the larger medium. I started in print, moved online, and eventually found my way into the blogosphere, and while I continue to produce work for print and other non-blog resources, the blogosphere now consumes the vast majority of my work. Where else can you produce ten stories a day?

You happen to produce 74 posts for LaptopMag. What are those key learnings that you are implementing over at PCMag?
Laptop was really my crash course on the world of consumer electronics. The vast majority of information in the space that I now possess came from my two years at the magazine. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to tell you what A2DP is ”it’s as much a blessing as a curse, really.

Brian, your articles at NYP focused more upon music, books, entertainment, about town or to be straight are non-geeky. To what extent do they carry your own personality traits in juxtaposition to your technophile spirit visible at PCMag?

Actually, to be totally honest, music writing was my first love. I’ve written on the subject for the aforementioned weekly as well as Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly, and a whole slew of lesser-known music magazines. The move to films, books, etc. was a fairly straightforward transition. I continue to write about all of those topics in different capacities. I’m pretty sure that devoting myself to one would drive me a little crazy. It’s a way of keeping things fresh and helps me hone my craft.

Further, your different facet of personality is apparent via your personal comic blog. What is the purpose behind its existence?
When I launched the Daily Cross Hatch a little over a year ago, I honestly didn’t know what to expect ”really, I wasn’t even sure the thing would make it as far as it has, but people took to it really quickly, and it’s established a pretty good foothold in the world of alternative comics. I launched it initially for the sorts of reasons I spoke about before ”to keep myself constantly writing and to tackle a subject that I’m passionate about but don’t necessarily have a regular outlet for.

Comics are getting more and more recognition in the national press, but stories on the subject are often treated as novelty pieces. Mainstream outlets still seem to find humor in headlines like, Comics Aren’t for Kids Anymore. Fair enough, but there’s so much more to the medium than such simplistic statements. I honestly think that graphic novels are at the forefront of creative thinking around the world. The manner of boundary-pushing work generally attributed to more highbrow mediums, like the novel or painting, is occurring with an absurd frequency in the pages of books that the majority of the American public still regards as throwaways.

The Cross Hatch was born out of a genuine appreciation for this medium’s artists and for my own desire to write constantly. Since its launch, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with many of the top minds in comics, and it’s proven a fairly consistent pleasure for me. Where rock musicians can be every bit as arrogant as their stereotypes, I’ve found cartoonists to be nearly universally down to earth and eager to discuss their craft. They’re also more than happy to provide instant feedback for my own work on the site. Cartoonists will comment on the blog ”that’s something you rarely get with musicians.

What remains the nature of your posts at PCMag and Gearlog? What do you want people to walk away with?
It depends on the post, really. The material runs the gamut from straight reports on new products ”with little room for subjectivity ”to lengthy opinion pieces and even some investigative journalism. But hopefully, you’re getting a piece of the writer at the same time, however it happens to filter through.

How would you define an ideal blogI mean, what special features it must have to make an impact and deliver?
There are a lot of great blogs out there that are great for entirely different reasons. The key to being a good blogger is the key to any other creative endeavor: Establish your own voice in a sea of people vying for a spot at the forefront. For me, there’s a constant battle between quality and quantity. Is it better to post more or make better posts? It’s a question that each blogger must answer himself or herself, but I think ideally the solution rests somewhere between the two poles.

Brian Heater

In this age of terrorism, how true is it to say that technology and gadgets are being produced at a rate that makes regulation difficult?
Well, we’ve all heard the stories of air travelers being pulled aside for attempting to bring a Macbook Air on board, so yeah, that’s certainly a concern. How that specific device was mistaken for an implement of terror is beyond me, but I suppose that it’s easy to criticize such things from the sidelines. In a case like that, most people are likely of the better safe than sorry mindset ”just so long as people aren’t having their personal privacy impeded upon, a key concern as the advent of new technologies seem to be becoming more and more invasive.

You are an active contributor at GoodCleanTech. I am curious if technology is really becoming green or it is a steep PR exercise?

That’s a good question. To be honest, I was a little suspicious when, in a matter of months; it seemed as if every new piece of consumer technology carried some manner of green claim. There’s certainly a fair amount of green washing occurring, and there will continue to be, so long as the issue remains at the forefront of consumers’ minds (which will hopefully be a very long time ”this problem isn’t going away). But there are unquestionably some really amazing breakthroughs happening in the world of environmentally friendly devices.

That product can simultaneously be groundbreaking and beneficial seems like a no-brainer, but until recently, thanks in large part to a corporate stranglehold on popular opinion, we’d rarely seen products that hit both points. The unprecedented success of the Internet in general and blogs in particular has played a large role in advancing a much more diverse array of opinions. It’s certainly made it much more possible to voice a desire for technologies that don’t harm the earth, and now that it’s popular to feel that way, the corporate world can’t help but listen. It’s one of the inherent beauties of the capitalist system ”companies have to adjust to this demand or else risk falling behind.

We are certain that you read plenty of blogs daily, but for now we want you to pick five must-read blogs browsing which you start your day.
In no particular order:
Boing Boing, The Beat [Publisher’s Weekly], Engadget, Stereogum, The Daily Kos.

Time Magazine handpicked iPhone as the invention of the year 2007. What according to you are the prospective candidates for 2008 award in the same category?

I’d nominate the Flip Video camera, the Asus eeePC, and the Palm Centro ”where the iPhone is almost a piece of art, these devices demonstrate how great technologies can be both functional and affordable ”sort of a democratization of consumer tech. These all actually came out late last year, I believe, but we’re only halfway through 2008, so it’s hard to say

Do you think blogs are going to be as acceptable and popular with masses as NYTimes, Time or NewsWeek are?
I don’t think these categories need be mutually exclusive. Smart new outlets have already adapted themselves to the Web ”of the three organizations mentioned, The Times serves the best example. But certainly those who continue to fail to use the resources at their disposal to adapt to technology are doomed to a continually shrinking readership.

Darren Rowse from Problogger has talked about five emerging trends in blogging. Do you agree with him or feel the need to update the list? Please do the needful. Also, point us to the features that are missing in present-day blogging.

Certainly multi-author blogs have seen incredible success ”in fact, most of the successful blogs these days are written by multiple authors. Multi-topic blogs is a bit tougher ”I think it’s important to figure out your niche and explore avenues within it. Blogs often suffer when they attempt to be too broad. Blogs converging with other types of sites ”I think Rowse is referring to multi-media here, which is certainly true. Portal-like design is a tough one.

When you lose that blog format, can your site really be considered a blog? That’s a debate for another interview, I think Indirect monetization: sure, we all want to write a book or host a TV show, right? After all, it’s a very small percentage of us who can actually make a living on blogging alone. No one can blame a blogger for such project, just so long as they’re honest with their readers. Off the top of my head, I’d add furthering the engagement between bloggers and readers. Blogs are all about instant feedback, and a good blogger embraces this fact.

Which all male and female tech bloggers you admire?
Guys: Cory Doctorow.
Gals: Xeni Jardin, Katie Fehrenbacher, and Emily Chang.

I’d have to go with Salon or Slate.

Which all male and female tech bloggers you admire?
Guys: Cory Doctorow.
Gals: Xeni Jardin, Katie Fehrenbacher, and Emily Chang.

Provide us with your one favorite post you have written till date from: Tough, but let’s give this a shot
a) NYP: Selling NYC’s brand of comedy to the masses
b) LaptopMag: Night in the Box
c) Gearlog: Hands-, Oatmeal-, Chilli-, Pudding-, RedBull-, and Cheetos-On with The Belkin Washable Mouse
d) PCMag: Web Celebs in Full Force for 12th Annual Webbies
Video [I’m including all of the video interviews at gearlog ]
e) GoodCleanTech : Sex, Drugs, and Carbon Credits: Cloud Cult and the Greening of Rock ˜n Roll
f) Appscout: To Kill a PaperClip

How would you like to be known as?
a) Blogger
b) Technophile
c) Entrepreneur
d) Editor
Can I have a fifth option? I usually just call myself a writer.

Quick bites:
Hours you invest digging net: Most of my work hours are spent on the Web ”so, like ten hours? Wow, I need to get outside more
Biggest blogging mistake you did: Let’s just say that a few bad HTML tags can make a full site go haywire.
One hidden truth: I haven’t owned a working TV in six years. Daily Cross Hatch
Advice you would have given yourself five years ago? Buy some Google stock!
If not a blogger, then. I’d probably be hacking away in print.
Life without Internet: I’d definitely be tanner.
What’s on the cards after Blogging: Working on those book deals. Agents and publishers, you know how to reach me
First gadget you kept your fingers upon: My Super Nintendo [sheds a single tear].

Brian HeaterWhom would you recommend as my next EliteBlogger and why?
If it’s strictly Tech, I’d say Joel Johnson at Boing Boing Gadgets ”they’re doing some terrific stuff over there.
Otherwise, I recommend spreading out into the wonderful world of comics blogging like Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter, Heidi MacDonald at The Beat, or Dirk Deppey at Journalista ”there are so many more, but I think I’ve gone well over my allotted space

Give us your views on EliteChoice.
Keep bringing the cool gadgets ”and tough lines of questioning.

You can ask me one question. Just One?
-:) Am all set to answer even a list.

Here we thanks Brian for sparing time for my elite readers, technophiles, geeks’ and my dear blogger friends’. Wish you luck and keep writing about such geeky stuff.
Brian Heater

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